‘Poverty is not a hindrance to success’ — Renee Salud

Community News & Features Oct 27, 2017 at 4:17 pm
Photos: M. C. Ramos

Photos: M. C. Ramos

13 Lessons & Points to Ponder for Aspiring Designers

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos

With a career spanning decades, Renee Salud (or Mama Renee as he is affectionately called) first earned the spotlight in the business as a fairy godmother to many aspiring beauty queens who won their crowns wearing his creations. His name is synonymous to exquisite designs and enchanting wedding dresses fit for fairy-tale weddings. The fashion icon has catered to a wide range of clientele including the who’s who in showbiz with creations showcasing the best of Filipino materials and artistry earning him the title of “Ambassador of Philippine Fashion”.

In the fashion business full of intrigue, jealous peers often do not know the obstacles Salud hurdled to survive in his early years. It is always fascinating to talk to living legends about their rise to greatness as one realizes that before we feel envious of others’ success, we should ask ourselves if we are willing to make the same sacrifices they endured to get to where they are now. Renee Salud openly shared his struggles with poverty and how he became the country’s top designer despite having no formal education in fashion along with words of advice for young designers.

1. Today’s challenges are stepping stones for tomorrow

Salud knew since his high school years that he wanted a career in fashion if not as a fashion designer, then as a makeup artist. His parents sent him to college to study architecture until his family’s finances took a hit. Had he continued his college education, his siblings would have had to stop schooling due to the family’s limited funds. As the eldest, he decided to drop out to get a job to help support his family and put his siblings through school.

He started as an intern in a department store that had a factory where the clothes were made. After excitedly applying as a fashion designer, he was disheartened when he was brought to the warehouse and tasked with sorting and compiling all the fabrics. “At first, I thought, I don’t like this job. This is not the job I dreamt of. But after several years, after passing that stage, I learned how useful it was for me because it was through that opportunity that I was able to know more about fabrics. I was able to know more about the different types of fabrics and what should be combined and what should go alone by itself. After that, I was brought to the sewing area where I learned the rudiments of sewing, constructing clothes and draping and the different types of stitches.”

Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International 2015 Leren Mae Bautista

Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International 2015 Leren Mae Bautista

2. Never work on spec!

After several years of going through that training, Salud opened his own shop. He describes this as the hand-to-mouth existence stage of his life as he was responsible for paying the bills, his siblings’ tuition and his cancer patient father’s medical expenses through his small earnings. He had to work double time to sustain his shop and find clients as a poor unknown designer. Unlike designers who were better off financially, Salud could afford to make the clothes only after securing a deposit for each order. This practice is still important for all creative professionals. Never start work on the promise of deferred payment or “exposure”.

3. Collaborate with others

Salud did not have access to proper branding and marketing as a young struggling designer so he found other ways to market himself through strategic collaborations. In 1975, some aspiring beauty queens sought his sponsorship to join beauty contests like Binibining Pilipinas. He grabbed the opportunity to design their gowns and luckily got several winners right away. Subsequently, the press noticed his clothes and put them on magazine covers, which won him the public spotlight. Find others who are starting out like you and see if you can collaborate on something mutually beneficial. Even today, Salud still chooses his team wisely, which includes the top models, makeup artists, performers, and outstanding artistic stage director, Raymond Villanueva.

4. Expand your horizons and upgrade your skills

Despite having no formal education in fashion design except for his on-the-job training in the factory where he learned how to sew in his time of poverty, Salud eventually built a name for himself and started doing fashion shows internationally to promote the Philippines. After saving some money, he took a crash course in draping and cutting in Paris to upgrade his skills.

Supermodel Jasmine Maierhofer

Supermodel Jasmine Maierhofer

5. Live within your means

Understand the difference between a need and a want. When asked what tactics Salud applied to survive when he was a poor start-up, he emphasized the importance of accounting. “It was really an austerity program (laughs). Well, of course, I had to have both ends meet so what did I do? Save a lot! I was not able to spend for myself. Just enough to look good and to eat good food and to have a bed and that’s it. That’s what it was when I was a struggling designer because the money you earn should not be spent on luxury. It should be spent on upgrading your shop, for putting more capital on the needs of the shop.”

6. Be accessible

Because of the traffic problem in the Philippines, Salud now has three shops in strategic locations in Alabang, Makati and his original shop in Quezon City in the best proximity to his clientele to capture different demographics. Most of us may not have the means to open several stores, but the point here is to be seen by your clients. Perhaps you can start by selling your pieces in boutiques or pop-up shops and events near where your target clients live or work.

7. The personal touch goes a long way

When asked about the secret behind his staying power since the 70s and what he might have done differently from his contemporaries, Salud believes in helping others and credits the beauty contestants whose pageant gowns he created for no compensation. He went beyond his duty as a stylist to help the aspiring beauty queens. He says, “It’s not only sponsoring, but mentoring, mothering, and all those stuff that create a winner.” Whether you are doing a paid project or working as a volunteer, do it to the best of your ability and add that something extra that only you can provide.

Supermodel Rafael Kiefer and Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International 2015 Leren Mae Bautista

Supermodel Rafael Kiefer and Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International 2015 Leren Mae Bautista

8. Always remember the purpose of your mission

In your daily hustle to make money, remember what and who you are doing this for and what your idea of success is. When asked about his personal definition of success, Salud explains, “When I see my family very happy and accomplished and able to send their children to good schools and when I see them in a very comfortable situation. When I see my sewers can afford to send their children to the best schools and when I see people very happy with my collections and clothes. That’s how I feel success.”

9. Learn from everyone

You can learn from those who have gone before you as well as your peers and juniors. When asked about his major influencers, Salud says he does not pinpoint any particular designer but says that his greatest influencers were the designers from the 50s who introduced Philippine fashion to the world. “That’s what my thinking is now, to be like them, to present our fashion to the world. So, I would like to say they influenced me a lot in that aspect.” He also draws inspiration from other designers and cultures on his travels abroad. “There are so many international designers and local designers who I really admire most and it helps me in creating what I would like to come up with,” he says.

Renee_DSC0661610. Pay your blessings forward

Salud hires people from the provinces and starts them off as hemmers or finishers before they are eventually trained as sewers. It is his advocacy to groom young talents into doing something big, having experienced working his way from the bottom himself. “Now that I have some right connections, this is my time to help the weavers of the country to be noticed through my fashion and through my connections,” he explains.

11. All that glitters is sweat

As for what he thinks it takes for a new designer to survive today, Salud advises, “Number one, they have to know themselves that fashion is not a glamorous thing. It’s hard work. You have to be behind the designing table or the cutting table because there is work over there more than fashion shows, more than socialization. For the young designers, there will be time for you. Just keep on believing in yourself and get away from jealousy and intrigue because if you keep on talking and talking you will not know who you’re fighting with and that will be the start of your downfall. I would say that poverty is not a hindrance to success. To strive harder, to know more about yourself, to develop your skills and not to stop learning…I think that’s the best thing you should do. Good PR and a lot of prayers and good knowledge would be the best components of coming up with the best package.”

Renee_DSC0666512. Practice gratitude and don’t rest on your laurels

His motto in life is, “Thank the Lord. Be yourself.” As for his thoughts on nurturing creativity, he explains, “Creativity is a gift of the Lord and it’s in you. Use it for a good reason, don’t brag about it, don’t rest on your laurels and above all, develop more. Don’t stop learning.” The greatest artists always worked at honing their craft. As an artist, you are only as good as your last piece and can create only what you know. Expand your knowledge through constant learning and practice.

13. Stay humble and remember your roots

Salud is not ashamed to share his unglamorous backstory with poverty. When asked what advice he would give his younger self, he says, “Just start the way you started during those days and just keep on believing in yourself and following your dreams. I know there’s nothing to regret about the time I was starting. Being poor is a challenge and because of the challenge you become the better person you would like to be.” When asked what he most wants to be remembered for, without skipping a beat he answered, “As Renee Salud, the Filipino designer.”


Backstage with top fashion show director Raymond Villanueva

Backstage with top fashion show director Raymond