Pandemic fashion buoys Bayo
It was the bayanihan spirit that ferried this homegrown fashion brand to safe harbors during the perfect storm brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When malls were locked down and only essential stores were allowed to operate, local fashion house Bayo suffered an immense setback. But like many businesses, it found opportunity in a crisis as well as a way to help protect medical front-liners.
Instead of making ready-to-wear clothes, Bayo started producing personal protective equipment (PPE) from sustainable fabric for hospital front-liners and medically- reviewed masks for consumers, government offices and companies, allowing Bayo to keep its production workers and even employ additional sewers.
“One of the most important lessons our company learned from this crisis is that adversity should not stop us from helping,” says Anna Lagon, chief executive officer of Bayo. “Being focused on helping others not only motivated our whole team to continue being productive, but it opened up strategic partnerships that helped sustain our operations, gave livelihood to more people, and even inspired product innovations.”
Bayo is among the few Filipino fashion brands with a local manufacturing facility. This came in handy in February 2020 when it reached out to the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) for the manufacturing of fabric masks that could withstand liquid droplets and cover the nostrils and mouth effectively.
The company had started making masks in response to the eruption of Taal Volcano in January 2020. It produced 10,000 sets and distributed them to areas affected by ashfall through the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
Long before the pandemic began, the company had been constantly working with PTRI to expand the use of homegrown textiles and strengthen the garments industry value chain.
Bayo wants to make sourcing more accessible to other local brands, thus providing a steady source of income to more Filipinos. This partnership has created a ripple effect—from the farmers who propagate the plants used as raw materials, to the weavers and sewers who make the clothes, to retailers on both online and offline channels.
“The reason we wanted to explore manufacturing masks made of fabrics was primarily due to our advocacy of sustainability, which we have been actively promoting for the past several years. We were concerned about the use of disposable masks due to their negative impact on the environment,” she says.
Pivot to PPE
While in the thick of efforts to boost the durability of its masks, the OVP called to ask if Bayo could also manufacture PPE. “We were hesitant at first due to our lack of knowledge in making medical PPE and the logistics of mobilizing people during the early stages of the lockdown. However, seeing reports of hospital front-liners dying due to the country’s inadequate PPE supply moved us to take on the challenge,” Lagon says.
Opening its facility for such project was easy, but convincing people to report for work during the outbreak was a tough call to make. “But to our surprise, everyone responded to our call. The common reason? This is our way of helping front-liners fight COVID-19. Everyone was excited to work, reporting early and doing their work efficiently even with minimal supervision and the mobility constraints due to safety protocols,” she adds.
Lagon set a system in place to ensure the health and safety of employees. Shuttle services were provided for employees. An in-house catering service was commissioned to provide lunch and snacks. For employees who lived far from the city, the OVP arranged transportation assistance. The OVP also arranged for Bayo’s PPE to be evaluated by medical experts.
“One of the reasons why we were able to overcome the challenges was by having proper guidelines for the manufacture of PPE. We also have the edge of being in the creative industry, which makes us adopt a design-thinking process that quickly addresses the problem,” she adds.
Word of mouth
Impressed by the quality of Bayo’s masks and PPE, which hurdled the review by medical experts, the OVP started to spread the word. Orders from private companies, local governments and other government units poured in, enabling Bayo to involve other communities and provide livelihood during the lockdowns.
“When the requirements from the [local government of] Pasig came in, we tapped sewers from five of its barangays to help us with the production,” she recalls.
This pivot also allowed Bayo to launch new merchandise that excited locked-down consumers: fashionable masks, PPE-inspired workwear, masks with adjustable loops (that can be tied behind the ears or the head) and tailored coat overlay made of water-resilient fabric. As these became bestsellers, Bayo was motivated to add new designs every month.
Bayo also strengthened its e-commerce site so that consumers could shop from the comfort of their homes.
To date, the fashion house still has a lot of catching up to do as revenues have yet to recover to prepandemic figures. As Bayo had to close intermittently its stores in areas where hard lockdowns were implemented, sales plummeted from March to May—erstwhile a peak season for fashion retailing when Filipinos would be shopping for their proms, graduations, summer vacations and Mothers’ Day.
“We had foregone our usual profits when we agreed to manufacture face masks and PPE for the OVP, Pasig City and PTRI. We cannot, in conscience, charge huge profits from the misery of others. What is paramount for us is to be able to support the country’s efforts to fight the pandemic. It is enough that we can just continue paying the salaries of our workers to help them during lockdowns,” Lagon says.
For Lagon, strong leadership means having the heart to care and extend help, especially during adversities.
“The prolonged pandemic also allowed us to realize that working from home made most of our employees more productive. Constant communication has also been significant in navigating through the crisis. Each team member of the company has put value in being able to express their concerns in a more open manner. This allows us to create a support system within the company,” she says.
Even before the pandemic, Lagon says Bayo has woven 5Ps —people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership—into the fabric of its business.
“We shall continue to respond to the needs of our stakeholders. More importantly, we will carry on with our value creation toward our inclusive growth: leaving no one behind, from the producers of our materials to the makers of our products and all the way to the wearers. Value creation happens around the circle in which sustainability for all becomes the core value,” she says.
“Supporting local businesses is not just a motto or marketing drama. It is what we need to sustain each other’s lives effectively.”