He walks the talk—and quite literally, too. Apart from being an incorrigible living and breathing environmentalist (he traded his car for the “luxury” of walking and considers picking up random rubbish for fun) who is gung ho about saving mother earth, Francis Sollano fancies himself a starving/struggling artist.
Known for his fantastic trashion (a portmanteau of “trash” and “fashion”) collection, a marriage of environmentalism and innovation, creating a new life out of used, thrown-out, found and repurposed elements. His fashionable take on upcycling garbage into wearable art has got him the world’s attention (as he is one of only two Asians to be invited to the New York Fashion Week).
Other than working on trash for designs and installations, he is a founding convener of Youth for a Livable Cebu that works on the holistic development and livability of communities, as well as one of the 8 Pioneering Global Shapers Cebu carefully chosen by OCEANS 14 of World Economic Forum. Armed with a degree in business management from UP Cebu (an MBA is underway), Francis works full time for Kenneth Cobonpue.
This coming Wednesday, April 22 the designated Earth Day all over the world since 1970, Francis and his team of committed and consummate artists will have a fill of a whole-day celebration: one of the highlights is him buying recyclable trash from the public that he can convert to treasure. Given time, Francis weaves his magic touch and help the community get their hands busy saving mother earth.
Here he talks passionately about his advocacy, his art, and his aspiration for the future.
Locale: SM City Cebu
What prompted you to take up walking as a way of life?
Bad na gyud ang traffic. Heavy naman to ang baha two years back, ang akong sakyanan mo wave na. Grabe ang maintenance sa akong sakyanan so gi let go na nako sya. After ato, heavy commute. Kay kung mag taxi, mahal.
What came first? Turning trash into accesories or the walking?
Ang trash kay YLC (Youth for a Livable Cebu) man siya nga program. I’m the third generation. First generation is Eric (Smith) jud and his barkada. Iyang barkada went abroad. Ang uban na busy sa office so sila ang nahabilin. Then came the second generation, then kami. Silang Felina and Fiona (Lim). And Kara Rina. Her advocacy is beauty. How you make yourself beautiful if you’re depressed. Instead nga suicide, why not mag make up ka? Mao na iyaha. Si Fiona more on farming. Ang akoa kay trash. Si Eric on good governance.
Longest distance you’ve ever walked?
Naka try ko once, from Lahug to Talisay. And Mactan to Lahug.
How do you entertain yourself while you walk?
Okay man sya kay maka discover ka og strange things, kung unsa ang gibuhat sa mga tawo. But when I’m already in the village, mag play nako og music. Feel na nimo ang place kay daghan man og kahoy sa Beverly (Hills). One time, naglakaw ko to Marco Polo for lunch out then back to the office. Then ni ana si Sir Kenneth (Cobonpue): “Kinsa ning baho’g iro?” Hala, ako na diay! Udto na baya tong dako.
What was the worst thing that happened to you while walking?
Hapit ko mabanggaan og private vehicle kay stop to siya. Layo pa siya, like 100 meters pwede pa ko ka cross pero ni go man siya, nag dali siya. Then nag lakaw ko. Gahi kaayo ko lagi kay og maligsan ko, pedestrian lane baya unya stop pud sya. Naka brake jud siya.
What’s your latest frustration about the fact that our roads are not pedestrian-friendly?
So sad kay walay political will. No social policies. Duha ang solutions sa traffic. First, redesign the road to accommodate a healthier lifestyle for people to walk and encourage them to walk or bike. More shaded roads. Second, we create a good transport system.
What are some of the most walking-friendly cities abroad that you’ve been to?
Mostly European cities, like Paris. Wala ko ka taxi didto, lakaw jud and heavy ka layo. From Capitol to Ayala normal na nila nga walk. Singapore is good also.
Have you tried inviting friends to join you?
Naka-try ko pero nag-alsa balutan sila after.
Tell us about your job?
I work as marketing communications as well as executive assistant for Kenneth Cobonpue.
How many countries have you been to while working for him?
Only once. For a show in Paris. It was really good because the Philippine booth becomes a meeting place for Filipinos—those that take pride in our craft. Naa gyuy mga Bisaya ngadto and they would really pay 50 euros just to get to the booth. Didto ko ka-realize that he (Cobonpue) is really doing something not only for himself but for everyone to uplift the Filipino brand.
How is he as a boss?
As a boss, he is very challenging and as a designer he is a perfectionist. If it is not good enough, he is willing to wait, even until the next five years until ma-perfect gyud siya. He has been my mentor since way back in college and he is not the typical mentor nga would shout at you. No, he is not like that. He is refined, very malumanay.
What was your first encounter with him?
I first met him when my friend and I represented UPVCC and joined a competition for Mandaue Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the judges and we won second place. We asked for a picture with him but we left our camera sa sakyanan so he waited for about 15 minutes. Uwaw kaayo. Dili pa baya uso ang cameraphone that time. Worse, our camera was busted as we left it inside the car. Napaig ang LCD screen tungod siguro sa kainit. So he just said: “It’s okay, as there would always be a next time.”
How did you start working for him?
During my internship, I was eyeing RAFI and during that time when we were supposed to hand in our applications puno na ang RAFI. It was good that somebody told me that Cebu Furniture Industries was looking for OJTs. That was the second time I met him. Eventually it sunk in—that this was something I want to be in. It may not be as a designer but it is still in the creative industry—furniture. And it’s something that you will be doing for the country. It is just sad to say that the industry is dying. In 2008 there used to be around 200 exhibitors in Cebu alone. During the last Manila Expo there were only around 15 Cebuano exhibitors. So, it’s quite sad that the industry is close to being dead.
Let us talk about you being a fashion designer, how did this start?
It started when I joined YLC pero way back when I was a kid I would make trinkets out of things. I would doodle sa walls and apparently my mom would beat me after because mahimo namang canvass among wall. High school and college creativity was not encouraged because my dad is Chinese so we had to go to business schools. I realized when I did my OJT that I should be creative. When I was with YLC, the thrust of the group was very consistent with what I am doing way back so it’s practically an extension of my childhood—so karon it’s more on a larger scale. I realized that no one else was doing it pero we have to start from somewhere. I know that my designs are not somehow wearable, not yet, pero we’ll never know eventually it may arrive at that moment.
Have you had exhibits showcasing your collection?
Yes, the very first was in Qube Gallery and it was along with three artists, more of like Art in the Park nga concept. And then National Center for Culture and the Arts, I did an exhibit in Manila sa Resorts World and eventually in Tokyo in March this year. And last February, in Singapore. I’ve also been invited for the New York Trashion Week this coming June. I will be showcasing three of my works all in black, white and gold. One is made of plastic drinking straws from Handuraw Cafe, the other is packaging material nga fabric which is pinangayo ra nako from Sir Kenneth. And the other is made of the plastic cover from mineral water bottles. The theme of the collection would be “life, death and gold” and it would revolve around the belief that you can create a life out of these materials.
Who do you consider as your mentor in terms of designing?
Truth be told, wala baya. Daghan moingon nga pa-mentor ni Sir Kenneth pero having to work for him for the past five years I would know his say. He may say: Ilabay ni uy or bati ni uy.” Akong feeling mao gyud na iyang masulti so ayaw na lang uy. Mauwaw ko.
So what was his reaction now that you’re doing fashion design?
He is very happy because for the one in Singapore, we were the only two Filipinos who did a side by side exhibit. Si Sir Kenneth was invited for furniture while I was invited for fashion. Wala siya kahibaw nga I will be there. I just kept it a secret but someone sent him an invite or tagged him sa Instagram and he was surprised that I was in it. We have an internal email sa office for everyone, here and abroad and he informed almost everyone and I was surprised by his reaction.
You have a lot of things on your plate. How do you manage your time?
One of my strengths is really time management. For me man gud I’ve lost a lot in our family and if you know that your time is limited you would really schedule it. I make sure that my time is well spent. But of course, I also value my downtime.
How’s your love life?
I don’t have any. It’s been six years (since the last one) and I just don’t have time for it. Malingaw man ko sa akong gibuhat, with my job and my advocacy.
So how do you sustain yourself financially as an artist?
Lisod uy. I would sell my bags and designs when I go abroad. And good that most of my trips are sponsored siya or maka shell-out lang ko at least forty percent so mamaligya gyud ko. So if you would ask me if maka-kwarta ba gyud ko being an artist, well, wala gyud.
So, do you consider yourself a starving artist?
Normally I would talk to my friends that way and say: “Starving artist baya ko ha. Naa mo’y lunch diha?” Well seriously if you have the faith and really believe in God eventually it (money) would just come. Recently wala ko naka tithe because it has been so tight pero mosulod ra gyud siya. Dili siya significant pero at least naa siya. After college I have been on my own. I have been financially independent.
When can you say that you have arrived?
I haven’t thought of it. I’d like to say na my story is still unfolding and there are still a lot of things to discover. Pero one of the striking moments was with this artist in this gallery. As I was sharing stories about my design telling him that I am into upcycling and suddenly he said: “You know this artist Francis Sollano? I’ve heard nga maayo kaayo na siya!” And I just nudged. Then a friend approached us, called my name. And that’s when I introduced myself to that fellow.