Meet: Steffi Cua
Steffi Cua is the Founder of Idyllic Summers, a sustainable brand that combines the know-how of Filipino artisans and indigenous peoples with influences of contemporary resort wear.
After graduating from London College of Fashion (LCF, Steffi had a career in the fashion industry, including working as a Buyer in the International Designers Ready-to-Wear department at Harrods. In 2019 she returned to the Philippines.
She recently spoke to us about her time at LCF, as well as what inspired her to set up her own brand.
You completed your PGCert Buying and Merchandising course in 2015 from LCF. What was your time at the college like? What was a highlight?
Coming from the tiny islands of the Philippines where life is slow, living and studying in London was quite the change! The speed of the fashion industry and the pace at LCF in London were exhilarating.
On a daily basis, there was an expectation for us to be on top of industry journals and know what was happening in all corners of the globe. Week by week, the stores would change drastically: new drops, new collections, new brands and new windows; which meant more data for research and more analysis required on our end as students.
A high point in my course was a range planning presentation to the buying and merchandising team of Debenhams where we spotted a gap in their product offerings and presented our take on the solution. The experience gave me a glimpse of what’s to come working for the buying and merchandising teams of other retailers.
The course itself was a good balance: it was challenging academically, but also provided great fun and exposure to the industry. It provided a good start towards building a career in Buying and Merchandising.
Why did you choose to study at LCF?
LCF is world-renowned for many of its fashion business and design courses, buying and merchandising included. The college is unique because it takes the theoretical and academic side of fashion very seriously, whilst having a good grasp on the realities and future of the industry.
UAL has produced many of the industry’s leading professionals from designers and artists to buyers, and I’m proud to be a part of the alumni circle.
What did you do after graduating?
I had my eyes set on working in the buying offices of the UK’s leading luxury retailers from the moment I graduated. My first job out of LCF was as an account executive, managing the wholesale and distribution of emerging designer brands such as Koché, Arthur Arbesser and Caravana, prospecting and working with their stockists (Net-a-Porter, MatchesFashion.com and Selfridges).
After this, I applied to the buying offices of Harrods and Harvey Nichols and ended up going for the Harrods offer because it was the department I truly loved – International Designers Ready-to-Wear – buying Balmain, Alaïa and Alexander McQueen. I had the best time; the buying teams in fashion are incredibly fun – they’re a good mix of cool and nerdy.
I’ve now moved back home to the Philippines where I hope to make a meaningful and lasting impact on our local fashion industry.
You’ve started your own resort wear brand, Idyllic Summers. Can you tell us more about this?
During the time I was working in London, I noticed how much inventory the fashion industry creates and consumes on a daily basis, not to mention the numerous RTVs (return-to-vendors) and leftover stock sitting unused at the end of each season. I knew then I wanted to do something more meaningful within the industry.
Coming back to the Philippines in 2019 and knowing we had a history of handiwork, largely untapped and on the decline, I started going around the country with the help of our local government and found a handful of skilled communities needing livelihoods.
The brand came about as the solution to many of these problems. Idyllic Summers is able to tap into this network of skilled local artisans and indigenous tribes, create beautiful embroideries and surface designs together, support their crafts and provide livelihood, whilst promoting a more mindful and conscientious approach to consuming fashion.
Idyllic Summers is produced in small batches to ensure there is hardly any leftover inventory. We're also inspired by Alaïa’s business model, where a big portion of the stock is coded as basic and carried over, therefore minimising the need for markdowns.
You partner with indigenous Filipino tribes on your designs, highlighting traditional embroideries and handiwork. Why was this important to you?
There is so much beauty, sincerity and history in traditional crafts. It is something worth protecting and supporting into relevance. At Idyllic Summers, we want to highlight these traditional techniques, bridge the gap and bring them forward into the 21st century. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we are only rotating it in the hopes of people seeing our traditions in a new light.
As a culture, there was a point in time when we had grown to be embarrassed by our traditional crafts and weaves, limiting their wear as costumes used for national holidays and theatrical purposes. There was a need to be proud of our identity and our history as a people.
In 2009, I was invited to an ASEAN textile forum where various countries across Southeast Asia gathered together and showcased their traditional textiles, handiworks and heritage techniques: handlooms, batiks, ikats, indigo, natural dyeing, embroideries and so on. It was such an eye-opening experience for me – I’ve never felt prouder of my culture. It’s a memory I keep coming back to whenever I need a reminder of our purpose.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own brand?
Be honest with yourself and find your own voice. Your individuality is your USP (unique selling point) – it's what will set you apart.
Create a thorough business plan, but nothing will go as planned, so fail fast, stay motivated and be brave.
What’s next for you and for Idyllic Summers?
Our focus this year is growth, not only in the business sense of the word but also growth in terms of our networks both locally in the Philippines and internationally. To us, this means strengthening our partnerships and deepening the ties we already have with existing communities, widening our reach and collaborating with new partners, and also building a bigger Idyllic Summers community of like-minded individuals within the sustainability, design, art and fashion scene.