While working in the banking industry for years, Matina CEO and Founder Margot Bautista Henry found herself looking to replenish her wardrobe. She sought to support Filipino-made, or designed clothes she could wear to work, but somehow her search in the United States fell short.
“My searches would always come up with Filipiniana clothing, terno, or any variety of the Filipino national garb or costume — which, of course, I could not (would not!) wear to my corporate job,” Margot shared. “I recognize[d] that I must not be the only one that has search for this, being that I am not the first, nor the only, first-gen Filipino immigrant that has probably had the same yearning.”
The desire to express her Filipino pride and own personal style and journey was the start of Matina, an online store that sells clothing and accessories designed by Filipino designers.
The idea of the store came to Margot during one of her yearly trips to the Philippines in 2016 with her husband and five-month-old son. Apart from being on maternity leave, she also took the time to reflect on what she wanted to do when she was done with her MBA at the University of Washington.
“My career prior to the store was in finance. I worked at Bear Stearns, and Credit Suisse for well over a decade, after my undergrad at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Manila. What inspired me was hearing about the success of a variety of local, up-and-coming designers that have sprouted in Manila.
“One of my best friends, Pia See, is one such designer. Her brand, Unif0rm, has very quickly garnered a cult following, and so much demand was coming from all over the world, especially from Filipinos in the U.S. I did a little bit more research, and discovered that the same was true for a multitude of other designers. There was U.S. demand, but no quick and easy way to fulfill it.
“I realized that I was in a unique position—I am well connected with Pia, and there is a big gap in the market that has yet been unfulfilled. It was time to put my MBA to use and figure out this supply chain puzzle,” she shared.
Filipino-designed, world-class apparel
Matina is one of the fastest-growing U.S. based online stored featuring world-class apparel by Filipino designers, curated for life in the U.S. and beyond. Opened in August 2016, the online store has doubled its sales each month — with the exception last March wherein they have outdone their best month five times over.
“We are doing exceptionally well, and will keep looking to stay on this trajectory of growing and expanding,” she said.
Margot also shared that she personally chooses the pieces that they sell, according to what she would wear.
“Being that my clientele is very similar to me, I think I am a pretty good barometer of what would do well at the store, and so far this has worked wonderfully,” she said.
Mainly, Matina carries the Unif0rm brand, whose designs capture the style and grace of the Filipina so well, according to Margot.
“I have gotten so many comments and messages of how happy the customers are that they found the store, and that they are so in love with the styles. They are truly unique, in that they are basic pieces, never trendy, and will never go out of style,” she said proudly and added, “ I have chosen other designers, thus far, that are similar in quality, timeless in styles, yet striking in their design aesthetic. The Filipino woman is one of a kind in that they put great care and thought into what they want to get across about who they are, with the way they carry themselves, and the way they dress. This is not to be mistaken with trying to control how they are perceived—but it is more allowing what they want you to know about them.”
Apart from Unif0rm, Matina also features other designers like Anika, Florence Fling and Ethnique, which are all owned and run by Filipino women. Other lines to look forward to are Studio Curator and Crisp.To be clear, Matina focuses on fashion by Filipino and Fil-Am designers, rather that pieces that are Filipino-inspired or carries the “native” or national look.
“Matina features designers that are Filipino. Their work may or may not be Filipino-inspired. I think this is an important distinction because we are not positioning ourselves as a store selling Filipino-themed items, rather we are a Filipino brand, seeking to fulfill the need of the Filipino-American to be able to wear world-class and high quality apparel that has a little piece of home with them that they can show off and be proud of,” Margot explained.
Born in Davao City in 1978, Margot and her family moved to Manila shortly and went to school all the way through college.
“I grew up spending my childhood summers in Matina, a town in Davao, hence the name of the store. I felt it was important to have the name of my store be something very personal and meaningful,” she shared. “Matina summers remind me of my maternal grandmother, who was a lawyer, an educator, and the most influential figure in my life. She was well loved and revered by those who knew her.”
Margot then moved to San Francisco in 2001, and went to UC Berkeley for a one-year International Marketing program before starting a career in banking. She is now based in Seattle with her husband Ian and son, Charlie.
Matina moving forward
The store is continuously changing and expanding, being that pieces are not mass-produced to ensure that high quality remains. This, Margot says, is what makes Matina different from other online clothing companies.
“Matina is definitely not a fast fashion boutique. We carefully curate the designers and the quality of our items,” she said. “It is by no accident that we picked designers that do not produce en masse, and therefore are priced correctly for what the customer is getting. The clientele that we serve is discerning, and understand & appreciate the value of the pieces that they get from us.”
Clearly, the biggest challenge Matina has is keeping up with demand, since designers are independent and do not mass-produce. But Margot believes that they are moving forward by scoping out other talented Filipino designers who are in the same caliber as the ones they carry now.
For now, Margot’s advice to others who are thinking about establishing their online fashion store is not to “overthink” it.
“Don’t try to create the perfect plan because starting your own business on paper looks very different from what really happens. Start small, and be patient with yourself—it is when you are nimble that you get to figure out what the kinks are and work through them so that when you are big, you would know what works,” she shared and then added, “Know what you are good at, and find a place to put that energy. Find your niche, live and breathe it. You will know the truth by the way that it feels. As they say, seek what sets your soul on fire and you will not lose your way!”
Check out Matina at www.shopmatina.com.