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    From 'palaboy' to MPL, how Mara Aquino's designer ended up on the big stage

    Mar 12, 2023
    PHOTO: Tammy David and Jay Laida Fashion House

    MARA AQUINO’s arrival to the MPL scene has been a welcome addition to fans, as the energy she once displayed in the PBA has translated well in Mobile Legends esports.

    Her ability to weather the social awkwardness that professional esports players are known for is something that’s worth applauding. Even her list of questions has managed to produce the best storylines in the scene.

    And to top it all off, is her wardrobe, adding a sense of awe to her graceful presence. At the tailend of the broadcast, Mara Aquino would give her designer, Jan Joseph Laida aka Jay Laida Fashion House, a shoutout.

    Laida who has designed Mara’s apparel since Season 10 was starstruck.

    “Sobrang saya po! Yung una po, hindi ko alam na mine-mention po pala ako ni Ms. Mara pagkatapos ng game. Tapos nagtatahi po ako, biglang yung friend ko po tumatawag sabi niya, ‘Bhe yung pangalan mo nasa MPL na!”


    “Alam ko lang nasa isip ko, nakalagay lang sa ilalim ng screen tapos si-nend niya sa akin yung video na...iyon nga po si Ms. Mara mine-mention niya yung pangalan ko. Para sa amin, ma-recognize ng ganoon, sobrang saya po especially sa MPL pa kase personally naglalaro po ako, support user po ako. Past time ko kunwari kapag nagtatahi ako sa gabi, kapag stress ako sa tahi, ok break, kain, maglalaro ako kahit dalawang games,” reflected Laida.

    And looking back at his career, Laida realized that he has finally fulfilled a portion of his childhood dream.


    The palaboy life

    In his youth, Laida admired his mother’s relentless passion for sewing. While her work managed to spark the local pageant scene, it has also served as a source of familial love.

    “Kase yung mama ko po, midwife po talaga siya, pero kase marunong na siya manahi. So bata pa lang ako, talagang nakikita ko si mama na tumatahi ng sofa namin, siya yung nagtatahi nun. Kapag may nagpapa-pageant sa Barangay namin sa Iloilo, nagtatahi siya," said Laida.

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    However, things spiraled downward when she died from cervical cancer. He was in Manila during this tumultuous period, trying his best to attend to his mother’s illness.

    All of a sudden, Laida's purpose in life evaporated.

    “Tapos nawala siya sa isip ko kase may mga nangyari po, nawala siya (Laida’s mother), tapos ako po naiwan ako dito (Manila). Dalawa kase kami pumunta sa Manila para mapagamot siya. Noong nawala po siya, nagpa-ikot-ikot po ako sa East Avenue for two months, wala akong bahay so natutulog ako sa tapat ng SSS.”

    He added: “Naranasan ko iyon (maging palaboy), ang kasama ko pa noon is ako and yung lolo ko. Nagbigay yung ibang tao, nag-aabutan.”

    It was a hopeless situation for Laida who struggled to bounce back from the tragedy...until a relative of his brought him back to Iloilo and gave him a second chance.

    "Kinuha po ako ng kamag-anak ko sa probinsya, so binalik po ako sa Iloilo para magtrabaho ako sa kanila sa canteen. So doon po nangyari na nag-take ako ng ALS (Alternative Learning System), 2014,"

    "Although hindi po ako nakakapasok sa school, may module ako. After ko mag-take ng ALS, lumabas yung results ko na pang number 4 ako sa Visayas so parang doon ko [na-realize] na kailangan ko pang mag-aral, hindi pwedeng mag-stay dito, so gumawa ako ng paraan," he revealed.

    And with a new beginning, Laida went back to Manila and finished with a degree in Fashion Design.

    "Hanggang sa may makasama ako na pumunta dito sa Maynila, magbantay ng anak niya habang nag-aaral. So noong nandito na ako, nag-take ako ng chance na kumuha ng scholarship, nagta-trabaho ako."


    "Nag-take din ako ng scholarship sa may Marikina Polytechnic College, since nakapasa ako, kinuha ko yung Fashion Design as a course, then hanggang sa...pandemic po ako naka-graduate so hindi ako naka-march sa stage."


    Contacting Mara

    After graduating, Laida grinded his way to the point where he slowly made a name for himself in Marikina and his work even reached ABS-CBN's ASAP.

    While working, Laida would spend his downtime, playing Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. It was his way of destressing himself and it also led him to support Johnmar "OhMyV33nus" Villaluna's #WeWantEstes battlecry.

    With his love for Mobile Legends, a lightbulb moment suddenly occurred.

    "Last two seasons, tina-try ko mag-reach kay Ms. Mara (Aquino) kase talaga unang may gusto sa kanya yung partner ko po. Then hanggang nakausap ko siya, and [sinabi ko] na ‘Damitan natin! Damitan natin!” revealed Mara's fashion designer.

    His initial attempts proved to be ambitious as Laida struggled to secure a project with the MPL host.

    "Patapos ng Season 9, pi-PM na po ako sa kanya sa Instagram, kase since siguro po masyadong malaki po yung Instagram niya, hindi pumapasok yung messages ko."

    While these setbacks may look disheartening for Laida, his persistence kept on, until...

    "Season 10 po, talagang sabi ko, ‘Hindi pwedeng, talagang gagawin ko yung...ma-contact ko siya. So yun po, hanggang naka-abot po yung gawa ko po kay Ms. Mara. Ang sabi ko, ituloy-tuloy natin ito.”

    Laida had a vision, that Mara should have a strong and beautiful presence in front of the stage, and so the red gown that fans marveled at during the playoffs appeared.


    Fans may not know this, but Laida made the designs for free. He didn't mind if he wasn't getting paid for his hardwork, all what mattered is seeing his work on the big stage.


    "Hindi na siya dahil lang gusto lang ma-recognize as a designer kundi yung passion din, masarap sa feeling na favorite mo yung tao, yung place, yung event," said Laida.

    A Rocky Gathercole inspired story

    While it may be worrisome for him to not earn from his designs, it was still a win for Laida as his worked echoed in social media. Clients started barging in left and right and numerous opportunities followed.

    "Dalawa po kami dito, May savings na itatabi. Hindi naman po mayaman, we earn enough lang naman po pero kase ang laki din po ng maitutulong na mapro-promote. Sobrang laking tulong po noon kase katulad ng sa Tiktok, nagkaroon ako ng tatlong clients, dalawang debut, isang formal event, dahil nadamitan ko si Ms. Mara."

    "Kumbaga isa po iyon sa prize na na-receive ko sa passion and kagustuhan namin," reflected Laida.

    Upon seeing his work and the appreciation that Mara displayed, Laida realized that he has finally reached a breakthrough moment.

    He was afterall inspired by avant garde Filipino designer Rocky Gathercole, who passed away back in 2021.

    Laida revealed that after watching a Maalala Mo Kaya (MMK) episode about him, he envisioned himself to be like him.

    “Nakikita ko yung sarili ko sa kanya. Kung kaya nila, baka kaya ko din, baka umabot din ako doon."

    There are similarities between the two of them as both managed to bounce back from massive hurdles. In that MMK episode, Gathercole was seen selling fishballs, only for him to end up creating clothes for Hollywood celebrities.

    And while Laida was able to overcome the initial hardships in life, they still persist like that time when he failed to deliver Mara's apparel for the M4 World Championship group draw.

    “Ginagawan po namin siya ng suit, lilipad po si Ms. Mara papuntang Indonesia, tapos yung suit po kase, nasa bahay noong partner ko po, so kukunin ko siya, kasama yung mga gowns din. So on the way, dito sa may Sumulong Highway, nahagip po ng SUV yung sinasakyan kong Angkas..."

    "Nag-fail ako na magpadala ng ano kase ilang weeks po ako after mag-message kay Ms. Mara saka ako nag-message dahil sa nangyari.”

    But nevertheless his work is still in the MPL scene, he did hint some special designs inspired by MLBB heroes, which will appear in the Season 11 playoffs. He even hinted that he aspires to make a design for The Queen, OhMyV33nus.

    As Mara Aquino would say: "Abangan na lang natin! Casters, pasok!" (or in this case, Laida Pasok!)

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    PHOTO: Tammy David and Jay Laida Fashion House
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