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Isabelle Daza-Semblat and Paulina Ortega are bringing back recess |


Isabelle Daza-Semblat and Paulina Ortega are bringing back recess

THE UNGENTLEWOMAN - Gabbie Tatad - The Philippine Star
Isabelle Daza-Semblat and Paulina Ortega are bringing back recess
Paulina Ortega

Hello. It’s a weird time to meet you, but also, perhaps, the best time to meet you.” Thus reads artist Paulina Ortega’s personal Instagram page, announcing the birth of something called Recess.

The graphic continues: “Recess is a brand that empowers all female movement, from scaling mountains to lying flat on the couch.” It goes on to talk about building a community, sharing feelings, and finding “small and meaningful ways to support one another.”

Isabelle Daza, founders of Recess, a digital platform by women, for everyone.

Not just a snack break

Brilliantly named after everyone’s favorite slot in the class schedule, Recess is a digital platform that prioritizes women’s experiences and all aspects relating to their overall wellness. The reason it might come across as mildly vague is because it’s a pivot from the original intention.

Ortega worked with partner Isabelle Daza-Semblat for over a year on a wellness brand with hopes of launching products in the active lifestyle space in 2020. But as the pandemic began to spread earlier this year, they had to sit and rethink their priorities. Perhaps “active lifestyle” needed a new meaning to meet this crisis. Ortega explains, “It’s weird to launch a product now. It doesn’t really feel right. So we were thinking, we have resources, without necessarily launching a brand to sell products. We had these resources to live up to what we wanted to start from the get-go, which is to provide a space that fosters physical, mental and emotional wellness for women.”

Recess prioritizes women’s experiences and all aspects relating to their overall wellness whether it’s making a playlist, meditation, or making the best banana bread.

She adds, “We’re taking this day by day. The main thing we’re trying to do is provide resources for people, to help make days a little better now, whatever that is.”

Daza-Semblat chimes in, saying, “You go on Instagram and you see a lot of things that are meant to draw your eye, to get you to buy things and spend money on whatever this person is trying to sell. But with Recess, we are just trying to build a community wherein people get into the habit of supporting each other. Whether it’s making a playlist, meditation, making the best banana bread; we kind of want to foster that.”

Filling the gap

Much of what spurred the recent pivot to Recess as a platform is a reaction to both women’s realities and taking it outward. Daza-Semblat, currently in Hong Kong where her husband works, shares that while she is more or less comfortable and feels fortunate to be safe where she is, much of her life is in Manila. Her businesses have had to halt their operations in the meantime, and a television show she was meant to be a part of has since been postponed. Like many, including the Australia-based Ortega, she’s worried about loved ones she’s physically far away from and can’t get to should something unfortunate occur.

“The first three weeks were very difficult for me. I was almost paralyzed,” she recalls. “I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t go anywhere, I was paranoid and scared. If I was feeling anxious, I would see that as weakness, and I had to work a lot on that. I slowly allowed myself to feel what I was feeling. I’m trying to be flexible and adapt, and our theme in Recess has become embracing uncertainty.” She adds thoughtfully, “I’ve taken time to do things I wouldn’t normally prioritize. I patched things up with an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in two years, and it was just so liberating to do that. Now’s the time to make amends and be human. Every grudge you were holding onto seems so petty now that the world is just trying to survive.”

Ortega nods. She says that, apart from the pandemic, it’s flu season in Australia. So after she popped out to buy supplies and came home feeling like her throat was a little sore, full-blown anxiety took over. Her immediate concern was whether or not this was something that could potentially be fatal. “I’ve never felt anything like that before. I broke down and I just cried and said, ‘This is it. I’m going to die for going to the grocery store.’” She continues, “Outside of that, it’s also grappling with plans you had not happening, or having to adjust so drastically” to events. “Ultimately, this brought us to a better place with Recess. We’re still feeling our way because we want to be responsive and responsible. We didn’t want to spew so much content without so much thought. So how we’re going about it is almost methodically, but still casually asking women we know how they’ve been feeling right now, and kind of structuring our content around that.”

Ortega adds, “I think it’s one thing to create a brand deck and say this is what our brand is and this is what we want to live up to be; it’s quite another to be put in a global crisis and you having to live the words you’ve been repeating.”

Although primarily on Instagram at the moment, Recess hopes to expand to an actual site — one they had prepared for their brand launch and have since pivoted to hopefully suit the needs of their fledgling platform. Both women say their ultimate goal is to pool resources so that when one is looking for an especially holistic approach that meets people where they are, versus where they feel they should be, they don’t have to click around so much. Ortega explains she follows several accounts for varying aspects of wellness, and found it almost draining searching for content that didn’t always fully resonate. She says, “I was looking for something that wasn’t just people putting stuff out at you, and instead being receptive to you. I found that was lacking, and so a lot of this is a reflection of real things that we deal with that we don’t see pooled into one hub.”

By women, for everyone

While both Ortega and Daza-Semblat say they’re trying to approach the platform with as much flexibility as possible by not planning too far ahead, they do have content lined up for the next few weeks, featuring their immediate network of friends and loved ones. They reiterate that, while this effort is led by women, and the contributors being prioritized are women, there’s no velvet rope keeping out anyone of any gender, race, orientation, shape, or size from being involved if they’d like to be. “It’s not limited, it’s not like, ‘You can’t sit with us.’ It’s not the environment we want to foster,” says Daza-Semblat. “It goes against what feminism is. But also now, more than ever, women want to be heard and want to be listened to. It’s a powerful thing to be listened to.”

Ortega agrees, summing up their vision by saying, “While we’re facilitating this conversation, we don’t want it all to just come from us. We want to be inclusive of everyone. It’s not really just for women. We, the people who are behind it are women. We’re speaking to our experiences and having it just grow from there. But by all means, my husband is really into the content we’re making. It’s really for everyone.”

Well, then, sign us up, because the bell has been ringing endlessly, and we’re all ready for a bit of recess.

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