Denuo and The Secret Life of Clothes
Denuo has a distinct aesthetic: offbeat with a timeless elegance that breathes earthy minimalism. But it’s their message that resonates most with their audience. Practically all the garments and products sold on their website are reclaimed and repurposed with care, using environmentally-safe cleansers and methods. For Monica Vivar and Alex Lizares, the brand’s raison d’etre goes beyond a passion for vintage fashion. From the painstaking process of restoring every garment to collaborating and supporting other small local businesses, Denuo is driven by a responsibility to empower consumers with choice and transparency.
Alex Lizares, Merchandising Director: Denuo started as a blog in 2012. We were very much into fashion at that time and we loved ukay-ukay. We were all still in college, with Monica as the photographer, me as the stylist, and Carlos [del Prado] as the writer. We would shoot, style, and create stories using these clothes and publish them on the platform. But it wasn’t really us…it was very different from what [the brand] is now.
Monica Vivar, Creative and Managing Director: In the first year of Denuo, we were really young and we knew nothing about the fashion industry then, especially the local fashion industry. It was all coming from a consumer’s perspective. Because we were just kids, we didn’t know what it entailed to be able to run a serious business, or how to balance our books. Through the years, we all went through our personal changes; we grew up, we matured, we went through mentorships. I personally went through a really profound phase in my life, which enabled me to become the leader that Denuo needs me to be. I kind of owe it to the community that I am in and that made me want to become a better person. So, that’s when the transition occurred; we no longer wanted to just put up pieces that looked good to just sell them. It had to mean something. We realized that what we’re really doing is affirming slow fashion. We are not designers, first and foremost. But, we love designers and we love artisans. We have this sentiment for sustainable brands, for slow fashion brands. We want to challenge the ways of big fast fashion companies and be able to support the smaller, local brands.
RECLAIMING AND RECIRCULATING AS A VALUABLE PROCESS
Alex: We really study the history of each garment. What era this certain garment is from, the type of fabric that it is, so we know the value and how we value it for our platform and for our customers.
Monica: So, we go through that sourcing process, we assess the items, and it goes through this laborious laundry process. We do it all ourselves. The simplest things, like, when we’re washing [the clothes], we try our best to put extra filters, so that the microfibers don’t go into the drainage. We’re also very mindful of the soaps we use, what kind of products we associate ourselves with, what we’re supporting. Also, how we care for the garment.
Alex: For every collection that we release, we do quality control three times. Once, after sourcing or the assessment of the item. Then another one before we shoot. And then a third time after we shoot, when it goes to storage and it’s ready for selling. So we have to make sure that these items go to our customers already wearable and already prepared for them a certain way, that they can already wear it out. We really care for the pieces—we basically love everything.
Monica: What we really do was initiated by what we resonated with, but also in reflection to sustainability. It’s more on understanding the value of the garment itself. It’s so much more [work], that a lot of people downplay the value of what we actually do. And I’m very passionate about talking about the value of what we do, because we do hit low price points because we want to make it available to our local market. But if you look at it as a business, it’s so hard to sustain this kind of structure. What we do—all this—is the work of two people.
Alex: Yet, people often question us about the processes behind our products and pricing: “Why do you think that you can sell this item at this price?” Since ukay-ukays are left and right here.
Monica: But in a way, it’s good that they question it. Then, that just says that there’s not enough information letting you know why there are actually ukay-ukays in our country, and why these are the [labor] conditions, and also how value is measured. You know, I don’t believe that a garment can cost just twenty dollars. There has to be a question why any garment is at twenty dollars, or at a thousand pesos, considering the life cycle of how long it takes to create an actual piece of clothing.
Alex: The amount of materials, the resources, the labor…
Monica: We don’t know what kind of struggles the makers of clothes have to endure. From the very start of the lifecycle of clothes; say, from a cotton seed—what’s the politics behind that? How many farmers had suffered injustices to plant that cottonseed? How about the actual workers in factories or mass production workshops, the abuse that goes behind making each piece? So, these are the things that keep everything in perspective, that what we’re trying to do is just show that there’s an option to brands that are out there. We’re not trying to shame anyone into feeling like it’s wrong to buy from fast fashion brands, or that it’s wrong to support new clothing. We live in the 21st century, and the world’s population is crazy huge. I guess, what we’re just trying to show is as long as you’re aware and conscious about the spending, the purchasing power that you have, that’s the most important. It’s the excessive buying and the ignorance of what the companies are responsible for—that’s really the issue. So, hopefully with sharing our process, our sentiments behind the process and what we’re trying to do, people could have more respect for what they wear, for the creators and the artisans who work so hard to make them.
Monica: For us, slow fashion is all about empowering the brand, the business owners, and the consumers with knowledge and transparency. That’s really our goal: to empower and to make you [the consumer] feel like you have the choice to decide whom to support and give your money to. To demand information from the companies, especially the large ones. To understand where their suppliers are from. Do they pay their taxes? Do they take care of the people who make and work for them? Because of fast fashion, or because of these corporations, there’s this numbing sense of value, a numbing sense of power, for the consumer. And in turn, it has given fashion such a bad rep—that it’s this frivolous thing. But fashion is amazing. It makes you feel wonderful, it makes you feel sexy or strong or comfortable or sweet. What you wear and how you wear it can really empower you.
We also really focus on waste. What is the slow fashion pyramid? What is the closed cycle for fashion? There’s a lot of information available to help young entrepreneurs and business owners make their brands become a little more eco-friendly and sustainable. Slow fashion really means a lot to us, because it’s an industry that creates jobs. And you can’t dismiss that, it’s a powerful industry, and it’s one where change will happen if we support one another.
Alex: Especially in our country, we should all be supporting one other instead of being hyper-competitive or putting each other down.
Monica: Ultimately, it’s really important for us to share how we can take better care of ourselves and take better care of our things. Because this shouldn’t be a disposable industry, and we shouldn’t be living a disposable life.
Edited for clarity and concision.