When entrepreneur Jovie Galit addressed the crowd at Paper Plus Cloth on September 14th, she challenged the audience to search “Pinay Collection” on Google. Expecting to see Galit’s merchandise line at the top of the results, they were dismayed to find R-rated links instead.
“I knew that I’d wanted to name my new company something Pinay,” said Galit. “I did the whole thing, I bought the domain, I was so sold with ‘Pinay Collection.’ I was so happy. One thing that I missed: I forgot searching the terms ‘Pinay Collection’ on Google. When I finally looked it up, I was mortified.”
When Galit asked her friends for advice, they assured her that this was exactly why her business needed to exist— to reclaim the word “Pinay.”
In 2018, Galit was working on her calligraphy business, Pinya Letters, when Karla Villanueva Danan asked her to make a “Kumain ka na?” sign for her film, Jezebel.
“I wanted the kind of stuff you could get at Homesense or at Winners, but in Tagalog,” said Danan. “I thought, why not ask someone to just make it? Why wait for a store to do that when I have this talented friend who I can pay, and the pay goes directly to her and helps her with her business, and then have this beautiful art in my home that reflects our culture?”
Danan’s commission led Galit to use more and more Filipino words in her calligraphy work. A year later, Danan was modelling a “Maarte” t-shirt for the Pinay Collection’s first photoshoot. “At the end of the day, all I wanted was a sign in my kitchen that said ‘Kumain ka na,’ and I got way more than that,” said Danan.
Reclaiming The Words
Unlike other Filipino clothing lines that use barongs, ternos, or indigenous weaving to show a link to Filipino culture, the Pinay Collection embraces Filipino identity by boldly featuring Tagalog words like ‘maldita’, ‘lakwatsera’, and ‘ambisyosa.’
“I would get called ‘ambisyosa’ a lot in high school because people would tell me that I couldn’t do something and say, ’Ang ambisyosa mo naman!’” said Galit. “I would tell them something I’d want to do, and they’d call me ‘ambisyosa’ like it was out of my reach.”
“These are very much rooted from my experiences, but at the same time, these are also other people’s identity stories, and I’d like to think that through these pieces, Filipinas and Filipinxs share that connection.”
While most launches are only focused on sales, Galit had a bigger plan: community healing through a free calligraphy workshop using Filipino words.
“Think about a word— Tagalog or not— that you would like to reclaim,” said Galit. “A word that isn’t necessarily so good, something that’s been used to put you down, or that’s been used to shame you in the past. But you know what? You want to reclaim it, you want to own that word. Write it down and write down why. What does that word mean to you?”
“I’d like to reclaim ‘prangka,’” said Stef Martin of Makulay Atbp. “We could just say our feelings but with compassion for each other. It doesn’t have to be negative when you’re being honest and truthful.”
Community leader Glyn Narca’s word was ‘mainggay.’ “When I was in Grade 10, someone told me, ‘You’re loud for an Asian girl.’ So that always makes me feel, ‘Should I be quieter?’” asked Narca. “That’s something that I need to be comfortable with as I grow up: to speak up and not feel like I’m too loud.”
Illustrator Khela Maquiling’s word was ‘maldita.’ “I was a very hyperactive and outspoken kid, and I heard it so many times in various angry tones that I became very quiet and reserved, and I was like that for years,” said Maquiling. “And then I began to think, ‘All of my maldita traits are the traits that make me confident, that make me assert myself in places and spaces that I could never dream of entering. So it’s a word that I’m reclaiming now. I’m maldita, what are you gonna do about it?”
A Role Model
For Paper Plus Cloth owner Rowena Sunga, the launch and workshop were a pleasant surprise. “When Jovie first approached me about this, I thought it was just about lettering some nice Filipino words that people can relate to, but her message was so much more than that,” said Sunga. “What’s driving her is not the money— it’s about reclaiming what these words mean. I admire her. She’s definitely going to be an inspiration for many people.”
For Ihayag founder and university student Isabela Villanoy, Galit’s merchandise meant an international representation of Filipina identity. “On the global stage, I think it’s great that Jovie’s putting our culture out there through her clothing line. She’s one of the people I’d like to emulate.”
Galit had also become a role model for Maquiling, an aspiring entrepreneur. “Seeing her utilizing such an artistic skill and making a business out of it is so inspiring. Now that I see someone like her being successful, I’m gaining a little bit more confidence stepping into this world of actually showing my art.”
When it was time to buy the t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, pins, cards, journals, and pouches, the Pinay Collection sparked discussions and laughter as customers excitedly posed with their new purchases.
And as Galit addressed the store filled with customers buying her merchandise, she couldn’t stop smiling. “My goal is that hopefully, when you type the word ‘Pinay,’ something else comes up, something wonderful. Like your faces. Like your stories. I’m really hoping that we can do that together.”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on September 27, 2019.