Carbon with a capital ‘Ease’
Chonx Tibajia (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As a woman comes into her own style, she learns the value of ease. It’s that inner put-togetherness that translates to an aura of competence, whether in closing a business deal, running a marathon, or drawing that perfect brow. Carbon, a homegrown brand and brainchild of self-professed “not-a-designer” Joanna Preysler-Francisco, has been dressing these women for close to 15 years. The local label comes full circle in a new collaboration with photographer Mark Nicdao, the man behind Carbon’s very first shoots. For the collab, Mark photographed Carbon’s cast of stylish clients — women who embody the soul of the brand, including Joanna, whose personal style is a reflection of every piece in her Greenbelt 3 boutique.

“I wasn’t schooled in design. I’m not a designer — I don’t want to take anything away from those who actually studied it and honed their craft. What I am is a retailer who knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like,” Joanna, who is in charge of Carbon’s ready-to-wear business, says. But her interest in fashion and the business of fashion can be traced back to her college days. “I was always entrepreneurial. I used to make shoes, banig bags, I even made matching scrunchies! Then, with a friend of mine, I made jewelry called Namaste. In Grade 7 I wanted to be a designer. I don’t feel like I’m a designer still — but I think having two stores that carry stuff that I make makes it official enough.”

She eventually started designing exotic-skin handbags under her own line, and then made her passion, literally, her business when she started Carbon in 2002 with husband Raul Francisco, under Original Idea Retailers, the company behind Carbon, Tint, Joanna Preysler bags, Men’s Terno, and Hide & Stitch.

“Back in 2003, we had our first-ever campaign for Carbon, with Bianca Elizalde,” she says. “Mark Nicdao was then a new kid in town. We saw his vision and we felt that he was our guy. Mark is very urban. I look at him and I think he’s a rock star photographer. He’s local but global, just like Carbon.” Today, with the newly renovated Carbon store, and with all items done in-house, Joanna felt it was time to have another photo shoot of that magnitude. “This is phase one. These ladies — two models and seven personalities — have been loyal Carbon customers and dear friends. I’m so grateful that Carbon is accepted and loved by these women,” she adds.

Carbon advocates two main ideas: first, that ease is stylish and sexy, and second, that we support local brands. Joanna describes the Carbon woman as “somebody who is never contrived, who is confident and comfortable in her own skin, who is authentic about who she is, and who just likes simple, pared-down fashion — pared-down but never boring, precise but slightly undone, perfect in her imperfection.” She designs the clothes and fits every single piece. “If it’s not flattering on me, it doesn’t hang on the hangers. You won’t see anything that’s super body-fitting or uncomfortable. To me, relaxed and confident are the new sexy.”

Of course, not everybody is Joanna’s body type, so she also makes it a point to listen to customers’ suggestions and needs, making sure to make pieces that are universally appealing. So don’t expect to see a bandage dress at Carbon. “It’s been done and overdone. To me being well-dressed is being appropriately dressed for the occasion, for your age, for your body type, for this weather. With the bandage dress, it embraced such a broad age group. It looked good on my 18-year-old daughter, but me, at 45, would I wear it? No. My bandage dress time has passed,” she jokes.

She adds, “With Carbon and our other stores, I’ve always been anti ‘It.’ I don’t like to be constrained by an ‘It’ bag or an ‘It’ anything, because that dates the item. Because we’re anti-disposable fashion, I like pieces that you can come back to and they will still work well. We’re just staying true to our DNA. People like easy items, go-to things with a twist.”

Carbon is one homegrown brand that has earned its cult following by sticking to what it loves and does best — clients can always come back and expect to see something that fits their style. Having all items locally produced is something that Joanna takes pride in, as she believes in promoting the cause of local retailers. “I’m just filled with so much gratitude for the support that’s been given to our local concepts,” she says. “What Carbon hopes to do is put a global face to local retail. When foreigners come into Carbon, they ask if we brought it in from somewhere, and they get surprised that it is a Filipino brand. A lot of successful brands started out with us as consigners in our stores, and we’re so happy when they spread their wings and do their own thing.”

She continues to mentor a few young creatives today. “It’s like paying it forward. Hopefully one day somebody will do that for my kids. Small retailers have such an uphill climb with the tsunami of retail brands coming in. Big brands are in the business of fashion. For small retailers, it’s our livelihood. This is what sends our kids to school. This gives people jobs and sends their kids to school. So I hope people buy and support local retailers.”





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Carbon is located at Greenbelt 3.

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