WHAT STARTED as a small atelier in Makati City is now a massive clothing business with its own manufacturing arm. Bayo celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sept. 25 in a gala at The Peninsula Manila, where it presented 25 women who inspired the company, along with the announcement of the establishment of The Bayo Foundation.
The clothing company, of course, also presented a fashion show with designer Francis Libiran at the helm. Mr. Libiran showed, among a collection of basic plains decorated with bows (for the holiday season, of course; making the models appear like gifts to be unwrapped), a collection printed with the colors of the Philippine flag, splashed over graphic patterns that also suggest the islands of the Philippines.
The brand was created in the early 1990s by sisters Corazon Bitong and Lynn Agustin. In 2014, according to present owner Anna Lagon, who sits on the company as vice-president and chief creative officer, she and her husband Leo (who serves as CEO) were entrusted with the company by the founders due to a close relationship they enjoyed with each other for more than 20 years. “We started as their vendor, and then we got really close. They’re like my sisters,” said Ms. Lagon.
During the course of the evening, the company presented 25 women who inspire the brand — from models and heads of broadcast networks, to founders of social enterprises. Miss International 2016 Kylie Versoza was presented as the brand’s new face. The other women are Liza Crespo and Marielle de Leon-Lazaro, Anya Lim, Berna Romulo Puyat, Elizabeth Lee, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, Rocky Tirona, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Alexandra Eduque, Olivia Puentespina, Ivy and Cynthia Almario, Annette and Maritess Gozon, Beng Tesoro, Olivia d’Aboville, Olivia Limpe-Aw, Nanette Medved-Po, Nancy Cu-Unjieng, Rose Anne Bautista, Pinky Yee, Candice Adea, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, and Miriam Quiambao.
Mr. Lagon announced that aside from offering scholarships for fashion students, the newly established Bayo Foundation will also support the causes that these women have adopted.
“We can do so much more with our business. And with our age, we won’t live so long. We want to do something that will eventually matter,” said Mr. Lagon’s wife during an interview with BusinessWorld.
The late 2000s and the early years of the present decade saw the footprint of large international brands like Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo making a mark in the country. Ms. Lagon, in a speech, acknowledged how the presence of these brands threatened the local clothing industry. “Local players like Bayo were given slim chances of surviving,” he said. The company, however, even thrived in this period, being able to double its number of branches in three years, from about 30 to 60. “Maybe one of the reasons why Bayo remains relevant in the industry is due to the acceptance that we cannot defeat the global giants. We have to find a level where we can coexist with them in order to survive. We may not have the financial muscle that these brands freely possess, but what we do have are loyal, indefatigable, dedicated, and inspired people who we feel are the greatest assets of this company.”
Ms. Lagon told BusinessWorld that its status as a 100% Filipino company is what truly differentiates it from these global players. Most of the manufacturing is done within the country, thanks to the company’s own manufacturing arm, and its processes are centered in the country, as opposed to outsourcing them to other nations. But while manpower and creativity is abundant in the Philippines, the sourcing of materials and textiles are still a problem for many manufacturers. “Our rule of thumb is that when it is available in the Philippines, we will source it here. But if it’s not, we have no choice but to get it elsewhere,” she said.
In any case, she said, “We dress the Filipino. We know them by heart.” — Joseph L. Garcia