“Puey Quiñones: cheat, thief, liar, embezzler, fraudster,” tweets one Puey Quinones hater just a week before Project Bilibid Runway 3 is mounted on November 7, 2011.
It’s the third year the designer has hosted his fashion show competition at the New Bilibid maximum security prison in Muntinlupa City, a city in southern Metro Manila.
Since 2007 he has been teaching male prisoners convicted of rape, murder and kidnap how to create gowns and accessories to be worn on the runway by professional models; his contribution to National Correctional Consciousness Week.
This year cash prizes of P10,000 (USD$227) and sewing machines have been put up for each category winner.
But for some, his presence inside a correctional facility is more than a little apt.
While the designer is working to give these inmates — with sentences of 20 years and up — a second chance, Quiñones himself is awaiting the rest of the Philippines to give him his second chance.
February 14, 2011, Quiñones was implicated in a “re-tagging” scandal.
A suit commissioned from him by then soon-to-be-newlyweds Jhon Maala and Shea Gamboa had been delivered with a Dansen care tag (a consigned brand at SM department store) tucked in one of the inside pockets, just above the suit’s label: “BOBON by Puey Quinones.”
The couple was charged P30,000 (USD $668) for it, while the Dansen suit retails for P3,000 (USD $67).
“Makukulong ka sa ginawa mo… Ibalik mo pera namin! Isa kang manggugulang! (You are going to jail for what you did… Give us back our money! You are a cheat!)” the bride angrily tweeted.
The Puey Quiñones name suffered. Clients withdrew orders and the designer went into hiding — he did not leave his home for two months.
Since then, Quiñones has issued a public apology on live TV, detailing how his concern with delivering the suit on time led to the unfortunate mistake.
CNNGo: Why should we still buy your clothes?
Quiñones: What happened was a moment of my weakness. Everyone makes mistakes, and I think everyone deserves a second chance. I still want to show people that I’m still here and I still have a lot of ideas and talent to share, and this [talent] won’t run out.
CNNGo: You lost a lot of clients. How do you plan to win their trust back?
Quiñones: By showing my sincerity. It’s true — it’s hard to please and convince people again. I’ll just be quiet and do work and show them that people do change, and I deserve a second chance. I don’t do hard sell. If people like me and still believe in me, they will come. And to those who lost their trust, I can’t do anything about it.
CNNGo: So how is the new Puey Quiñones collection going to be different from the past?
Quiñones: My next collection is going to be very tailored, clean and flawless. This is also another chance for me to show I am evolving, from the deconstructed, huge silhouettes to a collection that symbolizes peace and fluidity. I used to love using wool, heavy satin, brocade and tweed, now I want to use chiffon, power knits and very light materials. I want to show a very transformed Puey Quiñones.
CNNGo: What made you decide to work with the prisoners?
Quiñones: My uncle has friends who were missionaries, and they were looking for a volunteer — a tailor or dressmaker to give a talk inside the prison. The prisoners were so curious about fashion. I went home and I had the realization that I need to go back and share what I’ve learned outside. I couldn’t afford to buy sewing machines for each of them so we did textile painting.
[Note: Some of the prisoners’ hand-painted works for Quiñones are sold at L Manila, 2/F, Greenbelt 5, Makati City. +632 882 5305. The prisoners are paid for every piece of work produced.]
Every year, the Bureau of Corrections holds a National Correctional Consciousness Week. Three years ago, the director asked me to hold a fashion show inside the prison but I told him it’s better to also involve my students and have them create pieces to be worn by professional models. I decided to bring glamour inside the prison to let them experience what fashion is all about.
CNNGo: What lessons have you learned working with the prisoners?
Quiñones: I learned not to be judgmental. Life is not all about glamour. There is a reality that a lot of people are suffering. There are a lot of people who are prisoners. Like me, I was also prisoner of my own. The most important thing I have learned is to be real — like these people. It balances me, and makes me more grounded.
CNNGo: Would you ever hire any of these prisoners to work for you?
Quiñones: Oh yes. I’ve always wished that and talked to them about that. This is the perfect example of giving people second chances.