MANILA, Philippines – Like most idealistic people, one of designer Ericka del Rosario’s main goals at the start of every year is to learn something new. This year, her list includes (but isn’t limited to) “learning an instrument, a language, and learning more about womenswear or even learning how to paint.”
While there are many of us who don’t fulfill our own New Year’s resolutions, Ericka’s drive to achieve and her hunger for success brought her to shift her primary focus from taking photos to designing menswear. The California-based 19-year-old was known for her photography in high school, and it was through that interest that she got a scholarship to Parsons in New York. From there, she got an opportunity to intern at Alexander Wang’s New York offices, where she turned her focus to her own brand and eventually dropped out of school.
Ericka grew up in the projects in Quezon City before moving to the States. It was her experience growing up in the Philippines that became the inspiration for Project Six, her first collection under her debut menswear brand Kakáslok.
Over email, Young STAR chats with Ericka about how her childhood inspired her brand, and what she thinks about people putting a premium on age.
YOUNG STAR: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
ERICKA DEL ROSARIO: I would like to stay minimal as possible. I’ve always been a fan of clean, sleek things. I want to have pieces be the staple piece of someone’s outfit — in between something that is not too basic and not too loud.
Your brand, Kakáslok, was inspired by your roots and your childhood. Did the decision to base it on those things come naturally?
Yes. I think it’s really important to bring your roots up and always remember where you came from. I mean, you wouldn’t be the person you are today without the people you meet, the places you’ve been, the hobbies/sports you’re into, meeting your first love, all that. I was inspired by my roots and the experiences I had growing up; it molded me into who I am today. When I moved from the Philippines to the States, I was culture shocked but so intrigued about learning other cultures — it pushed me to want to travel and not stay home. If not for my past, I don’t think I would appreciate diversity and culture as much as I do, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. You learn about differences, likes and dislikes and the importance of personality when you meet people from around the world.
When I applied to Parsons, I spoke about my upbringing coming from the Philippines and what pushed me into the design field instead of going into the medical field, and to stand up for what I really wanted to do, which was take photos and make clothes — they loved it. People wanna hear the not-so-typical, the not-so-stereotypical story. Kakáslok overall is basically something that says “screw you” to the system. You can do what you want, you can be what you want. Just because you came from an ugly background or don’t have the best grades doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your aspirations.
Do you have any other inspirations?
Music and photography definitely. One of my favorite musicians is M.I.A. mainly because of her roots and how she applies them to her music and her lifestyle. You meet designers and artists today that talk about things just because it’s “cool” — M.I.A. talks about how she truly feels about the system, about politics, about everything really, and that’s what I respect about her. The industry today is over-saturated by people who wanna be like Kanye or who just talk about sex and drugs in their tracks. With M.I.A., she doesn’t live by how much money she’ll make off a track or how much traffic she’ll get at her concert.
Photography has been one of my muses since I was 14 years old. Photography is what pushed me to get into the design field. Throughout high school, I started my own little photo business and got to shoot kids at my school and kids around the town. I got to learn about how to start business, customer service, and delivering. It even gave me a ton of pocket money to travel and buy new gear. It felt good making my own money and it also felt good to see people enjoy my work. From there, I took my camera everywhere I went — whether it was going to the city or going on a hike. It helped me realize what I was into.
What do you think of the way people put a premium on age when it comes to describing achievements? Like, with how it’s so much more amazing when you get to accomplish something at a young age?
I really believe age is just a number. I don’t think people should pull back from their dreams just because they think they’re too young or too old, or don’t have a degree.
If you think you’re good at doing what you do, then do it and be good at it. I’ve met kids younger than me who are making it big right now, and I’ve met folks older than me that never even had a job before. I realized all of this when I found out about a friend of mine started working for Kanye West as a graphic designer, and he’s younger than me. Even though he had that huge co-sign, he didn’t get accepted into a design program at his art school because his work didn’t meet “standards.” But as of now, without a college degree, he’s killing it. He’s working for Kanye, Pusha, Kim K, etc. Just because you don’t have a degree, doesn’t mean you’re not going to be successful. You learn about what “passion” really is when you’re hustling at the age of 16 years old.
In your feature in The Fader, you also said that you want to “show the importance of going back to your roots and push out the Philippines more.” How do you plan to do that with Kakáslok?
I would like to have Kakáslok pieces be sold in the Philippines in 2016 and to also donate money to the projects there.
In addition, I’m not fond of the stereotype of Filipinos being in the medical field or being known as a dentist or as a nurse. So my main goal for that is to inspire Filipinos to get out of their comfort zone and do more. Don’t listen to your parents, listen to your gut and follow what you love.