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Filipina designer Chona Bacaoco turns heads at LA Fashion Week

From humble beginnings in Guimaras, Iloilo, Filipina designer Chona Bacaoco makes strides in the global fashion industry

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

There was a time when Chona Bacaoco was kicked out of a designer’s atelier for not being dressed fashionably. Now, the Italy-based Filipina is on the cutting edge of emerging fashion as head of the MM Milano brand.

Bacaoco was front and center earlier this month as one of the featured designers at LA Fashion Week, displaying her threads that were inspired by moths. She points out how many consider moths to be a form of butterfly, but may be surprised to find out that there are thousands of species of moths.

“It’s time for the world to see that the moth exists. They are not butterflies, they have their own identity. So it’s like me,” said Bacaoco in the “So Inspiring” segment of So Jannelle TV that airs US-wide on cable channels The Filipino Channel (TFC) and ANC; as well as on local Southern CA digital channel KNET 25.1. 


Filipina designer Chona Bacaoco turns heads at LA Fashion Week

Bacaoco can identify with the will to assert one’s presence. Her rise to upcoming fashion mogul began many years ago, long before the official birth of her company in 2018. She grew up on the small island of Guimaras, Iloilo, and had dreams of being like her mother, a dressmaker.

“I didn’t know about brands, I thought everyone was wearing the same clothes. I thought everyone was wearing clothes made by my mom,” admitted Bacaoco.

She moved to Hong Kong with her aunt, where she met her future husband. Together they had a pair of daughters and relocated to his home country of Italy. She found the adjustment difficult when he left for business, and she was left to raise two kids alone.

“Honestly at first I struggled. I suffered with cultural differences and language barrier and people don’t speak English over there,” said Bacaoco, as she grew emotional.


Filipina designer Chona Bacaoco turns heads at LA Fashion Week

She decided to start a modeling agency as a way to connect with the over 100,000 Filipinos in Italy.

“I wanted to do something for the community and I said they have so much beauty. They have so much to offer, why keep them in the box? So that’s why I opened my agency,” said Bacaoco.

Bacaoco never abandoned her aspirations of being like her mother. She was managing designers when she got the opportunity to produce a line of her own. She panicked before realizing she had the perfect partner waiting for her back in the Philippines. She called her mother to ask for advice and was reminded of that fact.

“She said, ‘Chona are you crazy? Your mother is a dressmaker. Come home,’” remembers Bacaoco. “I forgot that my mom was a dressmaker.”


Filipina designer Chona Bacaoco turns heads at LA Fashion Week

Bacaoco has begun to realize her dreams, appearing at the New York and Dubai Fashion weeks as well. Sometimes Bacaoco wonders why everything has fallen into place for her so quickly. Reminiscing on the struggles brings tears to Bacaoco’s eyes, but she never loses sight of those days, when others in the industry looked down on her for her humble beginnings, or those times when she struggled with depression and culture shock.

“I’m really so emotional because I really did something good from it. Maybe that’s why sometimes I’m still questioning why this fast, why magazines are really trusting me,” said Bacaoco.

“I picked myself up, I wiped my tears and I said ‘Chona, do something for yourself.’” – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

Check out So Jannelle TV daily for stories that make you pause, reflect, and appreciate who we are and what we are as a people. 

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