Carol De Leon’s easy and laidback style along with her golden tan and beach waved hair definitely spells out Cali Vibes. But what sets her apart from everyone else is a kind of Filipina warmth that is undeniable. Add that up with a sharp business acumen, we see a formidable Filipina we could all admire and look up to. With her dad working as an architect and her mom doing social work, Carol’s destiny as a designer wasn’t obvious at first. But since moving to Los Angeles when she was four, she found herself sketching designs on her father’s drafting table. She admits that the custom-made pieces she and her family would wear when they were still in Manila had a special place in her heart. Her mom was extremely supportive of
Carol’s passion and thus making Carol feel empowered to achieve her dreams. In elementary school she designed her own lavender maxi dress with sheer details and romantic ruffles for her very own graduation. From then on, Carol found herself creating pieces that reflected her personal style aesthetics. She would travel around the world at a young age flying to the fashion capitals in search of inspiration. “Fortunately as a designer, I was able to travel to Europe twice a year visiting Paris, Milan, and London for inspiration,” she shares. “The business and economy in the 90s in the United States was amazing, people spent money on designer brands, the dollar was strong, and we could buy Gucci, Prada for half the price. It was a time of reckless abandon, supermodels, and excess. I lived that lifestyle for a while.”
In 2013, she launched FLOGG footwear, which combines the ease of flip-flops with the striking style of a clog. It was instantly a huge hit all over the world and was soon available in the top luxury department stores. Soon enough she delved into designing clothes full time with a small line called Angkan, but this time she veered away from the fast fashion trend and focused on the process, quality and the artisans who are making each piece. “The Angkan brand which means, Family, tribe, clan, is Slow Fashion and I intend to grow it organically.
In the past year I’ve also been involved with several projects with DTI and the Design Center of the Philippines as a product development specialist.” she proudly mentioned. This gave her a kind of fulfilment that goes beyond profit and ultimately helps indigenous communities in the process. With her global perspective, she lifts the Filipino artistry to a whole new level and sees a change in the local industry where men and women are proud to wear Made in the Philippines products.
Currently residing in sunny California, Carol continues to live the life of a designer, mother and entrepreneur. She admits, now that her daughter Allegra has graduated in Italy and has landed a fashion job in Florence, she has more time for her passion projects such as sustainable fashion and initiatives that uphold social responsibility above all. She has also recently launched Rich Gypsy, a line of upcycled clothing using 100% natural materials like cotton, linen, silk. Instantly, everything was off the rack and quickly sold out even in the initial trunk show they did in Rockwell. There is a purpose in everything Carol does. May it be a push for style or a more meaningful love for sustainability, Carol proves that with passion, kindness and empathy, she can be successful in every facet of the word..
WHAT IS YOUR FASHION PHILOSOPHY? I like to mix it up—a bit vintage, a bit tribal, a bit designer a bit street style. When you mix, there are no rules, you have to be confident and make it your own look. Coming from LA, the casual look is very important to master. You would never find me to be over dressed for any occasion; it’s not a good look if you’re trying too hard.
WHAT ABOUT FASHION INSPIRES YOU?
At the moment I’m very much inspired by our indigenous communities. I have so far worked with 14 indigenous communities and it’s been absolutely fulfilling. There is a certain magic and purity working with indigenous patterns and symbols that have not changed since the beginning of time. The preservation of these designs are crucial to the newfound pride that is evident in the new generation of Filipinos.
ARE YOU A SHOE OR BAG LOVER? OR BOTH? I have been a shoe designer by profession since I got out of college. For over 20 years I’ve worked in the shoe industry. It’s more difficult to make shoes than it is to make bags. So, I have great love and respect for Italian shoe makers that make beautiful shoes, which are technically correct. I produce shoes in Italy and China, and in the past year, I’ve been manufacturing shoes in Marikina. My Angkan line is made in the Philippines, and I’m doing product development and private label for different brands, with an aim to promote made in the Philippines and revive the Zapatero community in Marikina.
DO YOU ALSO LOVE TO ACCESSORIZE?
Vintage and jewelry have always impressed me more, especially now with sustainability on my mind. I do love finding vintage pieces that are really rare, made in techniques that are difficult to replicate today. The fact that it’s out of production and no longer available in quantity is what makes it super special
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON TODAY’S FASHION?
The Slow Fashion movement has given birth to many fashion lines that prioritize the environment with limited production runs and the trend for handmade artisan items gives a more humanistic feel for fashion today. It’s a great time for made in the Philippines. This movement has led us to open a design studio in BGC to support our Angkan brand as well as providing design services to local brands. Besides, Rustans, we have collaborated with local fashion companies like Lanai, Common Thread, RSI, Manila House and Kaayo.
WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE?
It makes me happy to see made in the Philippines products appreciated outside of the Philippines. My husband is from Florence and we are happy and proud to have our products in top stores in Europe. The products are not just fashion items; they are also a means to tell a story about the makers who make them, a way to promote our people and beautiful Islands to the world.
WHAT IS THE MOST DEFINING MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE THUS FAR? The most defining moment of my life is realizing the importance of questioning the American dream that enticed my parents to leave their birth land. America is a land of opportunity however it’s very easy to get caught up in a dream that has no substance, especially when it’s based on profits over people, wealth over health and the individual versus family and community.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE SECRET TO A HAPPY LIFE?
I feel we need to accept ourselves and others for exactly who we are, live a genuine life and not what you see in magazines or social media. We need to unlearn some of the information that has somehow infiltrated our psyche. Redefine values that are really important for us as individuals, versus as a nation, as a religion or as defined by our profession.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR CAROL DE LEON? I hope to make an impact on Philippine design while providing livelihood for marginalized communities. I hope to grow not only my own brand Angkan but more importantly, participate in the growth of many other Philippine made brands through our Design and Branding studio. Besides design and private label, our services will include sourcing of materials and factories. We have access to factories in China, Italy and now in the Philippines. We’re ready to support brands and small communities in the Philippines to compete in the international market.
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