Eairth turns fiveBy Marge C. Enriquez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Because it started out with a collection of loose garments made of natural fibers, then dyed with talisay (tropical almond) leaves and sibucao, a medicinal herb, and the styles were named after tribal groups (T’Boli Drifter, Aeta Maxi, Bajan Pilot, Ifugao Swing Top and Kalinga Chinos), Eairth was initially pigeonholed by the press as a fashion brand with an ecological and ethnographic viewpoint.
In fact, founder-designer Melissa Dizon-Ramsay had wanted to produce clothes for the independent-minded individual who wanted high-quality clothes in relaxed silhouettes.
But the stereotyping may not be bad since Eairth made a buzz and is on its fifth year.
“We want to reintroduce Eairth to what it has become,” Dizon-Ramsay said. “It is about clothes that allow you to live a carefree and easy lifestyle. It’s not ‘fashionable.’ We are anti-fashion. With our clothes, you could have it for five years and it still feels right. It’s not like I have to buy a new top tomorrow or the styles become obsolete. Clothing has to become part of your way of being.”
The designer clarifies that earlier stories on Eairth described it as an organic line of clothing.
“We don’t use organic fabric,” she clarified. “They are just hand-dyed in the most natural process. The real colors come out.”
Unlike chemical dyes that produce even and saturated tones, natural dyes vary in hues according to how they are absorbed into the fabric.
“What you think is black is the darkest charcoal in the light,” Dizon-Ramsay explained.
One of Eairth’s early inspirations was “tribal mood,” she said, but she didn’t want it to be literal. Spending weekends in Puerto Galera in Mindoro, she witnessed the lifestyle of the Mangyans. “That set the pace with the coloring,” said Dizon-Ramsay.
Although Eairth styles had such names as Kalinga Slasher or T’boli Lounge, they exuded a mood rather than an appropriation or interpretation of ethnic costume.
Perhaps, the common element that Eairth has with the tribes is that clothes are functional, uncomplicated yet stylish in their own terms.
Today, Eairth offers seasonal looks and classics—the tried-and-tested styles that sell all year round.
Through the years, Dizon-Ramsay has perfected the fabric and coloration. She explained that the T-shirt is made of special cotton with strong yarn threads. “We’ve managed to work with the cotton manufacturer to knit the tension of the fabric.”
The fabric starts out as white, then boiled with the natural dyes such as pure indigo from Abra. To augment the insufficient supply of local indigo, Eairth also imports from India.
Both sources lend different hues because of their soil.
“Indigo from India has a reddish blue tint while the cast from Abra has a grayer blue,” said Dizon-Ramsay.
The dyes from the classic collection are extracted from the java plums, ginger, Indian almond leaves and hawili fig barks.
The Eairth classic T-shirt has a signature look—no armholes, a seamless line that softens the shoulder. “It’s slimming and the cut alleviates the seam rubbing against the armpit which I really hate,” she said.
Another staple is the drawstring, elasticized pants made of silk charmeuse, inspired by silk pajamas.
All the pants are built with a crotch reinforcement which becomes part of the design. “They never tear at the crotch and you don’t see a lot of underwear lines. You can even wear them without undies and still feel secure,” said Dizon-Ramsay.
The jeans have been bestsellers not only because of the quality of the denim. Unlike other jeans that are cut to be body-fitting and sexy, Eairth’s styles are relaxed around the groin and thighs and slowly taper on down the leg.
“Most jeans here are super-tight,” she said. “Here, it’s like you’re wearing nothing.”
The classic collection also includes anoraks, collapsible travel bags, loose tops and innerwear as outerwear garments such as corset tops and silk boxers.
“Before, our look was ‘lounge-y.’ Now it is more citified,” said Dizon-Ramsay. “You can travel anywhere in these clothes. We’ve transcended from the bedroom to the cityscape.”
The designer emphasizes the importance of getting the right fabric by working with manufacturers to develop them. The latest innovation is the cotton-piña. Its special weave, similar to canvas, makes it a sturdy material for a coatdress for a fall-winter wardrobe.
Colors from nature have always been part of Eairth’s signature. From browns, charcoals, whites, blues and neutrals in the early days, Dizon-Ramsay introduced red and prints.
Red is named Love. The dye comes from madder, an herb with red roots from India; cochineal bugs that produce crimson dye and sibucao.
Prints are also silk-screened in the factory. Researching from the Smithsonian Institute, Dizon-Ramsay took geometric patterns from 16th-century Navajo Indian blankets based on weaves and used them for a collection.
The new fall-winter collection offers the painter’s smock made of cotton poplin and soft silk chiffon inserts on the yoke, velvet skirts and leather apparel made from the cows in Bulacan which are dyed with talisay leaves. The toughness of the leather makes it suitable for masculine designs.
Dizon-Ramsay also designed piña-cotton winter jackets with polyfill lining and a snowman jacket for winter made of brushed twill.
“It’s so cozy, it’s our version of the puffer jacket,” she said. “I wore this abroad and it was below zero. With thermals and sweaters and this, I was sweaty.”
Dizon-Ramsay also takes pride in Eairth’s attention to little details such as zippers with big teeth that are sourced from Japan; customized brass rings for Eairth’s signature adjustable pants and, more important, the clean finishing.
Sometimes clients sweetly complain that they wear Eairth’s clothes inside out because they can’t tell the difference.
Parrot fish skirt
The spring collection 2013 promises exciting styles such as a skirt made of parrot fish skin; new patterns inspired by the jungle; shirt dresses, sweatshirts and dresses dyed in coffee peel and tamarind bark.
A counterpoint to Eairth’s subtly sexy styles is a long-sleeved, ruffle-necked chiffon charmeuse dress, with a peplum waist and lots of quilting and pleating for structure.
“It’s like wearing a soft corset without the boning,” she said.
Eairth is poised to be relaunched in Europe and the United States. Plans are afoot to revive Eairth in Barney’s and other high-end stores in New York. Dizon-Ramsay is working with a new publicist, Searchers’ Group, whose clients include Repetto, a French footwear brand, and Surface to Air, a sportswear brand.
Dizon-Ramsay likened the first five years to an incubation period. The clothes were initially subcontracted which turned out to be a disadvantage. She had to put up with pilferages, late delivery and uneven quality. Last year, she opened her own factory across her showroom in Soumak in Makati.
The business is still embryonic and has not yet received great return of investment, thereby making the growth of the work and production on a large scale very challenging.
She admitted that business was slow yet steady, because of the slack economy. “We are on the same level as cars. Who needs another dress?”
But there’s a reason people buy Eairth, and some clients get them in bagfuls.
The tags explain the pigments in the dyes and the simple washing instructions—use mild detergent, line dry and no iron. “Our clothes look as if they’ve been there forever,” said Dizon-Ramsay.
Eairth’s showroom is at Bormaheco Condominium, Metropolitan Ave., Makati City. Tel 8907785/84.