As I flip through the latest issue of a local wedding magazine, I couldn’t help but admire a headpiece worn by Camille Prats-Yambao. It turns out that it was designed by Dianne Espera of SEPA, a Cebu-based accessories line which she had named after her grandmother.
“I thought of naming it after her primarily because she inspired me a lot with her then-flourishing craft business and her determination to rise from rags to riches,” Diane shared with me while she was in the middle of creating her Cheequita collection. “She was the most hardworking woman I’ve ever known.”
Although Dianne completed a course in interior design, she never had proper training in jewelry making. She had simply started tinkering with her grandmother’s old sewing kit when she was bored. “I remember making all sorts of earrings, from safety pins, hook and eye’s, uncooked pasta—even using a tablet and bottle caps from softdrinks,” she recalls.
Despite that, though, Dianne never envisioned herself as an accessories designer. “I guess it was destiny. When I started doing all those quirky accessories, I really enjoyed the process of designing,” she admits. It made her ecstatic when people started to appreciate her unique designs, and she was content creating accessories until the wee hours of the morning. “It really got me hooked.”
With her SEPA line, Dianne has joined bazaars and trunks shows all over the country, with many responding positively to her colorful creations. Cebuana singer Anna Fegi-Brown wore some of her pieces on the local variety show ASAP, and from there, the likes of Iya Villania, Toni Gonzaga, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Mariel Rodriguez, Maja Salvador and KC Concepcion have also worn SEPA. Her bangles, earrings, necklaces, and custom-made bridal headpieces have been seen on the pages of Preview, Metro, Metro Society and Wedding Essentials, to name a few.
It seems that, in creating her pieces, Dianne takes some inspiration from where she’s from. “I really love anything tropical and quirky, and that’s how I come up with my designs,” she shares. That theme is certainly present in her Cheequita collection which has some eye-catching earrings featuring fruits like pineapples, bananas and watermelons. From there, Dianne follows a process that is based on instinct. “I rarely draw,” she admits. “I just like playing with my materials, combining all the components and patterns. Then I sit at my desk and decide what happens next.”
Of course, aesthetics aren’t the only important thing. “As my business grew over the years, I realized that the people working for me helped in achieving my dreams,” Dianne says. “I’m so happy to employ a small team, and to be able to help their families in some way. That keeps me going. It’s such a wonderful feeling.”
When asked if she plays favorites among her collections, she replies, “It has to be my Poncha necklaces and my Cheequita earrings.” Embodying Dianne’s bubbly personality, these collections are quickly flying off the shelves—namely the Aldara necklaces, Tousa and Oscuro earrings, Lucite bangles, and Anta bracelets.
Like many other designers, Dianne adheres to certain principles in the production process—SEPA aims to have zero waste. “Everybody should help protect our environment, and our community as well,” she shares. “I like using a lot of locally sourced materials, such as wood, shells, and the like. As much as I can, I try to buy from or work with local artisans. I strongly believe that our creativity deserves a spot in the international market. I want to support local businesses—going local is the way to go!”
With her cheerful flair and remarkable instinct, Dianne hopes to guide up-and-coming designers who wish to follow in her footsteps. “Be patient, be determined, and never be afraid to experiment,” she advises. “Most importantly, you should love what you do, and love the people who work for you.”
- Portrait photogpraphy by Oliver Echevarria