PhilaU Fashion Design Alumnae Launch New Fashion Collection

Pia Panaligan, left, and Melissa Choi showcase their summer collection.

PhilaU fashion design alumnae Melissa Choi and Pia Panaligan, who spent the past year developing their fashion business in the Fashion Incubator program at Macy’s, launched their 2014 summer collection at a Feb. 12 event marking the end of their year in the program.

Their new collection for their firm Senpai + Kohai was influenced by color blocking and ‘70s styles and includes a line of hand-dyed, hand-painted dresses. The collection was showcased at The Transfer Station in Manayunk, along with the work of the other four 2013 Fashion Incubator designers.

“Pia and Melissa have just done an amazing job with their line,” said Sheila Connelly, director of PhilaU’s fashion design program. “It’s so beautifully detailed. The handwork is just extraordinary. They are an inspiration to other students.”


Models showcase the Senpai + Kohai summer collection.

As designers-in-residence at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s Center City, Choi and Panaligan spent an intensive year developing the business expertise to take Senpai + Kohai to the next level. They started their Incubator year with a business boot camp, and continued to work with mentors, consultants and MBA students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. They met with such prominent designers as Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein women’s wear creative director.

“It was definitely a wonderful experience,” said Panaligan, who along with Choi graduated in 2006. “It taught us so much that will help our business grow. We learned about marketing, public relations, sales and having a solid business plan so that our business can have longevity and we don’t just react to the market.”

“It’s like an MBA program for fashion designers,” said Elissa Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, a one-year program to support emerging local fashion designers in developing a business in Philadelphia by providing them with a workspace, curriculum and other resources.

Bloom said she has observed both professional and personal growth from Choi and Panaligan over the past year. “They have actively gone after the ethical part of fashion development,” Bloom said. “They’re very passionate about keeping their pieces made in Philadelphia to support the local community.”


A piece from the Senpai + Kohai summer collection.

Senpai + Kohai is a Philadelphia-based women’s clothing company specializing in one-of-a-kind fair-trade garments inspired by global textiles. The PhilaU fashion designers incorporate intricate prints from vintage woodblocks Choi discovered in India. “We really like how things that are handmade create a look that you can’t get if you mass produce,” Choi said.

Moving forward with their business, Choi and Panaligan launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign this month, which they hope will raise $10,000 to support production of their summer collection.  For details, click here.

More trunk shows and networking events are in the works for the entrepreneurs. Choi and Panaligan will hold a pop-up shop at the Asian Arts Initiative April 4 as part of a First Friday event.

Bloom said she is impressed by the work of the PhilaU graduates in the program. “The creativity and level of design that comes out of PhilaU is extraordinary,” she said.

Choi and Panaligan, who met at PhilaU in 2003, were in the second year of the program. The next class of designers-in-residence, which will include a PhilaU alumna, will be announced at a Feb. 27 press conference. Kaitlyn Doherty ’11 participated in the inaugural class of Fashion Incubator designers.

View more of Choi and Panaligan’s summer collection on Flickr.

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