Designer Profile

For Russell Villafuerte, It Takes A Strong Village

Photographed by Kieran Punay.

The Filipino designer only uses old clothes and deadstock fabrics to bring his designs to life

Growing up in Antique, far from the busy streets of Metro Manila, Russell Villafuerte’s introduction to design was watching his mother create quilted bedding and crocheted furniture covers in her spare time. One could surmise that seeing his mother decorate their home with her own handiwork is what motivated Villafuerte to pursue interior design. However, Villafuerte’s career took an unexpected turn when he decided to audition for the second season of Project Runway Philippines, not thinking that he would actually get in.

Reel Life

By June 2009, just a month after earning his degree in interior design, Villafuerte found himself among the reality TV competition’s contestants, without even knowing how to sew. “Project Runway became my fashion school,” he says. “My mindset was, ‘I want to do everything, I want to try everything.’”

Villafuerte completed the entire season of Project Runway, finishing in second place. He subsequently joined the 2011 MEGA Young Designers Competition and emerged victorious. After his fashion career took off at such a high, Villafuerte felt that things started to plateau. He decided to go back to interior design, earn his license, and pursue other projects.

Back in Fashion

It wasn’t until 2019, almost a decade later, that he made his fashion comeback through the Bench Design Awards.   This time around, Villafuerte would compete under his new namesake brand called Strongvillage, the literal English translation of his last name.

With Strongvillage, the designer knew exactly what his brand ethos and aesthetic would be.  “There are always three concepts that the brand follows, which are streetwear, global culture, and sustainability,” he says. These three pillars are what give Strongvillage its strong identity. In line with its sustainable ethos is its commitment to zero waste. For Villafuerte, this commitment necessitates an entirely different approach to both his design and production processes.

Sustainable Style

Unlike many brands, Villafuerte only uses old clothes and deadstock fabrics to bring his designs to life. His meticulous process involves collecting donated clothes and upcycling each piece of clothing by taking it apart, seam by seam, to ensure that not a single square centimeter of fabric goes to waste. When cutting the old clothes into new patterns, Villafuerte ensures that the fabric’s real estate is maximized. He then pieces them back together, reconstructing them into new, one-of-a-kind garments. Any piece of fabric that doesn’t make it into his designs is used to create Strongvillage’s line of stuffed toys.

Bench Fashion Week. Photograph courtesy of StrongVillage.

Villafuerte is the first to admit that this is a labor intensive and time-consuming process, which he is entirely hands on with. “I don’t know if I’m now regretting it but I’m really serious about zero waste,”  he jokes.   Strongvillage’s streetwear aesthetic and global perspective take the form of oversized tops, quilted jackets, trousers with striking patchworks, and gartered skirts. Giving new life to existing materials ensures that every garment from Strongvillage is not only an original, but a one-off. Part of Villafuerte’s creative process is also ensuring that all his designs are size inclusive and gender neutral so that anyone and everyone can wear them.

Upcycled denim jacket. Photographed by Kieran Punay.

With Strongvillage’s unique pastiche of fabrics, deconstructed silhouettes, and distinct design details, it’s undoubtedly one of the brands pushing Philippine streetwear style forward. Villafuerte shares, “It took me so long to realize that my design DNA is really reworking clothes, quilting, and what have you.  I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that because I didn’t have to look far. My aesthetic has been there. It’s what I grew up with.”

Limited Edition

While creating a limited collection is a benefit for the brand’s growing customers, Villafuerte is aware of the challenges and opportunities that his steadfast commitment to upcycling and zero waste presents. He believes that the future of zero waste fashion and the development of his own brand is dependent on partnerships. This was evidenced by his recent collaborations with Human, which saw him successfully create capsule collections using inventory overruns and factory textiles from the brand. “I want to be a collaborator and service bigger brands to push them into being more sustainable,” he explains. “Instead of them just storing their overruns and old inventory, why not give them to me? I’ll make something new out of them and we can create a capsule collection.”

Upcycled trousers. Photographed by Kieran Punay.

Sustainability, he believes, is a never-ending process that has to be constantly improved. Zero waste is just the beginning. Villafuerte is undaunted by the long road ahead.

“I want to do everything, I want to try everything.” Because one thing is certain: it will take a strong village to create a more sustainable fashion industry.

Art Director: Jann Pascua; Producer: Adam Pereyra; Multimedia Artist: Gabbi Constantino; Additional photographs: StrongVillage

This story originally appeared in Vogue Philippines’ December-January 2023 Issue. Subscribe here.

More From Vogue

Share now on:
FacebookXEmailCopy Link