Carlos & Stacy
QUARANTINE LOVE STORIES
Words by Katrina Swee | Photography by Gio Panlilio
A street away from Edsa lies ec’s studio, tucked near a Burger Machine kiosk and the many sari-sari stores and small establishments of Makati.
As the music plays in the background, Stacy hands me a Starbucks latte she generously bought before getting to Harvard Street. She offers croissants and cake while Carlos speaks and despite having never met before, I feel comfortable already.
There are so many bits and bobs that catch my eye as I look around—a bright pink David Bowie poster hung near the entrance, books lain by the floor chair, color swatches and scrap fabrics beside Carlos’ DJ equipment, and a massive red bookshelf, storing everything from magazines, photographs and plants to liquor. The space is colourful and eclectic.
They describe their pieces as garments worn at home but with a little pizzazz. I see what they mean as they float around in their newest collection. One look at Stacy’s tweed pants and I think, yep, I’m sold.
The upbeat, easy-going couple continue to share more about their everyday lives, their work, and their relationship in a blink of an eye and all I can think about is, should I press record now?
How did you both meet and eventually get together?
C: What was it, Stace? 2017?
S: 2018? When we met, he was actually seeing someone else. We were friends for a long time.
C: We met through common friends.
S: Common friends at a party. We were already bumping into each other, getting casually introduced but we never hung out. We just saw each other at the same parties.
C: I blame Poblacion.
S: No, Bowery! We would actually always talk to each other about fashion. That was a big part of every conversation. We always sent each other fashion and music stuff on Instagram. It developed from there. It was not till about a year and a half of knowing each other that we started dating. Maybe even two?
“I think the great thing about our dynamic is we were friends to begin with. We are transparent about most things. It’s easy for us to come out of fights and learn something.”
And once you both got together, you started your brand ec?
S: One of the first things we ever did as a couple was make a pair of pants just for fun. We posted it and all our friends were telling us, “I want one!” I thought, we have something here.
C: Great satisfaction in hearing those things.
S: I was thinking we could build something off that pair of pants and that’s how it started. We also casually talked about starting a line together because I’ve always wanted to do menswear and he wanted to create a line as well. We found ourselves borrowing each other’s clothes and it just made sense to come up with something unisex. Everything just rolled out.
C: It was a little too easy.
Was this before the pandemic?
S: Right before the pandemic was supposed to be the time where we’d solidify everything. The difference between us is that I’m a very go, go, go person. If there’s an idea, let’s move on it and if it fails, we’ll try again. He was very nervous about it.
C: I get obsessed with the nitty gritty to the point where it gets in my way.
S: I was like, “Let’s just launch whatever we have.” Much to his dismay, he said, “Okay, whatever, let’s do it” and it got a good response. Then we found ourselves thinking we should make clothes that were more us. It was initially more of a big idea.
C: Yeah, so a lot of the photos on the wall here are the clothes we made in the beginning. It was when we wanted to get something off the ground.
S: It was a loose idea and quieter from where we are now. When the pandemic happened, we wanted to make clothes that were easy to wear. It was for people who wanted to wear things at home but really missed going out. We wanted it to still be fun. We realized it was more like us because that’s how we dress.
C: We were doing it anyway. During the lockdown, we were all dressed up but had nowhere to go.
S: I would wake up and Carlos would be putting on clothes and I’d ask him, “Where are you going?” He would tell me, “I miss dressing up!”
C: I don’t know... I just miss wearing pants! I just miss these pants!
S: He was saying it can’t just be us who is going through this. We were worried about the sensitivity of pushing people to buy things in the middle of the pandemic so we decided to adjust our prices and figure out an easier way to acquire everything.
C: Let’s make a mask. People are going to need masks.
S: I guess it started out with the mask kits and then we eventually made clothes. Before that, we made PPEs. We did those because he realized I’m work-obsessed. That was something I found out during the pandemic.
C: Yeah. Suddenly, you couldn’t do anything and she didn’t know how to not do anything. I’m sooo good at not doing anything dude, like wow. It’s a skill I have.
S: I also had anxiety about it—trying to find a purpose outside of work. When I started doing the PPEs and giving back, I questioned myself.
Am I just doing this to make myself feel better? But then it all naturally rolled out again. We’re lucky that way.
C: Yeah, you figured something out.
S: It was also nice that we got to help people. On top of sales, we would give back ten masks to whoever the customers wanted such as hospitals or we would have a batch of masks brought to the street because there were so many people who couldn’t afford masks. It put things in perspective for us. We figured we didn’t need to make clothes that were ridiculously expensive. The point was to uplift people’s lives. We wanted people to feel good by dressing nicely at home. It sounds kind of shallow but I feel like...
C: Try finding joy where you can.
S: Feel like you’re on vacation when you’re at home and if that means wearing a nice shirt, then we’re down to help you!
So you found out certain quirks about each other while spending lockdown together. I’d like to know more about that dynamic and how you both figured it out.
S: Maybe a couple of arguments haha.
C: We had to butt heads for a bit.
S: The nice thing about it was we were challenging each other. He was telling me it’s already unhealthy that you’re looking to be busy just to be busy. This is the time where you can think back, use the time...
C: To assess and figure things out.
S: Yeah. You don’t have to work just because you’re looking for work. He was telling me to make it more substantial.
C: I would say, “Look! We have books we haven’t read!”
S: And in the end, all of these things helped us be creative and look outside the work. I was so used to the routine of being able to do something every day that I wasn’t inspired. I felt a bit like a robot. It was nice that he opened up things for me, and I think I made him a more productive person.
C: That you did! You’re welcome by the way.
How do you separate your relationship from work?
C: There are days where we don’t know how to.
S: He’s better at reminding me because as much as I love being busy, I’m also a very emotional person. He’s like, “If it’s work, don’t talk to me like we’re fighting. Let’s just get this done.” He’s very good at catching me when I’m being too emotional. I guess the answer is, we don’t. Haha. We don’t make a conscious effort to separate it. We just figure it out as we go.
C: We just try to catch it in the moment.
S: I think the great thing about our dynamic is we were friends to begin with. We are transparent about most things. It’s easy for us to come out of fights and learn something.
C: To have that conversation to know we’re good now.
S: We sat down with each other and said, “We’re going to start this business. It’s going to be you and me everyday and work.” We don’t get much of a social life in this set up of the world. I guess it’s accepting our situation and...
C: Rolling with it.
“There were moments when it was genuinely difficult to get up in the morning and think about the next six months or the next week. It was terrifying. She was the one who had to talk me down from that notion.” - Carlos
What is the process like when you’re both trying to come up with a new collection for ec?
C: It usually starts with one garment.
S: I was about to say that. With the last few collections, it’s usually about one garment and then it gives birth to new babies. Editing later seems to be the toughest part. We end up making more clothes and then realize we have to think about the release. The big thing for us is that the minute most designers are done, they have to think about selling and producing which is up to someone else whereas it’s just the two of us. It’s tough. We have to make sure we’re doing something all the time. I sometimes tell him that I’m overwhelmed because we have the entire year to do this. That’s how fashion works—you don’t stop or you’ll lose your rhythm. That’s what we’re learning together.
C: Someone has to manage the back-end of things.
S: So we always start with one garment and build a wardrobe around it.
C: That seems to be the pattern that’s popped up.
What do you both do outside of work for fun?
S: Oh, we are very good at fun haha. Carlos is a DJ so we met in the nightlife scene because I’m an enthusiast.
C: That she is. I picked it up a long time ago and then stopped. It was only in the last four years that I picked it up again and suddenly felt good about it.
S: I guess a lot of what we do for fun is music-based. It was something that we bonded over for a long time. I feel like we’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by talented people. It’s been a pleasure to see them grow during the pandemic. For DJs, taking away the party means, what are we going to do now?
C: Now we have to talk. Now we have to have a conversation.
S: Haha. But then we have friends who make music so we’re surrounded by people who make fun so much easier to have. I think our quiet downs are nice too—reading books and...
C: It’s necessary. At some point, I get tired out. I like being around people, having good chats, and listening to music but after a while, everything starts to wear down a bit. Quiet is fun, too.
S: Watching shows together, listening to music and reading books are important for us because I think work and fun are so fast-paced that sometimes we need to pull ourselves out of it. As much as we like going out of town with friends, we also look forward to going out of town together so we can have that quiet time to reset.
Have you guys faced any bumps since the pandemic or has it been smooth sailing?
S: A couple, I would say. We’re surrounded by workers who, in other countries, would be taken care of by the government, but don’t have the means to survive here. Most are paid by piece and for a couple of months, people were not ready to buy clothes and we were trying to be conscious of not pushing sales but then I had the responsibility to take care of them. The people that work for you are your family.
C: They will come to you and tell you that they have a problem. There’s no one else but you because they physically can’t get to anyone else who can help.
S: They’ve come to us with hospital bills or when their kids are in trouble. I feel like we couldn’t avoid the reality of things. We came face-to-face with it especially because I had to house some of them. What the pandemic taught me was to take care of each other before thinking about the bigger picture.
C: Ultimately, it was a wonderful perspective because you think, aaw man, I have this problem and then someone comes at you with a real problem where they don’t know what to do for the next six months and wondering if you can help them.
S: I’ve also had some workers come in with the problem of being let go so I’d scramble to find them work. It was Carlos who reminded me that you’re allowed to have problems during this time. I would tell him it was sometimes hard to not see friends or for my parents not being able to go anywhere. I tried to tell myself, in the bigger context, that I shouldn’t be complaining. He always tells me no, because your problem is still a problem.
C: All problems are valid.
S: It’s been a roller coaster.
C: We’re all on the same boat.
S: We’ve been very lucky that life has been good to us.
How have you helped each other through those problems?
C: There have been many instances where we had to sit down and discuss everything because for me, there were moments when it was genuinely difficult to get up in the morning and think about the next six months or the next week. It was terrifying. She was the one who had to talk me down from that notion. She would say, “Look, this is what it’s going to be like. We just have to live with it.”
S: On the opposite end of things, he was the one that would say, “You can’t throw everything under the rug. You have to confront your problems. You can’t pretend to be fine.”
C: You have to feel stuff!
S: The only way you can get through it is to allow yourself to feel like shit. You can’t pretend for too long. It’s going to come out somehow.
C: I’m very like, I’m going to feel bad about this because that’s how I feel and she’ll say, “No, you can’t get stuck feeling bad about that.”
S: I think having each other has really helped us because we catch each other before we snowball into something bad. We’re good about saying it’s your turn this time, even with having fun.
And do you both have any plans for this year together or individually in terms of learning and growth with our current situation?
C: We just want to keep making clothes.
S: On my end at least is to push on making more collaborations. I really want to make stronger connections with people in the industry and work with different artists. I want to take away the competitiveness in the industry. We have such a small market here. We make clothes for each other and have similar clients. If we all work together, it would only make the industry better. It’s an old school way of thinking to want to compete with each other. It doesn’t make sense. We should be helping one another to make the industry better. That’s what I want to do this year. Working with Carlos has helped me so much because I got too used to working by myself. It was a good challenge to adjust and learn how to work with people outside of the little bubble we created.