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Wear your style, story with hand-painted denim jackets by Chard Ilagan

by Joanna Deala

People do not only tell their stories through words; they have now been expressing themselves through their clothing. 

These stories are what Quezon province-based make-up artist and stylist Chard Ilagan incorporates in his hand-painted denim jackets. 

Ilagan has an online shop named R.I Apparel that sells second-hand denim jackets that he designs with his hand-painted drawings and sometimes with metal chains that have been a popular style among the new generation. 

R.I Apparel was established in 2022 as Ilagan’s other source of income when his job as a make-up artist and stylist was affected by COVID-19 restrictions, especially in the entertainment industry. 

But opening an apparel business wasn’t part of his initial plan. 

When he’s not working as a make-up artist and stylist, Ilagan said he keeps himself busy through painting. 

At one point, he thought of painting randomly on the back of pants. Ilagan posted a photo of his finished work on social media without any intention of selling it, but one netizen expressed interest in his design. 

“May nag-chat sakin sabi niya, ‘ang ganda naman ng design mo. Pwede ba magpagawa sayo ng ganito? Three pieces?’” Ilagan shared with republicasia.

The stylist agreed to this request which the netizen gifted to their friends. This was how R.I Apparel came about.

“Unplanned siya kasi nga hobby ko lang talaga yung pagpe-paint, hindi ko naman talaga business-business na ganyan. Kasi more on make-up talaga before, styling,” he said.

Ilagan’s hand-painted jackets have already traveled in different countries and have been worn by some Filipino artists such as 23-year-old singer-songwriter JRoa.

But what’s with Ilagan’s designs that catch the attention of customers, especially the millennial and Gen Z influencers?

Hand-painted stories

If one would look at the Instagram account of R.I Apparel, they would see a variety of colors and designs that each has a story behind it.

Among Ilagan’s in-demand designs is the Medusa jacket. 

Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, is a famous character in Greek mythology known for her snake hair and her terrifying power of turning a living person into a stone in an instant.

In another version of Medusa’s background story, the monster was said to be a beautiful young maiden, but was punished by Greek goddess Athena when the former was raped in the latter’s temple.

Medusa’s story became the inspiration for the jacket that Ilagan designed for rape victims.

“[M]ay nagpagawa sa’kin na random [person] pero wala siya profile sa FB (Facebook), more on messenger lang siya. Nag-chat siya sa’kin [ng], ‘Pwede po pagawa ng design na Medusa?’” Ilagan shared.

“Parang nagkwento siya about dun sa ano niya. Ayun, first time yun na gumawa ako ng Medusa kaya nagtuloy-tuloy na yung medusa design ko,” he continued.

One Medusa jacket that Ilagan showed to republicasia is the Black Medusa jacket. 

Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram
Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram

The front shows the written name “Medusa,” a red vertical line, and a metal chain. 

Meanwhile, the back of the jacket has a half-body figure of the snake-haired character with overlapping vertical and horizontal red lines. The top part reads, “Mortal of 3 Gorgons,” while the words “Medusa” and “Greek” are written on the left and right sides, respectively.

According to Ilagan, the metal chain in front of the jacket symbolizes silence.

Another denim jacket design that Ilagan showed was his red Albert Einstein denim jacket.

Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram
Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram

The front of the Einstein jacket bears huge fonts of the words, “Make it Happen,” while its right sleeve and the back part show the quote, “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”

There is also an image of Einstein, and the words “Goal” and “Dream” at the back.

The Albert Einstein jacket defines who Ilagan is as a person, he said.

“Parang ine-explain ko lang yung sarili ko. Make it happen. Ginawa ko kasi ‘to ng biglaan. Parang ginawa ko siya parang sa sipag,” he explained.

The next design that he showed was the Leonardo DiCaprio jacket that features the actor’s popular toast meme.

Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram
Photo courtesy: @riapparel2022 | Instagram

Ilagan said the jacket is for “success” because it encourages people to not stop pursuing their dreams, and that “hard work always pays off.”

The stylist also said that his designs are inspired by the styles of K-pop artists.

“Nakikita ko sa mga K-pop star, hilig nila sa mga burloloy, sa mga chains. Ayun, ina-apply ko lang on my own. On my own design. Hand-painted and hand-made,” he said.

Every piece of these hand-painted jackets is valuable for Ilagan because aside from the stories they tell, he also puts a part of himself to his works, which makes them standout.

“Nanjan yung ‘love’ ko eh. Kasi yung love ko sa art, ina-apply ko doon sa mismong jacket. Pati yung utak ko nandun din. Parang buong katawan ko, binibigyan ko ng effort dun sa mismong jacket,” the make-up artist stressed. 

His apparel business also contributed to the sustainability of the fashion industry because he doesn’t need to buy new denim jackets to create new-look clothes that customers will love, Ilagan noted.

Never out of style

Ilagan chose to recreate denim jackets because he believes that this type of clothing, which became a closet staple since the 1900s, will never be out of style.

“Alam naman natin na ang denim jacket is hindi talaga siya nawawala sa uso. Noong 90’s hanggang ngayon, denim jacket is in pa rin,” he noticed.

Perhaps, the new generation finds denim jackets fashionable, which is why many of them are having a huge interest in it, he added.

“Parang ‘pag nagsuot ka ng denim jacket parang, ‘Ay ang mahal naman,’ ‘ang bigat tignan,’ pero ang ganda niyang tingnan kapag suot ng tao,” Ilagan said.

The stylist shared that it brings him so much joy whenever people wear his masterpieces.

“Parang nash-shock ako na na-o-overwhelm, parang sobrang saya ko talaga. Sabi ko ‘di ko inaakala na makakagawa ako ng ganyan in my life,” he said.

Recreation process

It usually takes days for Ilagan to finish a hand-painted jacket as it undergoes a lot of process.

After washing the jackets, Ilagan said he would have to dye them, especially if his customer requested a certain color.

“[Kung ang] order ng client is black, gagawin ko siyang black. Ida-dye ko siya to black then ipe-paint ko siya as new. Pa-plantsahin ko muna siya bago ko i-paint,” he said.

He would then mix specific colors of acrylic paints before he proceeds to painting, which will require a lot of his skills, time, and effort.

Ilagan said that the painting won’t fade, just that customers must not brush it.

“Kung pwede nga wag siya labhan kasi jacket siya. Tabi mo lang siya kapag susuot mo,” he advised.

“‘Di mo ito madalas susuotin, ‘di naman siya ganun kadumi if ever na suotin mo siya,” he added.

Other clothing reminders

Ilagan shared a few tips to better care for the hand-painted denim jackets.

Denims with chains, he said, should not be placed in the washing machine, as the chains will tangle up.

“Matatanggal yung mga tahing kamay niyan so ang kailangan dito ay parang hand wash lang,” he cautioned.

After washing the jackets, Ilagan said that it must be dried up inside the house and not placed under direct sunlight as it will stiffen the fabric.

The jackets should not be washed with strong chemicals because it will affect the paintings, he continued.


R.I Apparel denim jackets usually cost from P1,500 to P4,000, depending on how complicated the design is.

It’s important to take note that these personalized products should not be haggled, even though they’re not brand new, because one must consider the amount of time, effort, talent, and dedication the artist had put into it.

If you are interested in Ilagan’s masterpieces, visit R.I Apparel’s Instagram page.



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