Welcome back to “Asians of Grand Rapids,” our blog segment where we celebrate Asian culture in West Michigan one story at a time. For today, meet RC Caylan: a Filipino designer whose studio is located right in the heart of the downtown area. Learn about his move from the small city of Batangas, his former life as cruise ship spa manager, and why, despite the struggles of being an immigrant, Grand Rapids is the city he calls home.
WHY DID YOU MOVE FROM THE PHILIPPINES TO GRAND RAPIDS?
Way back in Batangas City in the Philippines, I worked in the pageanting industry, doing makeup, sketching designs, making girls pretty, and all that. I was kind of a gay stereotype! I also went to school and graduated with an accountancy degree. Then I worked as a Junior Payroll Assistant for a while. My friends who were working on a cruise ships told me about what they were doing and I found it really fascinating! I also got jealous that they got to travel the world for free. So then I worked in the spa of a cruise ship for 4 and a half years… and then ended up falling in love with one of the passengers and moving to Grand Rapids because he lived there! He is now my husband.
WOW, REALLY! WHAT’S THE STORY THERE?
I met my husband on the embarkation day of one of our cruises. He was there with his family. I always hosted the spa tour on the first day and showed the guests what services we offer. He saw me there and exclusively asked for me to do all his treatments… and he got almost every one we offered! So for the 8 days of the whole cruise, he had different treatments with me everyday. I’d do his facials, massages, haircuts, and we’d talk during the consultations. Eventually, we said we’d meet up on the last day of the cruise… so at 1 in the morning of the last day, we saw each other. As soon as we made eye contact, we ran to each other, hugged really tight, and kissed! It was really like a Titanic moment. The next morning, the cruise was over and he had to leave with all the other guests and so we did long distance for a whole year.
WHAT MADE YOU FINALLY DECIDE TO STOP WORKING AT THE CRUISE SHIP AND MOVE TO GR?
I just thought that having a long distance relationship was too hard after a whole year. I was actually being trained to be the spa manager of the cruise already, but the whole time I thinking “I don’t feel like my heart’s in it anymore.” I wasn’t satisfied. I really wanted to be together with him. So I stopped working on the cruise ship and went to Grand Rapids to be with him in 2012. I wanted to pursue fashion, so I went to GRCC and got my associate degree in Fashion & Merchandising in 2015.
HOW DID THE “RC CAYLAN ATELIER” STUDIO COME TO BE?
After I graduated from GRCC, I got a 2-month internship in Hollywood with some big-name designers. While I was there, I met a San Francisco-based Filipino designer who invited me to showcase some of my pieces in a fashion show. That was the beginning of everything! I would make all the clothes in my house–just cutting and sewing in my kitchen. It was a huge opportunity for me to work such good designers and it really opened a lot of doors. After that, my husband and I decided that I should open my own! So towards the end of 2015, I searched for a perfect spot in GR for my studio. After lots of looking, I finally found 80 Ottawa Avenue, Suite 308. It was perfect. I love the number 8 because it stands for infinity. It’s never ending… like a never ending opportunity! I’m super Asian like that; I believe in signs and symbols. The studio is not very big; less than 700 square feet, but it’s perfect for someone like me starting out a business.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PHILOSOPHY IN RUNNING YOUR STUDIO?
Our style is all about making a person feel beautiful. What I do is high-fashion, very couture. Everything that I do is custom-made to my client’s wants, needs, and dreams. I’m just there to bring that to life. We’ve had shows in Detroit, we went to Rome for fashion week, and I’ve met designers from all over the world. I take pride in that I’m representing a smaller city like Grand Rapids. It’s like how we’re known as Beer City, USA now. That’s one of my goals: to bring Grand Rapids into the spotlight as a city of fashion.
WHAT DOES THE GR ASIAN FESTIVAL MEAN TO YOU AS A MEMBER OF GR’S ASIAN COMMUNITY?
It really means a lot, because we’re giving pride to Asians like you and me and celebrating our culture. That’s the great thing, because it’s not specific to one Asian culture, but the whole Asian community here in Grand Rapids!
ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THE FESTIVAL SOMEHOW?
I’m designing a gown for one of the hosts, Jennifer Pascua and for Ace Marasigan, one of the organizers. Ace is going to wear a barong and Jennifer’s is a Filipiniana gown.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT GR?
Without question, the first reason is because my husband is from here. Second, if you’re an immigrant, you’re always told that the USA is the land of dreams… but to me, Grand Rapids is the city of opportunity. It really has a lot to offer. This city is really growing more and more everyday and there’s so much potential for anyone. Third, I love the cold! The first time in the year when the flurries come and the snow melts on your skin, and you can catch snowflakes on your tongue… It’s a winter wonderland!
IF YOU WANTED TO SHARE SOMETHING ABOUT FILIPINO CULTURE WITH THE PEOPLE OF GRAND RAPIDS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Filipinos are known for being hospitable. We also love to eat and cook. If you know someone Filipino, then you already know that you can’t miss out on the food! Especially adobo, pancit, and lumpia. We’re also a hard-working people. We really go beyond our boundaries to get what we want… we just don’t quit easily! That’s why when our country is devastated with natural disasters like typhoons, in pictures you’ll still see many people smiling and kids swimming in the floods and having fun. We’re used to it. We know how it feels to have nothing, move forward from there, and find a way to still be smile along the way. I take that lesson with me here and apply that to how I’m trying to make a name for myself in the world of fashion.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED HARDSHIP HERE AS AN IMMIGRANT?
Oh yeah. One of the worst instances was actually in school here with my teacher. I was asking a question about the instructions she gave for an assignment, and she said, “maybe you didn’t understand because I was speaking in English,” in front of all my classmates. I cried and had to step out of the class. I was so upset that I was there to learn and she was supposed to be teaching me, not discriminating me! She ended up saying sorry. But even though I had that bad experience, and a few others, it will never break me or change the way I see this city and how I love living here. I hope things like this festival will close that barrier between the majority and the minority of this city… And just encourage everyone to know the person behind the skin color and cultural difference.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF IN GRAND RAPIDS IN THE FUTURE IN TERMS OF ASIAN CULTURE?
More diverse restaurants! We have Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Thai, but there’s still things missing in terms of variety. Maybe a Malaysian or a Filipino restaurant. And it needs to be authentic!
Learn more about RC’s studio and designs at http://www.rccaylan.com/.
Stay tuned to meet more Asians of Grand Rapids!
In the meantime:
Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/grasianfestival/
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We hope to see you at Rosa Parks Circle on June 10, 2017!