Bespoke bonding

Hong Kong – I flew halfway across the world, to shop… at H&M, I thought to myself as I waited in front of the popular brand’s largest branch in Central. I came here for my best friend’s wedding; but to take advantage of the trip, I decided to stay a few days. Another friend from Manila flew in to meet up for some female-bonding time, in short, shopping. But I did not expect this kind of shopping.

I didn’t realize there was no H&M outlet in the Philippines so while other tourists did Hong Kong tours that included Stanley Market, or Lantau, and the like; my friend and I did the tour, alright… the H&M tour. She spent about three hours at the one in Kowloon; another two hours at the branch in Mong Kok, that afternoon; and about four hours in Central, the following day, before she left for the airport.

They say we take things and even persons for granted when they are readily available. But I was not interested in shopping at H&M; not only because it’s so common in the U.S.; but also because to me, the popular stylish brand has nothing on Tinsley Manila, a Philippine brand.

Firstly, I know I can go to an event or anywhere clad in Tinsley, without having to fear showing up in the same outfit as one, two or even three others. Tinsley designs are not mass-produced, which also results in a more personalized service. Owner and designer Elthy Aguinaldo-Irasga knows each and every one of her clients. She believes this is a much-better way to do business.

“It’s not just about earning money or making a living; it’s about connecting with people,” said Elthy who used to own a boutique in one of the popular Manila malls; but had to close it down when rent and overheard expenses became unreasonable. “But I didn’t want to let go of my passion for fashion so I did not let it go.”

Deciding to take advantage of a cheaper yet equally-effective (or even more effective, to some) medium of marketing, Elthy decided to try selling on Facebook. She would post photos and as friends inquired about each piece, they also became clients. Elthy and her team would take the time to visit each client and take her measurements so that the clothes are made-to-order, making bespoke fashion affordable.

On the plane, I read a magazine article about the bastardizing of the word “bespoke,” once attached to luxury and opulence, used by tailors in Europe that specialized in custom-fit clothing. Author lamented the proliferation of the once exclusive term that is now used even for custom-packaged insurance premiums.

But this doesn’t apply to Tinsley’s case. Elthy and her “girls,” as she calls them,  do not only take your measurements to make sure the clothes fit perfect. They also allow and in fact, encourage clients to pick a design from her lookbook and  change details – fabric, color, length, among others – to fit the clients personality. Can’t be any more custom than that.

“I want people to wear Tinsley comfortable and with pride. If the pieces are made-to-measure, it will be comfortable. And if a client is able to collaborate with me in coming up with a look or outfit that’s uniquely hers, then I know she will wear it with pride,” Elthy said. “I love how I can make designs and tweak them to suit each and every customer. I love how everything is highly personalized.”

I have also collaborated with Elthy many times on the pieces I wear on “Kababayan LA.” For instance, I have asked her and her team to make pieces for me in jersey, instead of cotton, so I won’t have to iron in the States.  I have also been able to display a bit of creativity when choosing what fabric and color to use. Additionally, because Elthy’s designs are unique, I have gotten so many compliments while wearing Tinsely, on several different occasions.

“I get inspiration from a lot of things. From designers, both old and new, from family and friends and customers,” Elthy said when asked about her designs. “I’m not so much into trends. I prefer clothes with classic lines that I tweak to make them look current.”

Tinsley was registered in 2007 and since its relaunch in 2011, Elthy has released eight lookbooks for Tinsley, including a travel essentials collection. Personally, she only has one son, Jaime, but many “daughters and babies,” through her designs she calls by name. “I find it easier to remember, especially for customers, easier name recall.”

And one memorable design she will not forget is the “Gretchen” from two years ago. It caught the eye of famous television talk show host Kris Aquino and led Tinsley to dress the former Philippine presidential daughter and current presidential sister for her show “Boy & Kris,” opening many doors and opportunities to make a name for Tinsley in the Philippine fashion circles.

“To be honest, I don’t really want to make Tinsley that big because I don’t want to lose its personalized and cozy feel. I do however want to expand my international market,” admitted Elthy who is just flew in to California for some trunk shows all over the U.S.

I will be attending her trunk show in Costa Mesa – 3176 Pullman St. Suite 109 Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Join us for an afternoon of bespoke bonding.

Catch me in Tinsley Manila clothing on Kababayan LA, weekdays at 4:30p.m. on KSCITV, channel 18 in Southern California. Previous shows are at

About the Author

Related Posts