Meet Isadora Alvarez. Raised in Palawan and currently based in Los Angeles, California, she's living out her fashion dream: running her own clothing brand, Back Beat Rags, which has been featured by international titles like Hypebae, Fashionista, Refinery29, and Bustle.
Isadora claims that her inclination to fashion, especially sewing, can be traced back to Gwen Stefani. "I asked my mom if i could take sewing classes when I was 15 because I wanted try sewing my own clothes," Isadora tells Preview in an interview. "I was kind of obsessed with Gwen Stefani and her style and all the stuff I would see on MTV (one of the very few channels on our satellite TV because we lived on a hill on an island with no cable) and I wanted a pair of super wide leg pants!"
From there, she started to pursue her dream by studying Fashion Design at La Salle College International; she also later on earned a degree on Fashion Merchandising from Academy of Art University in San Fransisco. After which, she built her own little indie boutique in Manila in the early 2000s and did bespoke fashion. However, she realized she did not enjoy it as much as having her own line. "Having a line, I'm able to create a whole lifestyle around the clothing and that's something that I really enjoy doing," she explains. "It's not just clothing. It's also about how you feel and what you associate with that piece of clothing."
When she moved to California, Isadora knew it was time for her to fully realize her dream. Below, she tells us more about that dream and how she is as a designer:
How would you describe your personal style?
"Super laid back, casual, with little pops of interesting details—kind of like my brand."
Does your personal style reflect on your taste or vision as a designer? How similar or different is your brand from yourself?
"I think my brand is totally a direct reflection of my style, I would want to be able to wear what I sell! And I think there's just a bit more integrity if I create stuff I love because it comes from the heart, as corny as that sounds."
Let's talk about your journey to establishing yourself as a designer in the US. How did you start your brand?
"I started out selling vintage clothing after I was burnt out [from] working in the buying department of an off-price retailer. I didn't see any integrity in the goods that they were selling, and I wanted to be able to be proud of what I was doing—not selling just to sell. That was basically the catalyst of creating the brand. I did the weekend pop-up markets with vintage [clothing] for about a year until I figured out what to do in terms of what type of brand I wanted to have. I was focusing a lot on vintage tees and sweatshirts, which are West Coast essentials. And when I decided to fully get into making clothes, that's what I started making. I also wanted to have a lower environmental impact so I also wanted to only use sustainable fabrics like hemp, organic cotton, and recycled cotton."
What were the struggles that led you to where you are now? How did you overcome these?
"A lot—here in the States, when you start out, you really do everything yourself since labor is so expensive. So for the first [two and a half] years I did everything myself—sales, production, driving everywhere to get stuff done. It was mentally draining and also very isolating because you're mostly alone thinking if this is going to work out or not. I made it a point to make friends in the same industry so I would have a community where I could sound off on someone when I'm seriously doubting myself, and also for ideas and advice! Luckily [for] the independent design community here in LA, most of the people are very helpful and are always willing to share their ideas or resources. We all understand and are united in the fact that we're really all just trying to make it and helping each other is easier. That has been a tremendous help."
What motivated and pushed you to succeed in times of trouble?
"I believe that I have something great and my brand has something to stand for, and that's what keeps me going. I also have the greatest support group, my friends and family and especially my husband, [who] push me to move forward when I'm usually about to give up."
What are your best qualities that helpe you thrive in a foreign land?
"I think that Filipino charm has helped me a lot. [Laughs] Kidding aside, I just work really hard without complaining too much."
Many aren't as lucky to be able to pursue their dreams. What advice would you give them?
"If you have something that you think you're going to regret not doing when you get old, do it. Life is really so short."
Let's go back to your brand, Back Beat Rags. What's the concept behind your clothing line and how did you come up with this name?
"A back beat is basically a note that can be found in rock songs. I got that idea from that note because it's usually just a small part of a song but it makes the song unique, you know? We specialize in everyday essentials using sustainable fabrics. Clothing that you basically need for your everyday life—so tees, sweatshirts, sweaters, and pants."
How would you describe the brand's design philosophy or aesthetic? Can you also walk us through your design process?
"Cali surf and skate inspired, mostly on the vintage side. I usually begin a collection by picking out fabrics I want to work with, which is especially tough because my fabrics are special so they aren't readily available. Next step is designing the pieces and then picking out fabric to go with it. Next are the colors. I think this is my specialty—I always get comments that my coordinates are great, and the treatments like fades, or tie dyes are what I love doing the most. It's a lot of trial and error on those last two parts and a lot of time we make mistakes on the colors and washes that end up being great and we go with that."
Your clothes are eco-friendly and sustainable. Can you tell us more about it?
"We only use fabrics that are eco-friendly, meaning they don't take away too much resources from the land they are grown on. For example, we use hemp, which requires a lot less water than conventional cotton and requires no pesticides when grown. So it doesn't strip the soil of nutrients and also doesn't harm the farmers."
How do you manufacture and produce your items?
"We have them all produced here in Los Angeles in factories that I personally visit so I can see that the workers are working in proper conditions and they are being paid fairly."
Do you have someone in mind who would best encapsulate your brand?
"Tough question! It's really a mix of people."
Would you ever consider bringing the brand to the Philippines?
"I would love to! I would just have to find the perfect retail partner to do it with."
What else should we expect from your brand in the future?
"Hopefully you'll see a Made in the Philippines capsule collection. It's always been an idea to [be] working with Filipinos, so I'm always trying to figure out how to do that."