How C.J. Martin put his passion to the test and came out a winner

C.J. Martin is testament to the saying that it is never too late to pursue your creative dreams, no matter the beginnings of your professional journey. The thirty-something-year-old stands out in more ways than one compared to his younger counterparts. Most notable is his attention to detail and penchant for creating pieces that follow a streamlined and pristine aesthetic—a feat that is almost medical in nature. It may come as no surprise then that Martin was once a full-time nurse before he decided it was time to turn his fashion education aspirations into reality. He took on the challenge of shifting professional gears and putting his design skills to the test—a risk that was richly rewarded.

Today, Martin continues forward towards creating a name for himself by turning his former vocation into a source of insight and virtuosity. The Manila Fashion Festival design contest, co-presented with Bobson Japan, was a challenge to redefine denim in line with the brand’s 45th anniversary—a task that had Martin drawing ideas from pop culture references and his medical background, and turning them into an outstanding collection. However, success goes beyond chasing awards and recognition as he remains grounded in the wake of his victory. “The experience taught me the value of perseverance and authenticity. The most rewarding part of the journey was watching my finished looks walking down the runway. The experience reminded me that I was able to accomplish things beyond my comfort zone. Winning the prize was just a big bonus for my efforts.”

Can you tell us a little bit about your collection?

“For this design competition, I entitled my collection ‘Striae’ which is a medical term for a group of parallel lines found on our muscles. It was inspired by the Japanese anime Attack on Titan which featured giant humanoids with exposed muscles.

I enjoy reinterpreting classic pieces and turning them into something more contemporary. The concept was to take something oversized like a pocket, cuff, collar, or waistband and fuse it together to make an apparel. For example, two pockets were joined together to create a wrap skirt, two waistbands were attached together to create a jacket, enlarged cuffs were made into waistbands or hemline detail of a skirt.”

What was your creative process for the competition?

“My creative process starts with a concept or inspiration which I usually take from my previous nursing career followed by extensive research. I often use juxtaposition and deconstruction techniques to create silhouettes and test prototypes. I had to work twice as hard knowing that each finalist will put up a good fight. A signature style or a distinct point of view is just as important because it makes the work standout and memorable to the judges.”

Although competitions often turn out to be fierce, the contest was motivated by a collaborative spirit from both the presenters and finalists alike. “The Bobson team was very involved during the entire competition. They took the time to get to know each finalist personally and even took us on a factory tour to give us a closer look at the brand’s DNA and manufacturing processes. The competition turned out to be fun because the finalists got along well and became each other’s support system.”

As a young designer, what was the most challenging part of this endeavour?

“The beginning of the experience was overwhelming because it was my first fashion competition and my first time to create streetwear using denim. The most difficult part was side-eyeing the other finalists’ collections and doubting my work. I felt that way because I was working too closely on the pieces. I needed to detach myself from it for a few days before the final judgment. It proved effective because on the day of the preliminaries I was more confident and focused on my presentation and I wasn’t second guessing myself.”

Did winning the competition concretize your professional plans as a designer? What do you plan to do next?

“Definitely. I would encourage students or neophyte designers to join competitions because it is a good training ground to hone their talents and skills. It is also the most convenient and affordable way of breaking through the fashion industry. It was the same advice I received from an established fashion designer who I interviewed for a retail class project at SoFA. I gave up my career as a nurse to pursue a dream that I see myself enjoying for the rest of my life. I took my win as a sign that I am on the right track.

I plan to continue joining local and international competitions this year because a lot of mentoring and collaborative opportunities are part of the prize. I would want to learn more from an established brand because starting on your own right now is difficult due to the highly saturated and competitive market.”


Interview Althea Balgos Guballa