From the Philippines, to SF-NY-Paris, and Martha's Vineyard. How Angela Sison has used her life experiences to create sustainable brand Conrado.
One of the best things about sustainable blogging is discovering new brands from all over the world who are truly making a difference in the way they are sourcing and manufacturing their products.
I recently came across the brand Conrado, and was able to interview founder and designer Angela Sison. I really loved their simple jumpsuits, unique silhouettes, neutral colors, and the fact that all of their products are made using deadstock fabric.
Making stylish garments from other people’s leftover materials (that would typically be thrown away) is such an innovative way to be sustainable. There are always going to be brands that don’t care how much excess waste they accumulate which is why brands like Conrado are to be admired.
As the world of sustainable fashion is still evolving, Global Garb’s mission is to support and promote people like Angela who are striving to make a difference.
So, without further ado, here’s the in-depth interview with Angela Sison of Conrado.
Tell us a little bit about your background? What did you do before starting Conrado?
I grew up loving fashion. I guess I can say I was born into it, but I’m very happy because it’s my passion and I feel like it’s the only way I know to keep living a happy life.
My mother owned a small garment workshop in Manila, Philippines, and I grew up in this metropolitan area in the Philippines.
I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area so my summers and holidays would be spent in San Francisco, CA where the rest of my relatives live including my grandpa Conrado.
Then I moved to San Francisco for college and it lead me to live in New York and Paris. Fashion also brought me to New York and Paris and those experiences were some of the best in my growing fashion career.
After Paris, I moved back to San Francisco again and worked for a larger scaled brand for a couple of years.
How did the brand get started?
I started the brand at a transitional time of my life. It was two years ago, where I felt that my passion for a company I worked for was no longer there. Being part of larger scaled company did not make me feel proud anymore and I felt no purpose in life.
On the side, I would still sketch collections on my own to keep the creativity and travel to the Philippines to visit my mom often. On one of those visits, I decided to work on some samples and thought to put some designs on my social media for friends and families. In this process of making new creations, I had so much fun and I felt my creativity resurface. This lead me to design a whole collection that eventually became Conrado.
Conrado is made with a purpose to repurpose. It is crafted by skilled hands of artisans in the Philippines. All pieces are made using dead stock fabric helping to eliminate the industry’s waste by recycling our materials.
Conrado means you are helping livelihoods and keeping the garment business in in the Philippines alive. By using these dead stock materials, the Conrado you buy helps our environment.
The clothes we designed are classics that you can wear year after year and can layer season to season.
I design for different women. She appreciates great designs and a good color scheme. She loves to travel but enjoys every minute being cozy at home. She’s creative and passionately loves what she is doing. She cares for her peers and especially her surroundings. She speaks about her ideas and feelings proudly.
I have seen that my customer has varied in ages but all have a special uniqueness and love for adventure and appreciate the story behind all the clothing we make.
Why did you decide to create a sustainable brand?
I grew up in the back bones of the fashion industry. My mom started a garment factory in the 80’s in the Philippines, where I grew up. We would export garments to brands in the USA until the early 2000s.
Growing up, I saw the amount of excess fabrics and trims from one season to the next. As a kid, I already loved making things. I would use the scraps to make gifts for friends and family.
I then worked at a few fashion companies in California and New York. It was when I worked for a giant fashion brand where I really saw how much waste the fashion industry produces.
I knew I always wanted to start my own brand and I took what I grew up with and what I learned from my career.
The 8-year old Angela is still there. Repurposing excess materials and recreating.
How did you go about creating a sustainable brand?
I’ve partnered with a few small businesses who specifically buy deadstock materials here in the US and the Philippines. We use deadstock materials from fabric, garters, buttons and thread as well.
Every sample and pattern are created by myself at my studio. Our small family ran factory in the Philippines has been business for almost 40 years. We provide housing, healthcare, education and ethical wages. We are also planning to have our factory certified.
I travel to the Philippines about two times a year to work closely with our artisans. Some of them I’ve known since I was a kid and they are the ones who personally taught me how to sew.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of starting Conrado?
In the process of designing Conrado on the side, my partner and I felt strongly about a lifestyle change from the city. I decided to move with him to his hometown (Martha’s Vineyard) and launched Conrado that summer I moved.
I joined a few flea markets and did some pop-ups, and I kept thinking of making Conrado a side business and eventually move to another city by Fall.
The pop-ups I did over the course of one summer were all successful. [After] I felt ready to take Conrado as my full-time sustainable business instead and live on a very inspiring community driven island.
Being an entrepreneur is tough. Tell us what’s been one thing you’ve been struggling with lately.
Although there are wonderful things about being a one-woman team, I’ve struggling with managing various aspects of the business.
There are times where I am pulled so much on the business side so much that I do not get to be creative anymore. Managing the creative and business is a learning curve especially for me but I take it day by day and try to stay as organized as possible.
Hopefully someday I can hire a full-time employee but for now, I just hired a part-time paid intern to help me this summer and I’m so excited to teach her how I’ve been running Conrado!
With every low there’s a high. What have been some of your wins?
The best thing about starting your own business is how rewarding it is when I get to meet my customers. To see their vibrant reaction to your creation is such an exhilarating experience and this is what keeps me going and growing Conrado.
When stores reach out to me wanting to buy for their stores and most especially personal emails from customers who took the time to write a note to me to say thank you and how much they love wearing Conrado! I am deeply grateful for that.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just starting out in this business.
Trust your gut feeling and be open. Be open to suggestions, comments and remarks. These are lessons and they just help you improve. I also tell myself that I cannot please everyone. You cannot put yourself own because you didn’t make everyone happy. Just keep going and positive experiences will happen. Keep trying and don’t give up.
Also from having a small business, I’ve connected with other girl bosses I admire and try to meet with fellow artists and designers. Surround yourself with people who lift you up!
And a little competition isn’t a bad thing.
What’s next for the brand?
There will also be some collaborations with a jewelry designer and Conrado in the works and thinking about working on some clothing for girls and men.
I also just opened a showroom as a retail space on Martha’s Vineyard for this summer. It’s called The Annex, a showroom and studio space, shared among six local women artists and designers on the island.
It’s a new venture and I’m excited to see where it can go.