Filipino designers

Barong entrepreneur Randy Gonzales wears his heart on his sleeve

Jannelle So Productions
Barong entrepreneur Randy Gonzales wears his heart on his sleeve
The New York-based lawyer brings barong tagalog from Lumban, Laguna, to North America

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

It started with a need.

Randy Gonzales was in the market for a barong tagalog back in 2013 but couldn’t find one that fit his tastes. Not online, not in any store around the United States. Nowhere. 

That’s when the Queens, New York-based lawyer decided to do something about it. 

“I was waiting for a couple of years for someone to make a barong that I liked and nobody came along. So I decided in 2015 that I would do it myself. I went to the Philippines just to find the best barongs that I could find,” Gonzales said in an interview with Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So-Perkins for the latter’s SoJannelleTV show.

His quest brought him to Lumban, Laguna, the hand embroidery capital of the Philippines, where he met barong tailors whose families had been making the formal wear for generations.

Sensing that many others would have the same issue, Gonzales said he founded Pineapple Industries to fill that need. The name is a reference to the pineapple fabric that the garments are made out of. Though many barongs are now made out of less expensive fabrics like abaca and jusi, Gonzales wanted to preserve the authenticity of his garments.

“I pride myself on pushing that piña fabric because it’s still made exactly the same way it has been for hundreds of years. There’s no automation,” said Gonzales. “I love the fact that it’s still a very authentic and original fabric of ours and very specific to the Philippines.”

The process of making a barong is intense, with hand embroidering taking four weeks and the tailoring taking another couple days. That process makes the garments more expensive – the company’s website offers barongs for men and women that are priced up to $435. 

The company has no brick and mortar store, so Gonzales travels to his clients – California is his biggest market – to take the client’s measurements. That personal touch had to be altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when clients had to measure themselves through Zoom and FaceTime calls.

Gonzales said he remains undeterred. He added that while he generates income from his business, what he wants, more than anything, is to preserve and promote this “gusot-mayaman” attire.

Barongs aren’t solely for formal occasions, Gonzales asserted, as evidenced by the more casual yet still stylish dark Tagalog he wore to the interview with So-Perkins. Gonzales started an everyday wear line that can be worn in less formal settings.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some hard and fast rules. Barongs must be handwashed only with gentle detergent due to the fragility of the fabric. Dry cleaning is too harsh for the garment, Gonzales said, and ironing drains the moisture from the fabric and makes it more brittle. 

Through his promotion and marketing of the traditional Filipino garment, Gonzales is literally wearing his heart on his sleeve.

“I just think it’s the most underappreciated part of our culture. It’s not a very widely worn garment amongst Filipinos, so my goal is to make sure that every Filipino has one,” said Gonzales. – 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.

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