Growing up in the seventies and early eighties in Manila, Michi Calica hung around her mother’s garment factory, drawn to the process of ideas onto paper and into larger operations playing out with machines. She felt particularly in awe, however, of a woman in her late forties named Dory, who sewed impressively. Perpetually drawn to such a master of clean lines and precision, the young Michi eventually convinced Dory to teach her to sew. And she did. Dory brought laughter to Michi’s young life as she exposed her to Filipino slang while modeling and guiding the technique of sewing.
“She was so much fun. Many years later, when I had my own line, I hired her and I taught her to speak English. She’s retired now.”
Today, Michi Calica Sotto is a Manila-based fashion designer and entrepreneur, who co-founded Fashion Page Corp, a garment facility that produces corporate uniforms for both local and international markets. She serves as its creative director and also manages Michi Calica Flowers, a couture flower business she founded, in addition to owning a realty marketing business with her partner. Such accomplishments can be attributed to her raw talent and discipline, her experience of study at the Seattle School of Design and her honed awareness of the cycles of demand and opportunity. And of course, there was Dory, a master sewer who took the time to guide and mentor Michi when her curiosity and will first struck.
Out of this alchemy, Michi has recognized her role as a mentor and guide for the next generation of Filipino designers. When a short-term contract surfaced for an industry expert to craft the Fashion Design and Merchandising program curriculum at a new arts and fashion design school in Makati City, Michi grabbed it. This mission familiarized her with the agency of using Moodlerooms. The contract ended, but her experience of how eLearning can effectively create structure and focus has only further motivated her to drive education opportunities. Out of this commitment, Michi, along with two other practitioners, has created “The Passion Project”, a learning cooperative that supports young Filipino learners to forge a successful path in the fashion industry.
The Passion Project gives learners lab experiences and guidance largely supported online. A short iPhone video of a design student Michi mentors talks about her experience with the project. The young woman says with clarity, “everything we do is connected. There is a reason we are doing the things we are doing. This is a totally different approach from the normal way we do subjects in school.” Parents of such participating students support the project. Currently Michi and her colleagues.are in the process of getting the program accredited.
“In some ways, the learners today have it easier because they have more options. Information is at the palm of their hands. We used to spend so much money on magazines! In other ways, it’s still hard to belong in an old society of schooling. We have to be steadfast because more and more now there are parents in the Philippines that believe in this new way of learning.”
Michi came of age before design academies were established in the Philippines. She found it challenging fitting into the traditional school system and struggled finding purpose outside of her desire to draw. Constantly dressing up and forever sketching ideas, Michi felt like a fish out of water. When legendary designer, Carolina Herrera sponsored a scholarship opportunity to study at the Arts Institute of Seattle, Michi applied and was accepted into the two-year program.
“It was traditiona, but hand-on enough.”
The guidance Michi received proved to be invaluable; she ended up learning directly from Mrs. Herrera.
Michi liberally shares her convictions around the industry and ethics, recognizing that learners also need to recognize market pushes and pulls as they develop and grow.
“Now we have the problem with cheap fashion. Fast fashion is like fast food for clothing. Mass production of fashion has taken its toll on the environment. I support local fashion and want the learners to think about these issues.”
She reconciles how the learners she coaches need to watch it with originality issues because of their overwhelming access to images and further acknowledges they can spend too much time online. That’s one area where guidance is needed. “I say sometimes, let’s stop and do a mood board and plot something.”
Driven by aesthetics, the creative process, technique, business, sports and volunteerism in solidarity with women and families, Michi understands tenacity and the challenge of fostering this quality in the younger generation, and yet has not forgotten how an expert sewer took the time to respond and guide her young interest and inquiry.
“How do you teach drive? Keep these learners hungry.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Passion Project or supporting its programming, please email Michi at email@example.com.
Michi Calica, Manila-based fashion designer and entrepreneur. Photo: AFP Joseph Agcaoili.