Christel Joy Gaño
Ligaya Apparel is a clothing brand officially launched in 2022 to raise awareness of Filipino culture, through Tagalog words, food designs, and national symbols. The brand name Ligaya means happiness, deriving from my name, Christel Joy. Launching the brand took a leap of faith, as I also work full-time as a Marketing Manager for Dell Technologies. First, I started with T-shirt designs with hip words like Sinigang is Life, Habang Buhay, Tadhana. Then, I expanded to sweaters and accessories, now I also offer apparel for children.
From the business side, I decided on a made-to-order business model. Therefore, all clothes and accessories get only printed or stitched when there’s an order, making it more sustainable. Also, I work with vendors who help me with the logistics as this enables me to deliver and share Filipino culture internationally. The Filipino market in Europe is still an unnoticed niche market that I hope to raise awareness of through my brand. Unfortunately, not many are aware of the potential and need for creating a Filipino market in Europe. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines, as per 2015 notes that there are 433,918 Filipinos with Filipino citizenship living in Europe. Additionally, one also needs to include the thousands of Filipinos that no longer have a Filipino citizenship and the Filipinos born abroad, I for example, belong to this invisible statistic.
The “OFW dream”
What I know about my personal story is that it is the quintessential OFW story. My mom moved in her late 20s, during the 1970s, as a nurse from Tarlac to Austria and my dad left his birthplace Ilocos Norte to follow my mom. This also meant that they had to sign-up to the hardships that immigrants face like learning a new language and adapting to a different culture that they were unfamiliar with. Fortunately, they were able to create a support system of Filipino immigrants that consisted of friends. Over the years more family members joined them and they then officially started to call Vienna home.
In the midst of this, my older brother and I were raised, exposed to both Western and Filipino values. Although this made things challenging, as immigrants in general, have to deal with language barriers, prejudices and racism, we both luckily grew up in a loving and secure home. From an academic side, we both hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, representing the sacrifice that our parents made. Our parents always viewed education as an opportunity and privilege because of their own story. My grandparents from my dad's side were farmers and my grandfather was also a soldier during World War II. My grandfather from my mom’s side was a farmer as well, who tried his best to provide for his eight children as a single dad, as my grandmother sadly passed away while she was still young. In a way this is also symbolic, like our grandparents used to plant and harvest crops, our parents planted opportunities for themselves and my brother and I get to influence the next harvest.
My brother works as a nurse, making a direct impact through his patients. Although I feel fulfilled in my corporate job, I have always hoped to do more for the Filipino community. Aligning with the belief that you have only become a real businesswoman if you understand your responsibility to make the world a better place. Philanthropy and charitable work is very important to me as well and I hope that my brand and platform can move in that direction in the near future.
Being the daughter of immigrants made me realize that I can open doors, doors that others unfortunately close. When I was ten years old, I was told by a teacher that I will not finish school because of my Filipino roots. Fast forward, I finished school at the age of 17, ended up being the first in my year group with a bachelor’s degree and at the age of 22, I graduated with a Master’s degree. While I don’t look back at my education as a means to show what Filipinos are capable of, it was my career that shaped my view on cultural identity. Being constantly the youngest in meeting rooms and the only Asian, while working for corporations and non-profit organizations, made me see that adversity can become my advantage. In fact, adversity can be viewed as an advantage for all Filipinos living abroad. This starts with the communication beyond appearances and how we are perceived thus “Yes, I am proud to be Asian. But I am even prouder to be Filipino”.
Back to the roots
I realized that you can and must push beyond expectations while staying grounded and connected to your roots. Growing up, I would experience Filipino strangers greeting each other with a smile or the question “Filipino ka ba?”. This is sadly rarely the case anymore today, especially amongst younger Filipinos and I hope this changes for the better with the help of Ligaya Apparel.
Filipino immigrants have culturally adjusted to their new homes for different reasons but the dialogues about cultural identity and personal journeys are important as well. The Filipino community needs each other, so that the 2nd generation, 3rd generation and the generations that come after, stay connected to their Filipino roots. Ligaya Apparel can help nourish those conversations with streetwear clothing, whether that’s within our Filipino community or outside.
Wearing the brand Ligaya Apparel is about diversity. You don’t only show that you share a connection with Filipino culture but you also get questions from people that are not familiar about the culture. Supporters of the clothing brand have shared with me that Ligaya Apparel has given them the opportunity to share where they are from, to answer curious questions and to learn about each other’s family recipes.
Instagram & Facebook @ligayapparel
Everything Life with Christel Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/5LZwqyvOwQkxAfomWSMzWw?si=36a5160b92fe4633
Blog Channel: www.millennial-warrior.com