How to make it in Europe: Former Filipino nurse shares success story as designer
Europe-based fashion designer Joana Almagro
Ken Laurent

How to make it in Europe: Former Filipino nurse shares success story as designer

Kathleen A. Llemit (Philstar.com) - April 14, 2021 - 3:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — Living alone far from home could be frightening especially during this time of an unprecedented global health crisis. Resilience and perseverance could help anyone get over any difficulties, and a Filipino designer in Switzerland is banking on these very traits that have become a trademark of Filipinos thriving abroad.

Joana Almagro never thought of surrendering that dream of being a designer of choice for those who love fashion with conscience.

"There are moments that as a designer, one can be emotional. But then, I try to re-focus myself and  believe in what I do while reminding myself of all my achievements when I feel down," Joana shared.

It's a tale that is familiar to many. Born from a family who have relatives who pursued better pastures abroad, Joana was a diligent student who took up nursing, practiced a few years in the Philippines before flying to London to work as a nurse.

It was there in London, one of the fashion world's capitals, where Joana finally mustered the courage to pursue a dream long withheld for practicality.  

In 2012, Joana enrolled at the prestigious Manchester School of Arts (MSOA), the second oldest art school in the United Kingdom after the Royal College of Art.

During the second year at MSoA, Joana met Filipino designer Roland Alzate. It was this meeting that led Joana to join the Canada-Philippine Fashion Week in 2014, a showcase that featured well-known Filipino fashion designers Noel Crisostomo, Francis Libiran, Michael Leyva, Jaggy Glarino, Odelon Simpao and Frederick Peralta.

While still in school, the native from Dipolog City won various awards such as being a finalist at the Shoreditch Fashion Show 2013 and at the Frankfurt Style Awards 2014. Joana also had an internship at the Roland Mouret Studios in Mayfair, London while the designer's graduate collection was published by Bloomsbury, London for an architectural pattern cutting book.

"I finished my degree in fashion with honors in 2016. Since then I never looked backed," Joana said.

Everything fell into place for Joana. The designer was invited to mount an exhibit by the Manchester Art Gallery in collaboration with the British Fashion Council and Art Commissions for NOW 14-18. Joana was also a finalist at both the Bilbao International Arts and Fashion Competition 2016 and the Burberry Competition in 2016. The following year, Joana debuted at the Milan Fashion Week's Super Pitti Immagine for Spring/Summer 2017. Joana's return to Harrods was a milestone for the designer who used to work as a brand specialist in the luxury department store. The designer showcased the brand's Autumn/Winter 2018 collection for the first-ever Harrods Fashion Week.

All these are reminders for the Switzerland-based designer to look ahead, no matter how hard the circumstances are and would be.

"At this time of crisis, we're all isolated and we are given time to rethink and reevaluate ourselves. I also went through this but it never came to mind to go back to nursing. I love nursing as much as it was a respectable profession, but my calling is to be a designer," Joana shared.

"When my brother died last January 2020, (this was the beginning of the pandemic) he told me, 'Never go home unless you make Joana Almagro, the brand, evolve and be successful.' His words keep me going. Through his words, I am even more passionate, persistent and focused as a designer. My success is a tribute to him and my family," Joana stressed.

True enough, Joana launched Chutzpah collection in Switzerland in September 14, 2020 at the Volkhaus White Theatre in Zurich. Joana also makes D.A.H.M or #dreamsarehandmade sweaters which are 20% recycled bottles and 80% organic cotton.

As a designer, Joana stands by the principle of "Vertor Regenerare," which means reuse, regenerate. Most of Joana Almagro clothes are made from end-of-the-line unwanted fabrics from the mills of Switzerland, Italy, the United Kingdom, South Korea and the Philippines.  

Joana recently finished a Spring-Summer 2021 capsule collection with emphasis on the colors of the year, gray and yellow. The brand was also featured in FF Fashion TV.  

"It takes a lot of persistence and mindset to just never give up on your dreams. Because I believe without dreaming, you won't do anything to achieve it," Joana mused.

The designer also took a play of the initials JA, which means yes in Swiss or German. It was an arduous task for the Filipino designer to go back to basics when deciding to relocate in Switzerland a few years back. Joana had to learn German in three years.

"In Swiss or German language, 'ja' means 'yes.' Therefore, it’s a positive affirmation to any response just like Joana Almagro, a brand that has a purpose."

Joana's works can now be seen on Joanaalmagro.com, @joanaalmagrolabelofficial on Instagram, Fidelio store in Zurich and Wolf and Badger Store in London.

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