With the thousands of dresses and clothes in markets and boutiques around Phnom Penh, it sometimes becomes a serious dilemma for women to choose the perfect kind of clothing. And chances are, we overdo our fashion styles, thinking ‘more’ looks ‘better’. But as a budding fashion designer in Cambodia, Janeth Dingal thinks beauty and elegance do not necessarily mean ‘too much’. The Filipina fashion aficionado officially launched her clothing line, Janeth de Elegante, on the day of her 34th birthday to celebrate her continuous achievements in the fashion scene. Agnes Alpuerto and Say Tola discover Janeth’s fashion story and styles.
Good Times2: What is Janeth de Elegante? Why did you come up with the idea of opening a fashion label in Cambodia?
Janeth: Way back in 2014, I worked in Bangkok, Thailand. I was designing clothes already. My previous partner owned few tailor shops, so he encouraged me to design dresses. But that time, I wasn’t too serious about designing. In 2016, I came to Cambodia because my new partner, who is also now my fiancé, is here. He encouraged me to continue my passion. I discovered that there are Filipinos, Cambodians and other nationalities who have established names in fashion designing, so I thought “why not?” and tried to design clothes again. This country isn’t well developed yet, it’s just starting to boom so the competition isn’t as tough as other countries. I tried and it worked for me, surprisingly.
And just last June 30, I finally officially launched my brand – Janeth de Elegante. I held a fashion show to introduce my designs to the public and let more people know that I have designs that suit their taste. The brand is named that way because it’s solely mine and I am selling elegant cocktails and gowns. With my designs, I make people look elegant and sophisticated.
God Times2: Did you study fashion design in the Philippines or in Cambodia?
Janeth: I didn’t go to a fashion design school. In fact, the degree programme I took back in college wasn’t related to fashion at all. It is really just my innate passion to make something elegant. Designing and sewing are actually self-taught skills. I pushed myself to learn through books and through video tutorials because it’s something I really love doing. I am a fashion aficionado by heart and it really makes me happy if I look pleasant and presentable. So when I watch fashion shows or when I see people wearing nice clothes, I try to check on the details and then I try to recreate them.
Good Times2: Speaking of recreating designs, how do you maintain the uniqueness and authenticity of the clothes you make?
Janeth: As a designer, I really believe no design is original. I mean, we get inspiration from other people, from the environment, from things we see and then we combine all those little details into something more beautiful and wearable. I am not even very keen on knowing that some people somehow copy my dresses. One of my tailors is very open that he also makes similar designs and sells them in his shop. I don’t really mind. I am in fact honoured that he likes what I do and he sells them, too, and he tells his customers that he got inspiration from Janeth de Elegante designs. It’s something I take pride on.
Good Times2: What factors do you consider when you design dresses?
Janeth: I do not really consider too many things when I design, because I don’t base them on any country, religion, culture or tradition. Not even the climate. I base my designs on what I like and on what my clients like. My designs are really wearable because I don’t want to make clothes that are only used to show off. I want people to wear them and feel good when they wear it. That’s the very essence of why I am into this kind of business. Most of my designs are a little sexy, but not too showy. Women can wear blazers or coats to cover the sexy back or front during daytime meetings and can take off the blazers for dinner or night parties. The designs are really flexible.
Good Times2: How are the cocktail dresses and gowns made?
Janeth: My clients come to me and we talk about the design they want and the budget they allocate for such design. We come up with a sketch and if they like it, I ask my tailors to make the clothing. I make sure the designs are followed strictly. My tailors know me too well so they already understand my designs and my work ethics. So, when I give them my sketch, they already know what to do and they will only come up with the best output. As a result, my clients are always satisfied with their orders.
I also make sure that all the materials used for the dresses and gowns are of high quality. I get fabrics from Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Cambodia. When I travel to other countries, I always drop by their fabric shops and if I spot a good one, I buy it and bring it here.
Good Times2: Who do you make the clothes for?
Janeth: My target market is the working class – people who often go to formal meetings, people who have events, people in business, people who like to dress up in the office, people working in hotels or resorts. Basically, I make my products for those who want to be presentable when facing clients or people.
Since I started designing in 2016 here in Cambodia, I have already made clothes for Miss Cambodia winners during their events. I also have foreign and local clients who come to me and ask me to design specific dresses for them. I also made the staff uniforms for a new hotel in Cebu, Philippines. They discovered me through common connections and then asked me to design the uniforms. So, the uniforms were tailored here in Cambodia and I shipped them to Cebu and now, they’re all worn by the staff.
But I get most of the profit in this business from my clients in the Philippines, Japan and Australia. I have friends there who have boutiques. I ship my cocktail dresses to those shops and they sell them to their local customers. In Philippines alone, I ship about 35 cocktail dresses every month.
Good Times2: How important is it to be ‘elegant’?
Janeth: I like to look elegant. I like people to look elegant. This is why I make elegant dresses. And contrary to common perception, being elegant is not being luxurious or being conceited. For me, elegance means being presentable, looking beautiful and pleasant that when people see you, they would say that you look nice. People would think you’re sophisticated and rich because of how you dress up, of how you carry yourself.
It’s sad to say but people are really judgmental. If you do not know how to dress up, people will look down on you; they won’t even say hi. But if you dress up elegantly – with proper combination of dress, bag and shoes – people would want to be friends with you. People have standards and it’s sad. That’s why I push myself to look good always. It’s not really dressing up for others, it’s also for my own self. When I dress up, I feel beautiful and confident. Same goes with other people. Exerting effort to make yourself look pleasant is good for you. It’s how you show your love and respect for your own self. You don’t have to buy all those expensive clothes and accessories just to show off. Buy the ones that you need, those that would make you feel happy, gorgeous and comfortable.
However, it’s also important for us to consider the people around us, the environment, the event you’re attending. You cannot just wear a long gown when you go to a coffee shop, that would be weird and funny. When you dress up, dress appropriately. Try to match the colours and the styles of your clothes and you will come out nicely.
Good Times2: Any fashion tips for women?
Janeth: It’s always good to keep a pair of white and black pearl earrings. It goes with almost all types of dresses and occasions. It’s also a must to have at least one pair of high-heeled shoes. For girls, we will always look elegant when we wear heels, especially if you’re opting for a simple blouse and jeans. You have to learn to put the right accessories as well – pair plain t-shirt or blouse with a long necklace or use the short-chained ones when you’re wearing printed tops. Just pair up your clothes and accessories perfectly. Never ever overdo your look. Keep it simple. Keep it beautiful. Keep it elegant.