by Michelle Dayrit-Soliven
Her dreams are made of a thousand and one fabrics fashioned out of a thousand and one stitches. This I learned about Cora de Jesus Manimbo.
One of the most meaningful events I was fortunate to attend recently was a store blessing of a newfound friend. More than just a dress shop, this blessed establishment represents a miracle borne from adversity, an answered prayer for Cora and her family.
My scheduled time to meet her was quite unusual. “May I invite you for breakfast to celebrate this happy occasion,” read Cora’s SMS to me. Not wanting to miss it, my husband and I made sure we were at her shop in Greenhills at 7:30 a.m. on the dot. It was a Sunday, otherwise known as the Lord’s day. Truly we felt it was. Families gathered together as Fr. Fernando Suarez thanked a benevolent God who showered this gift unto Cora and her prayerful family. With gentle sprinkles of holy water, Fr. Suarez blessed each corner of the store, the lovely Filipiniana inspired dresses designed by Cora, exquisitely embroidered barongs, fabrics and accessories artistically displayed by her staff. His solemn prayer was, “Lord, please continue to bless the work of their hands and all those who enter here.”
It was a joyful gathering of family, friends and loyal patrons who shared in her joys having witnessed firsthand the difficulties that Cora went through. Judging from the attendance, the Manimbo family is well loved by many.
I spotted a lovely lady in a cloud of pink (my favorite color) fleeting around, warmly greeting her guests. It was Cora elegantly garbed in her own creation.
“Thank you for being here, Michelle and Benny,” she said with a smile.
Like an old friend, Cora continued to share with us her story. “This is a very special day for me. Now I know that God had a secret plan all along. What I considered the most challenging situation in my life turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That powerful typhoon Ondoy struck us full force in Marikina last September. We were overwhelmed by the challenges of rebuilding our home, our business, our lives. But thank God! After eight months, with everybody’s help, including my friends, staff and family, we have been able to relaunch this new and permanent shop for all of us to enjoy. This is a testament of our faith in the Almighty.”
And really what a great address it is. Much more accessible, according to her clients, than the former Marikina location. Her new shop Cora D.J. Manimbo Fashion House is located on the upper ground floor of Swire Elan Suites, a condotel building on 49 Annapolis St., Greenhills in San Juan.
Over a sumptuous breakfast buffet in the hotel café, we got to meet the dynamic couple behind Elan Suites. From architect Ramon Licup and his pretty wife Elena Murillo Licup, I learned that their condo hotel is very popular among balikbayans and foreign guests. Conveniently located right across the lively Greenhills shopping complex, it is a solid landmark in Greenhills. No wonder that this location is perfect for Cora’s balikbayan clients. After getting their wedding ensembles made at Cora’s they can stroll down the street in the company of their family and friends, catch up on the latest movies, shop for pasalubongs and then feast on a great variety of cuisine or just restaurant hop. When they are tired, they can simply walk back to the hotel with all their packages and indulge in the hotel spa which is right by Cora’s shop.
Cora’s proud family was there in full force. Charles Bernard, 19, a freshman in De La Salle University taking up Entrepreneurship, shared, “My mom’s store specializes in formal Filipiniana outfits for men and women. She does fabulous weddings here and abroad. The balikbayans and foreigners swear by her works, profusely giving thanks for they always stand out in their Cora DJ Manimbo originals.”
I also met Cora’s other children Matthew Bernard, a high school senior in La Salle Greenhills and a member of the varsity basketball team; and only daughter Sophia Therese, 21, studying in UP College of Arts and Letters taking up Creative Writing. In that early morning affair, they were upbeat in telling me that their mother “never boasts of her creations but her works become her walking advertisement and always speak well of her awesome talent.”
I asked Cora where she got the talent to make clothes. “As a fashion designer for Philippine clothing, I trace my roots down to my parents. My father, Primo De Jesus, and my mother, Fely De Jesus, are both born artists. Though we were trained to work hard early on in our lives because we were born poor in Marikina, I had a happy and wonderful childhood. My dad who strived really hard to finish school became a working student mechanic and a family man as well. My hardworking mom is a multi-tasker.”
According to Cora, changes in their way of living happened when her father worked abroad as an OFW in Vietnam. At first, as a regular mechanic to being the team leader of their group serving the US Embassy motorpool in Saigon. “With his and my mother’s combined earnings, they were able to send us to college.”
Cora entered UP for two semesters before transferring to Philippine School of Business Administration as a fulltime scholar and finished Business Administration major in Accounting. She eventually became a Certified Public Accountant. While working in Security Bank & Trust Company as a financial analyst, she helped set up a family business, a small pawnshop operation in Marikina and a one-stop printing shop. After four years of banking and family businesses, she resigned and focused in helping her parents send her siblings to college. After a while, she wanted to improve her skills, she accepted an offer to work in a big printing and packaging company, the “Propack Philippines” where she was trained to be an expert in color matching, combinations, separations and lay-out designing. After a year, her boss found a perfect employee who wanted to learn everything about the business, she was promoted to be assistant to the president after two years, handling all of her boss’ accounts. She was hungry for knowledge in everything she did. She excelled in organizing events and trade shows for the company; attending seminars and attending to suppliers and principals. In short, Cora was a superwoman.
In 1986, at the height of the Edsa Revolution, Cora met a gentleman named Bernardito “Bernie” Manimbo, fell in love and they married in 1989.
Cora said it was in 1990 when they first started their business at Tomas Morato in Quezon City. It was a tiangge with a few t-shirts and batik shirt overruns for export to Spain. Cora added: “Eventually, we started participating in bazaars at the American Women’s Club and also in foreign embassies. Though it was hard and much too complex for me and my husband as beginners, we really enjoyed meeting new people and improved ourselves to better the future of our family.”
Because her schedule was flexible, she was able to attend to her growing up children while manning the business, too.
“One good thing about our business is that it was the foreigners who enjoyed our products and began to promote the unique Philippine-made textile and designs that are mind-blowing in terms of quality. We began to scour for suppliers of materials and we also began to teach weavers on what to pursue in terms of color, design, quality, and to advocate the promotion of these Philippine artworks especially to other nationalities,” Cora said, adding that the happiest moments in her life were the times she gave birth to her three children. Cora said she has always dreamed of a better life for their children and that they anchor their everyday endeavours on hard work, love and faith in God.
“My philosophy in life is always to do the right things and pray to God. I’m always grateful to God for all the miracles, the problems and the people around me,” Cora ended. /
Cora Manimbo can be reached at 744-0401