LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Among its many names, Los Angeles is also labeled the “City of Hope,” and aptly so for this is where countless souls go to fulfill their deepest artistic dreams. Fortunately, there have been many Filipinos who have gone to LA armed with talent, optimism and courage, and after much hard work, have shone brightly to make us proud.
One of these bright stars is international fashion designer, Veejay Floresca. To backtrack, Floresca burst into the Philippine fashion scene in 2008 as a contestant in the first season of “Project Runway” at age 23. Emerging as one of the show’s three finalists, Floresca had just completed a degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising from De La Salle University College of St. Benilde and stood out for his avant garde handiwork.
The cable program opened many doors for the young designer and soon after Project Runway, Floresca joined the ranks of Manila’s most sought-after couturiers, earning accolades from seasoned industry insiders.
Floresca’s success in the Philippines however did not stop the designer from dreaming bigger dreams. The constant travels that came with various opportunities opened Floresca’s eyes to what the world—particularly the United States—had to offer a fashion designer.
Floresca recalled for The Sunday Times Magazine, “I remember when I’d come to the States and it was time to go back home to Manila, I’d feel a certain sadness. I felt like maybe there’s something for me here.”
And so, with sheer courage and fierce determination, Floresca pursued a Master’s Degree in Fashion Design at the San Francisco Academy of Art University.
“I spent all of my savings on my education, but it was well worth it! Education is a great investment.”
In person Floresca is charming, petite, and very transparent. This author met the designer at the fashion show of a common friend—another successful Filipino in global couture—Pia Gladys Perey.
Floresca’s warmness and authenticity shone through from the first handshake as the happily LA-based designer went on to share the challenges and triumphs of starting a new life and career in a foreign land.
Becoming Veejay Floresca
“Would you believe that I wanted to become a lawyer?” Floresca laughed. “I was inspired by my father who would go to work always dressed to the nines in a suit,” the designer added, showing that early what had really made an impression.
And indeed, as a child, Floresca remembered being inclined to the arts. “I was always very creative. I remember how I would make clothes for my sister’s Barbie Dolls and I really enjoyed it. I was always voted as the class artist because my classmates knew I loved doing the decorations for events and parties. I have always been passionate about arts and crafts and eventually, fashion.”
For Floresca, fashion has the power to make people feel good about themselves, which is what drew the young artist to the trade. “It’s all about making people look good and feel good. I think that’s the power of fashion. For others, it’s just about a piece of clothing but for me, it’s a lifestyle and gives people confidence—now that’s what inspires me.”
Soon passion turned into a career path for Floresca who earned a full scholarship for Fashion Design and Merchandising from De La Salle University’s College of St. Benilde. Truly gifted, the top graduate went on to pursue a course in Fashion Bridal Wear in London, resulting in robust list of clients back in Manila at the age of 22. Officially, the learned fashion designer had a thriving business by 2007.
Come 2008, Floresca’s stint on Project Runway gave the designer nationwide press, which meant that in no time, a Veejay Floresca atelier had opened with additional clientele that included major Philippine celebrities.
Bitten by the competition bug, Floresca also went on to join international design contests, taking his talent to the world’s fashion capital in Paris, France, China, Japan, and of course, the United States. For the designer, it was these competitions that served as a true training ground for challenges soon to come and an all-important platform for her to showcase the Veejay Floresca label.
Veejay in transition
As Veejay Floresca blossomed into a winning fashion designer, the artist also found the freedom for true self-expression. Today, the designer is also a staunch advocate of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] rights.
Floresca found this particular transition more difficult to achieve than moving life and career from Manila to Los Angeles.
“I remember that I was already transitioning in college and wearing women’s clothing in school but after a few years I stopped, because a mentor in fashion design told me that if I really wanted a good career in fashion I had to—because sadly most people in the Philippines still did not understand what being a transgender is.”
The mentor meant well but 15 years later, Floresca has completely embraced being female without fearing for career or even acceptance in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
“Thankfully people are more educated now and more accepting. I have also learned that as long as you are professional, creative, and you are good at what you do, you will succeed. That is all that matters.”
Floresca further said that growing up, the family had always shown their love and acceptance. “What defined me is the fact that my family has always supported me and never made me feel like there was something wrong with me. It is through them that I have gained the courage to truly be who I am.”
Thriving in LA
Floresca is now happily settled in Los Angeles with an established business. Armed with a Master’s Degree in Fashion, the designer’s client base is growing much in the same pace as it did years earlier in Manila.
“My label is comprised mostly of custom-made dresses focusing on cocktail and evening wear. I work with private clients—I personally meet with them, and I do fittings for them… Very similar to what I used to do in Manila but the only difference is that here, I am a team on my own so when I design something, I make sure I can execute it.”
Revealing more of Los Angeles life, Floresca continued, “What most people do not know is that it’s harder here than it is in the Philippines. It’s difficult because all you have is yourself and you do everything on your own. It’s literally a business run by one person, but I’m fortunate that my past experiences in the many competitions I joined have prepared me for what I am doing now.”
For Floresca, the challenges are worth it, crediting the resulting success to hard work, perseverance, and a laser-like focus on one’s goals.
“It’s all about believing in yourself, working hard, and enjoying the ride.”
Thus, the year 2018 is looking bright for Veejay Floresca who aims to build an affordable luxury brand, a ready-to-wear label, a menswear line, and a children’s segment one after another.
As for Floresca’s incessant dreams, a big one is soon to come true all over again as the designer will be part of New York Fashion Week this year for the very first time.
The highly prestigious runway show takes place in February, and as Floresca perfectly expressed, “It is every designer’s dream to show at New York Fashion Week and to be part of it is already a huge achievement in my career as a fashion designer!”
Indeed, Floresca has come a long way from doing arts and crafts as a child, and dressing up Barbie Dolls.
Asked what the designer would say to that budding artist now, Floresca replied, “Veejay, you need to love what you do. You need to love the people around you, and remember to always love yourself. These things will allow you to live the life you want. Remember to always choose happiness.”