I get tons of emails, comments on Instagram, and direct messages inquiring “how to be a fashion designer.” I’m not an expert, I can only tell my story of how I became one. I consider myself more a streetwear designer with the skills of a fashion designer. I represent street culture, youth culture, and counterculture.
As a designer, I want to push myself and be better than my last idea. I want to challenge what’s going on in the market. I want to introduce different ideas and perspectives because I believe there is more in the world than what’s being offered.
I didn’t go to design school because I have been told you can’t make a living off your passion, so I listened to everyone and tried to pursue going into the medical field. I dropped out of the medical track and went on a non-traditional path compared to my friends who went to schools like Parsons, and then went through the process of interning, assisting, and landing a designer position for big corporate companies such as Marc Jacobs, Victoria Secret, Ralph Lauren, Urban Outfitters, etc.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, I grew up in Renton, Washington. My dad died when I was a kid and my mum raised my brother and me herself with the assistance of my grandparents. I went to Renton High School, a predominantly black school. For college, I went to the University of Washington which was a predominantly white school..
I wasn’t supposed to achieve the goals I had dreamt about. Being a minority and Filipino in America, I always felt like I was from the bottom. All I saw on television was black and white. I identified and was drawn to hip-hop culture. I would watch music videos and I naturally gravitated to the style. I got my start into fashion design by copying and recreating the styles from videos and designing my own interpretation.
I have been told “NO” a million times. It wasn’t always easy, and I was determined to make it by any means necessary. At that time, it was kind of like you needed $500,000 to start a brand or learn how to sew myself and prove to people creating brick by brick that my ideas were of value. It was that childlike naivety fueled by passion and hard work that miracles started to happen.
I maxed out credit cards. When I didn’t have a place to stay, I spent months sleeping in the car and showering at LA Fitness. I stayed on other people’s couches. I borrowed money from my family while they pleaded with me to change careers. I would sacrifice not having a life for this dream. All the money I could have spent on going out to eat, the movie theatre, taking out my girlfriend, Starbucks, fun—I reinvested every penny made back into my business, all without knowing from where or when my next opportunity would come. In the face of all this, I kept going.
I got recognized by sewing my designs & wearing it out.
I have been deconstructing and sewing my own wardrobe since I was in high school, which adds up to almost 15 years. Later I would meet mentors who would give me a chance and would teach me how to create clothes properly, which is an art in itself and one I have yet to master.
I would have a wardrobe rack of one-off pieces I created. I learned to be more hands-on and became involved with every step of the process, from pattern-making, fabric cutting, and sewing. I went to clubs, events, and trade shows, flying from my hometown of Seattle to New York and Los Angeles, to be around influencers, wearing garments that I made myself. People would inquire about what I was wearing and I would tell them I made it.
I would never have dreamed that artists would pay me $4,000 to make them a piece. Garments I had sewn began to appear in Vogue, on MTV, the Grammy’s, American Music Awards, E television, etc.
Things I had made were being worn by people like Shay Mitchell, Kendrick Lamar, N.E.R.D, Kid Cudi, Chris Brown, Jeremy Scott, Black Eyed Peas, Thundercat, Diddy, Ne-yo, Mayor Hawthorne, Janelle Monae, Outkast, etc. Stylists would have my jacket on a rolling rack next to brands like St. Laurent, Margiela, Balmain and I would be surprised to have my garments chosen.
I was also lucky to have the opportunity to work for Will.I. Am of the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West for their personal collections.
My mentor Jacque, who was a design instructor and was a part of developing brands like Mecca, Alphanumeric, and Enyce guided me and advised me that creating custom one-off handmade designs was worth thousands of dollars.
The only person I knew who was doing what I was doing, but on another level was Ashton Michael, he’s a real designer to me. He’s personally made clothes for everybody in the entertainment industry like Beyonce, Ciara, Gwen Stefani, Miguel, etc. and he was a catalyst for reinforcing my hesitation in charging a high price point because it was another world to me.
I was able to accomplish these things without any PR or marketing firms before social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter existed.
Thank you to all the stylists, mentors, and friends along the way that gave me an opportunity, I’m always grateful that I was given a chance.
Rihanna’s stylist, Mariel Haenn, made me believe design was a possibility for me.
Before all these opportunities happened, I would meet 2 people that saw my vision before it even happened. To be even “seen” by Rihanna’s stylist, Mariel Haenn, during that time meant everything. It gave me so much confidence because I would get rejected millions of times. For her to travel and see collections of designers all over the world and that she would take notice of a kid who made things from his bedroom changed my life.
He reaffirmed my belief in myself, no one could tell me nothing. He was like Jordan to me. At that time, I’ve never seen a successful Asian guy I could identify with that looked like me, was young, and was a designer in mainstream America.
He made the clothing game look like the rap game. Like getting Ferrari money. He had Ferrari’s and bought his team Lamborghini’s.
Some guy walks by me and says, “That’s the dopest piece in the whole show,” said Jonas. “Thank you,” I said not really paying attention to who it was. Then I finally realized it was Jonas, I ran after him and told him how he was such an inspiration to me and if I can hit him up for advice on the industry. He was a really humble guy and you could tell he just appreciated good design. I think that’s why we connected. We were big kids.
It was 2007, I was at Agenda tradeshow. It was where surf, skate, streetwear brands like Stussy, Crooks, The Hundreds showed their collections to buyers/press. This was a time when Streetwear was exploding. I felt like I didn’t fit in with Streetwear b/c I was doing more forward pieces that weren’t being really done yet.
The market was kind of like- you bought supreme or you bought Raf Simmons. I was the kid that bought Raf Simons. It was either or. But I was into both Streetwear & designs that were more forward and unique. Brands like Fear of God, Off-White, Yeezy, etc. didn’t exist yet. Now all the kids are contemporary high end.
This was the waffle jacket I made when I met Jonas, I cringe at it now, but I’ve been lucky to create things at certain time periods that would attract me to people like Jonas.
After that, no one could tell me anything when they laughed at my dreams, to be practical, and go to school. It was like “Jonas said I was good” and he made me feel like I could do anything.
Like he was the first person to validate & see something in me prior to me working for Kanye West, Will.I.Am, & having my garments on Shay Mitchell, Kendrick Lamar, N.E.R.D, Kid Cudi, Chris Brown, Jeremy Scott, Black Eyed Peas, Thundercat, Puff Daddy, Ne-yo, Mayor Hawthorne, Janelle Monae, Outkast, etc. Or having my Garments I’ve sewn appear in Vogue, on MTV, the Grammy’s, American Music Awards, E-television, etc.
2 YEARS LATER..
“Alfred let’s make this happen, I can invest in you $500,000 let’s partner up. Come by my place in Orange County and let’s talk more about it,” said Jonas.
I thought to myself, “This is my big break. Like Kanye being signed to Rocafella. Drake signed to young money.”
He was a visionary and saw the future. He was like my only genuine industry friend. He would let me hang out with him and answered any questions I had about trying to make it in the industry despite how busy he was.
Unfortunately, the deal didn’t go through. He passed away a month later. I was just thankful to have known a person that dreamed incredibly & opened my mind to a whole new world of endless possibilities, to be around a genius, & to have access to someone that was high profile that understood being a creative. He made me feel not alone because I couldn’t relate to people in real life.
I still think about him every day, what we could have done together, and have never forgotten what he said to me and how he would take out the time despite his busy schedule to give me advice. R.I.P to the legend Jonas.
It was the most exciting moments of my life. Watching television and see something I made literally from my bedroom. I’m just a brown kid-an underdog, from Seattle and wasn’t supposed to be here and get this far. I still remember my first job in the industry. My best friend Danny and I would go to the trade shows (Magic, Project, Capsule, etc.) in Las Vegas and promote ourselves wearing the garments I made. After the show was the after party and outside the club someone was like “Nice jacket where’d you get that ?”
I turned around and I told him I made it. I looked at the guys and they looked familiar. It was Supercr3w from MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. I was a fan of the show and b-boy culture in general. B-boys always got the girls and they just had style and influenced me a lot.
They asked me if I could provide clothes for the show. I was excited and I told them I would. It was my first break ! After filming of the show, Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas approached Supercr3w and asked them where they got their wardrobe. After that, things became a blur and jobs just started coming in.
SEE ALL: My Kanye West portfolio
This is my Kanye West portfolio I compiled around October 2016. It’s been a crazy experience to be able to work with Kanye and the team. I am grateful and never thought I would have this opportunity. Kanye has influenced and inspired my style, design process, and philosophy.
I would listen to his music while I would sew garments in my bedroom living at my mums house in college to actually being in the office and listening to him working on an album while I work is unbelievable. I used Adobe illustrator and photoshop to create my portfolio.
Documented & compiled some of the garments I’ve made for the past 10 years. I shot everything with my Canon DLSR camera and edited the images on camera raw, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop. In my blog “How to take pictures of your outfit for the gram – Product photography,” I talk about in detail the process, workflow, what kind of specific lens I use, etc.