Boyet Fajardo: ‘I had to experience blindness to see clearly what life truly is’
ANGELINO “BOYET” FAJARDO JR. had to experience blindness for him to see the light.
Like St. Paul who experienced temporary blindness and became Christianity’s staunchest advocate, Boyet, too, had to experience loss of vision to see clearly what life truly is.
Boyet started his formal fashion design career at 18, during his sophomore year as a Fine Arts student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). But even as a child, he already knew that he had the eye for fashion design.
“The reason why I ended up in the fashion industry is also because of my mother, Margarita Cunanan, who was an accomplished seamstress. She encouraged me because she saw my talent even though my right hand is deformed due to a birth defect, probably because I was a menopausal baby,” he said noting that he is one of the few left-handed designers.
“My mother had me at 47. I am the youngest in a brood of five and was named after my dad, Angelino Sr., who was murdered days before my high school graduation,” Boyet recalled a painful moment in his life.
“After my father’s untimely demise, I ran away from home at 16. It was a tumultuous time in my young life and I don’t know what to do. But I snapped out of my delusions. I saw that my mom was persistent in giving us a comfortable life. Even though she suddenly became a single parent, she did not show her weakness,” he reminisced. “I got my strength from her.”
So even at a young age, Boyet used his talent to earn as a part-time student. He began his career as an illustrator with the late Goullee Gorospe. He also did the rounds illustrating for other designers like Ben Farrales, Aureo Alonso, and Rose Vale (Ching Santos).
After those stints, he felt that he was already ready to make a name for himself.
“We used to have a small farm in the province. My mother had to sell our carabao to finance our small shop. Sad to say, nothing came out of it. Even with the setback, I had to move on. I considered that as a lesson,” recalled Boyet.
The ploughshare of the carabao now adorns the gate of his home at Valle Verde, which serves as a constant reminder of his humble beginnings.
After his first business venture failed, Boyet was not discouraged and continued to find opportunities.
“Luckily, a work grant allowed me to work as an illustrator in Singapore for a made-to-order business. After my Lion City stint, I embarked on a RTW business around Southeast Asia. Unknown to many, I pioneered the ‘plus size’ clothing for women. Back then, it was simply called ‘extra large’ and were for women from size 10 to size 20,” Boyet revealed.
“I chose Singapore over the Middle East, though most of my colleagues preferred the latter destination, because it was the gateway to the rest of Asia as well as Europe. I worked as merchandiser so I could use what I studied.”
His plus-size label, Substance, is continuously reaping the fruits of his pioneering efforts. Next month, Boyet will be celebrating his 40th year in the fashion/ retail industry.
“I was a product of hard knocks. My colleagues and I in the business, the other fashion designers, did things slowly but surely. These days, designing has become an ‘instant’ thing. Anybody with an idea on a sketchpad can call himself a ‘designer’,” he lamented. “Before, all we had was the textile and we did the design on our own.”
These words were culled from the experiences of Boyet and can be summarized in two words: “Hard work!”
“When I returned to Manila, I maintained an atelier in Banawe up until I started filling the racks of department stores. Plus sizes were a new thing in the Philippines and were mostly shoved towards the back of the racks. Before that, designers had a field day with plump matrons because there were no clothes for them in the department stores. Year 1993 started the upswing of the plus sizes,” he recalled.
Boyet’s atelier in Banawe allowed him to network with the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines (FDAP) until he made a name for himself. He dabbled in made-to-order creations with his mom by his side. His venture was a tremendous success that brought in money and popularity. Boyet was on top of the world and it seemed that he had the Midas’ touch.
“Unfortunately, success went into my head because I wanted to exact revenge on those who laughed at my misfortunes before. Then I had an infamous outburst at a Duty Free counter which made a buzz in social media,” he said. Though he had already buried the hatchet with the store attendant, that incident triggered a lot of misfortunes which Boyet attributes to him “forgetting our Creator.”
“From that point in my life, everything became mechanical and I lost my confidence. Since I became arrogant, people started to avoid me. My calls were not picked up by so-called friends. Suddenly, business turned worse. I felt that I was no longer relevant and needed.”
Boyet’s misfortunes continued. Everything spiraled downwards. His once bright outlook dimmed – literally – as one day, he woke up and can’t see anything.
“Yes, I became blind! It was such a humbling experience. I called on God like I never did before. Actually, my condition was brought about by a cataract issue. I’ve undergone surgeries for over two years and all were unsuccessful. I was told my case was hopeless and I will be blind forever. I had no recourse and that only a miracle could save me,” Boyet said, shedding tears.
“All of a sudden, I lost everything: Money, fame, and friends. Everything became complicated that death would be the sweetest thing. My family sent me to a farm. At first, I thought that it would be for my well-being. But I learned it was to get rid of me!”
Boyet confessed that he attempted suicide twice. First, he looked for a gun that he knew was kept in the house, but he couldn’t find it because he was blind. Next, he ran out of the house one stormy night to be run over by a moving vehicle but he was saved by a loyal shop employee who stayed with his side during his darkest hours.
“At the lowest point of my life, there was no one to turn to except God. I prayed for Him to take my life in return for all my excesses in life. Admitting my faults was part of my repentance,” he said.
His repentance was the start of a journey filled with challenges. But deep inside Boyet’s heart, he saw that there is light, albeit a tiny one, at the end of the tunnel – as long as you trust God with your life.
“Since I became blind, I had to go to bed very early. To condition myself to sleep, I listen to a battery-operated radio. One night, I chanced upon Niña Corpuz’s Magandang Gabi Dok over DZMM. Their guest, Dr. Minguita Padilla, was talking about an eye condition very similar to my situation,” he recalled.
Boyet immediately sat up and frantically searched for his cellphone to dial the number of the radio show. Though he was not able to talk to the doctor on-air, he was instructed to see her at her clinic at St. Luke’s BGC. Boyet did not waste time and was early on the day of his appointment. He then realized that he had seen numerous eye doctors who gave him a bad prognosis as his right eye was diagnosed as legally blind while his left eye was condemned as permanently blind.
“When my turn came, I was simply asked if I had P2,000 with me, which my assistant was lucky to have at hand,” said Boyet. He remembered the soothing voice of Dr. Padilla while he was being examined. He prayed hard that there could still be a miracle for him. And when the doctor finally said that there is still hope to make him see, Boyet could not contain his joy and went down on his knees to thank the Lord.
“The reason I was asked if I had P2,000 was because Dr. Padilla thought I was a charity patient; an indigent from the radio program!” exclaimed Boyet with a laugh.
“I was brought to the Eye Center for laser treatment. In only 10 minutes, I was able to see with my right eye. It was indeed a miracle! Now, I can see, I can read, send text messages, and post on Facebook. In October last year, Dr. Padilla operated my permanently blind left eye with corneal transplant. It was very successful and was received by my body well. The procedure was repeated last March and then finally in mid-May. I had a lazy eye condition when my eyes were adjusting its 20/50 vision. Last June, my cross eyesight was corrected,” said Boyet.
His voice quivered upon the mention of the words “I can see” because he thought that he will die without seeing the light of day. Through it all, Boyet said he can relate with the travails of the Bible’s Job, “especially now in the peace of my heart, and its gift of calmness.”
“Now, I pray to the Lord every day to thank Him for his miracle on my eyes. I keep to my heart His words ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and everything will be added unto you.’ If everything in you is about God, you’ll never go wrong.”
Today, Boyet is a different person, far from the one when he was on top of the world with money and fame. He is now giving back to the community by volunteering his time and energy to provide inspirational talks to PWD groups and socio-civic organizations.
“My life now is all about giving and sharing. The Lord did not get back everything. I got back my sight, my life, my career, and the trust of my former business partners. I now understand. I had to be blind so I can see clearly.”