From a yaya to a fashion designer. This Filipina is creating sustainable Filipino fashion in Norway with MYET, a brand that respects the environment and honors her roots.
Despite her success and busy schedule, Mayeth Sigue Codoy is approachable and very candid. She takes me on a virtual tour of her work area in her Norway apartment. Clothes sketches line the white walls, a dress form is draped with fabric, and swatches of cloth on tables and on the backs of chairs. She sculpts wearable art with abaca: tailored blazers, cocktail dresses, gowns, and her most ambitious yet- a ski suit.
“Abaca has great insulation and waterproof properties. I’ve tested it while skiing and it works!”
Filipino fashion in Norway
Mayeth is in love with abaca (Manila hemp) and pinya (pineapple), two natural, Philippine-sourced fibers. The fabric’s textures give her pieces a distinct Filipino vibe, but the minimalist tones and avant-garde designs make them a hit with her Norwegian clientele.
She apologizes for the mess in her workshop. There are seven sewing machines in her studio so I ask if she currently has staff. Apparently, Mayeth is a one woman powerhouse. She laughs as she tells me how she’s the designer, seamstress, accountant, and social media creator for her brand.
“I would love help, but hiring employees in Norway costs a lot of money.”
Her business MYET started without investors or loans and she’s careful about her company’s cash flow. Mayeth has a sixth sense in business that has served her well throughout her life.
She grew up on a farm in Balamban, Cebu, surrounded by chickens and pigs, where she witnessed the back-breaking hard work of her parents. She didn’t want to be a burden to them, so she worked as a yaya in the mornings to earn tuition money for her Information Technology classes at night. At a stint in a Gaisano mall, she was as enterprising as ever, selling snacks like turon and yema to her coworkers. While still at fashion school in Oslo, she already started booking clients.
“I’m ambitious, but not for the wrong reasons. I just want to succeed while doing good work so I can provide for my family.”
Her drive took her out of the country, working first as a domestic helper in Hong Kong before finding herself as an au pair in Switzerland, then in Norway.
Mayeth didn’t plan on studying fashion abroad, but she’s no stranger to making clothes. Her mother is a seamstress in their village and at 8, she and her siblings were already hand stitching and hemming garments, helping their mother finish costumes and uniforms. She did not expect that this experience would land her the opportunity of a lifetime.
From sofa covers to haute couture
Mayeth’s big break came from a generous Norwegian couple who offered to finance her fashion education. She still couldn’t believe her luck while retelling the story of how she met her fairy godparents.
“I met them through a friend. I repaired some sofa seat covers for them and they really liked it, so they asked me to make new ones.”
They found out that Mayeth was worrying about how to extend her stay in Norway. Most au pairs (in Norway) usually proceed to study theology, but her heart wasn’t in it. She knew that the chances of finding jobs in that field are slim. She started looking for tailoring and fashion schools, applied to Esmod, and got accepted. The Norwegian couple asked her how she would pay for her tuition fee. “I confidently told them that I’d work day and night to be able to afford it!” The couple, moved by Mayeth’s drive, offered to pay for her education. Today, they’re proud of the results of Mayeth’s hard work and their generosity.
Doing business in Europe is not for the faint-hearted. Her advice for aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs abroad: set concrete goals and plan out the steps you need to reach them.
Everything is expensive- from business taxes, rent, to employee salaries. In the beginning you might have to do everything yourself and operate out of your home. Be ready to work hard and don’t waste any opportunity that comes your way. She says it’s also better to avoid taking uncalculated risks and debt when you’re abroad, so try to save up money before launching or investing further in your business.
“I only buy more equipment once I earn enough money from my work,” she says.
She counts Dubai-based designer Michael Cinco as one of her fashion and business inspirations. Aside from his glamorous designs, Mayeth is inspired by his persistence in going for his dreams and for his longevity in the global fashion industry.
Asked about what she has trouble with the most in running her business, it’s going after clients with pending payments or those asking for big discounts. She says as an artist, pricing can be tricky as some people think her hourly rates are exorbitant, but half of it goes to taxes. They’re also paying for the work of a professional who invests hours of study in the craft and high quality sustainable materials.
“It’s hard when people want to pay you as low as possible, but those types of customers come with the territory. I used to accept low offers but I realized if I wanted to survive and not get burned out I would have to be firm with my prices and set boundaries.”
Mayeth worries about the impact of polyester, a plastic-based fabric that takes at least 20 years to decompose. Abaca on the other hand, takes only two months to biodegrade. The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of abaca. Today, its main use is for paper products such as bank notes and tea bags. There’s still a large, untapped potential for its use as a textile, and Mayeth is hoping to find the right investors and partners to help her make her innovative ideas into reality.
The excessive production of the clothing industry is another problem that she points out.
“For my brand, I create small batches and cut patterns with precision to make sure there’s no waste. For both my haute couture and ready-to-wear lines, I work on a preorder basis so that I won’t end up with unsold pieces.”
Part of her advocacy as a sustainable business is making sure she pays her workers more than the minimum wage. She’s now in the process of hiring staff for a small clothing factory in the Philippines.
Mayeth believes that our natural fabrics and the Filipino culture of not wasting resources will be valuable in making fashion more planet-friendly. Her journey from yaya to seat-cover mender to fashion designer may not be the typical fashion career path, but she’s definitely making her mark on the fashion industry today with her sustainability efforts and original, one of-a-kind designs.