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Whey Pimental bringing Filipino fashion to Bermuda – one stitch at a time

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Fashion designer Whey Pimental, left, with Leng Saliva wearing the mestiza dress she designed for the Filipino Independence Day celebration held in Victoria Park in Hamilton (Photograph supplied)

When it comes to traditional Filipino fashion, Whey Pimental is rapidly becoming the go-to person on the island.

During the last Bermuda Day Parade, she was the seamstress behind the Filipino dancers’ lively yellow and red dresses.

Filipino dancers in the Bermuda Day Parade wearing dresses made by Whey Pimental (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

“The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda asked if I could help them,” Ms Pimental said.

The designer, from San Pablo City, Luzon, Philippines, was only too happy to assist, but found it a big undertaking.

“There were 30 dancers, plus the King and Queen,” she said. “I did the costumes in three weeks, spending about four hours a day on them. I made the individual patterns and did the cutting and then got help with the skirts for the dancers, just so we could finish on time.”

A designer in her home town, John Nograles, helped her source materials and fabrics she could not get in Bermuda.

She has a full-time job at the Coral Beach Club in Paget as an upholsterer, so had to work in her spare time.

“On the day of the parade, it was overwhelming to see my dresses on display,” she said. “Most people loved them. I was so proud to see my creations being applauded.”

As soon as that event was over, the AFB needed her help again with the Filipino Independence Day celebrations in Victoria Park in Hamilton on June 12.

“I told them I could not do dresses for another big group,” she said. “I was very busy at work, but I was happy to do one special dress.”

In five days, she made a mestiza gown, a traditional dress with wide, stiff butterfly sleeves and lots of embellishment.

“The most challenging part about making the dress was the embellishments, and also getting the sleeves right,” Ms Pimental said. “There was not enough of the right material in Bermuda to make it stiff and stable on the arms.”

She resorted to cardboard, to make the sleeve not only look right, but stay in place while the wearer, Leng Saliva, danced.

“The president of the AFB, Ryan de Jesus, said he was really impressed that someone in Bermuda was making traditional dress,” Ms Pimental said.

The concept for the mestiza dress dates back to when the Spanish colonised the Philippines in the 1500s.

“The mestiza is a dress normally used for very formal occasions in the Philippines, such as a wedding or birthday” Ms Pimental explained.

The dress is a subset of what is known as Maria Clara attire. Historically it would have only been worn by the mestiza or upper class women as a status symbol. When the United States took over the Philippines in 1898 after the Spanish-American war, the dress was seen more as traditional clothing than a fashion statement.

The seamstress has never had the chance to wear a mestiza dress herself.

“Even back in my own country, socialising was not a big part of my life,” she said. “I was always busy working, or designing clothing for someone else.”

However, she did design and sew her own dress for her wedding last March.

“Everybody liked it,” she said.

Ms Pimental first fell in love with stitching in high school in the Philippines.

“I knew from there that it was my passion to do dresses and men’s clothing,” she said.

After graduation she took a two-year seamstress course and then opened her own dress shop.

In 2001, she came to Bermuda to work in upholstery and drapery. After eight years, she returned to the Philippines, but came back to the island again two years ago.

Whey Pimental has been sewing since she was in high school in the Philippines (Photograph supplied)

“After I married a Bermudian, I started dreaming of having my own couture dress shop in Bermuda,” Ms Pimental said.

She said innovations in technology were allowing more people to get into high fashion design.

“With the new technology in fabric design, we can lay out our own embroidery and lace designs to create personalised couture dresses,” she said. “My clients in Bermuda can expect their own personalised ideas and designs.”

It is not only members of the Filipino community who have expressed an interest in her work. Many Bermudians have also said they would like to buy a mestiza gown.

“They ask how much it is and where they could wear them,” Ms Pimental said. “They are normally worn for very formal occasions such as weddings, anniversaries or birthday parties. They might wear them for formal dining, or any occasion that would require wearing something traditional.”

She also does other types of dresses such as bridal.

“I am working on an African design for one lady,” she said.

Her dream is to one day have her own dress shop.

“I want to establish my name first,” she said. “Otherwise, I am not sure if a physical store would be successful. For the time being, I am going to continue working full time and doing the seamstress and couture on the side, until I get better known.”

However, she is starting to research what it would take to have a physical store.

“It is quite different opening a business here, compared to the Philippines,” she said. “In the Philippines, you can open your own shop without documents from the Government. You only need permission from the head of your village.”

Ms Pimental has found a lot more red tape involved in creating a business in Bermuda.

She sees a gap in the market.

“Most of the tailoring shops in Bermuda are focused on alterations,” she said. “Most bridal dresses and high couture needs to be ordered from overseas. Bridal gowns from away tend to cost from between $5,000 and $10,000. They can be very expensive. The alterations alone can cost over $3,000. Right now, I would make my best bridal dress for between $1,000 and $2,100, depending on the style and materials they want to use.”

Ms Pimental would like to make more affordable wedding dresses available locally.

• For more information, call 514-0106 or see Whey Pimental’s Facebook page, Queen’s Fashion Couture and Drapery

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Published July 02, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated July 03, 2024 at 8:11 am)

Whey Pimental bringing Filipino fashion to Bermuda – one stitch at a time

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