Exclusive Interview with the Ladies of Dalaga NYC
Mary and Michelle Mangiliman, sisters and owners of Dalaga NYC, took some time to chat with Wika Magazine about their Filipino roots, their experiences in fashion entrepreneurship and life in New York City.  The Mangiliman sisters are becoming a well-known duo in the New York fashion scene. Dalaga has been named  "Brooklyn's #1 Classic Boutique" by Refinery29 and has been given the nod for "Best Dresses" by New York Magazine. Following their huge success in Brooklyn, the opening of their SoHo store last year was met with an line of people down the block waiting to get in. (And, reportedly, in true "Dalaga" fashion, the sisters handed out cupcakes to those who had to wait.) With two thriving stores under their belts, these ladies are making moves you don’t want to miss. Be sure to check out their new Spring arrivals at either store, or online at   [slideshow id=9] WikaMag: Tell us about the store name, Dalaga, and about your Filipino influence. Michelle: Well, we didn't open the store thinking 'We want a Filipino name.' We were just trying to find something that we could both relate to, and that meant a lot to us. The definition of Dalaga is about a being a lady, or becoming a woman. And when we were little, our dad would always call us dalagas, or he’d say, “Oh my little dalagas, you're so big now. You're becoming little ladies.” It's just something we loved and that we have really fond memories of. As women, we’re always changing and always ‘becoming’ new things with clothes and with fashion. And I think that's something a lot of women can relate to. Mary: I think as far as merchandising the store, we're not looking for Filipino designs or Filipino designers. We're just influenced by our background and it's something that's always there as a creative inspiration to pull from. For example, our Dalaga jewelry line is based on mythological creatures from the Philippines. We named the different pieces after different creatures. Michelle: Or, our fragrances: my favorite fragrance is the national flower of the Philippines, Sampaguita, which is a jasmine-based flower. I think it’s something that we bring about very naturally that also sets us apart. You know? That’s a fragrance you won’t find in a lot of places. So the Filipino aspect sort of just comes into the store through things that we like or what we're exposed to or what we grew up loving.   WikaMag: What were you two like when you were growing up together? Mary: We've always been together and very close. I don't have a single memory from when I was younger when Michelle wasn't by my side. I was really shy when I was little too, so I really depended on my sister to be my partner in crime. And we still do everything together now, so that’s still sort of rings true today. Michelle: We've always been really close.   WikaMag: How do you think your sibling relationship affects how you work together and how you run the Dalaga brand together? Michelle: It was definitely an adjustment when we first opened, because we were really young--Mary was 21 and I was 22--and I don’t think we had a good sense of boundaries. We were just coming into adulthood and didn't really know how to separate personal life from work life. Mary: I think it's also kind of impossible not to have that personal relationship there. I mean one of the reasons we work so well together is that we trust each other so much, and we understand each other. And it's fun. We can joke around and have fun without having to worry about ‘professionalism’ or any kind of power dynamic. It’s balanced.   WikaMag: So after your childhood forays into fashion, what did you study in school? Michelle: I think we always knew we wanted to go into business together And I always knew I wanted my own store. I always wanted to do fashion, but my original goal was to design. I was studying fashion design in San Francisco and I was able to work at a store where I could sell my designs on the floor while managing it at the same time. It was a great opportunity and gave me a lot of business experience. Mary was also studying fashion business and accounting at the time. So I think it was in the backs of our minds for a long time that we would be working together in some capacity, but I think we thought it would be a clothing line.   WikaMag: How do your styles differ, and how do you think you’ve influenced each other’s styles? Mary: Well, when it comes to buying, Michelle is the head buyer. She always has the final say. Which I am totally fine with, because I think that’s really her strong suit. As far as personal style goes, I feel like I’m a little more girly than Michelle. And definitely, definitely sexier. [They laugh.] But, yes, I’d say Michelle is a little more bold. We actually have a lot of the same pieces we just style them differently. Michelle: Right, we basically have the same wardrobe. When we used to live together, we just shared closets. Whatever she had in her closet wasn’t something I would ever pick or buy, but I would still just wear it and style it in my own way. It was nice because it broadened our horizons, I think. Of course, now that we live apart, sometimes we'll come into work wearing the same dress or the same shirt, but it will just be styled differently.   WikaMag: What made you decide to make the move from San Francisco to NY as opposed to just opening a store there? Michelle: We sort of just went for it. I mean, San Francisco has great style, very laid back and indie. But there’s so much variety here in New York. It’s just so much bigger, and people were really encouraging us to make moves here and open up a store, because we’d had so much success with smaller pop-up shops and samples sales. Mary: Also Michelle's boyfriend at the time had just graduated college and was moving to New York. Michelle: Well, he’s my husband now! So we moved to Franklin Street, and at the time there were all these beautiful old storefronts that were being lived in, not really being used as stores. We saw the one storefront--the one that we’re in now, 150 Franklin Street--and wrote a letter to the landlord with our pictures and our story in it, just saying, “Look, we really want to open this store and promote our line and live our dream...” and I guess that tactic works, because before we knew it, we just had this store in Greenpoint.   WikaMag: Do you typically go for locally-based designers? What's your process for finding emerging clothing or jewelry designers? Mary: A lot of designers contact us, which is great. Or we’ll come across something in a boutique and contact the designer. Michelle: We definitely strive to find independent, locally-based lines. Or just independent designers across the country. Mary: Right, we base our buying on what we like, really. There’s a lot of specificity in finding designers that are creating new and fresh pieces. A lot of that comes out of Brooklyn, just because a lot of designers and artists live and work in Brooklyn. Michelle: Another goal of ours is always to match the price point.  A lot of great independent designers typically sell pieces that are $200 and up, and that’s not our target market, so it can be difficult. We’re our own customers and our employees are our customers, so we always remember how important that range of affordability is. We want our merchandise to be accessible.   WikaMag: What are some of your favorite items in the store right now? Michelle: Well, we love showing off our Dalaga jewelry. It has this kind of tribal look which is really in right now, but it also has some ancient Filipino influence. We like to keep the jewelry really affordable too, so a lot of the pieces are around 20-30 dollars. Mary: Speaking of Filipino influence, the jewelry designs actually reminds me of AlibataIt’s this ancient Filipino script. Mary: Also, Alexandra Grecco is one of our favorite designers. We're one of the first stores to carry her line. She's Brooklyn-based, super talented, and she makes beautiful, beautiful stuff. She uses a lot of luxurious fabrics, cashmere, silk. It’s really great quality.   WikaMag: So what's next for Dalaga? Michelle: Well, we just opened this second store. Not even a year old yet, so getting this up and running is definitely our main priority for the next year. I can see us getting a clothing line going in the next few years. That has always been on my mind, and I can see that being our next big challenge.   For more photos, check out our Facebook Page: Follow Dalaga on Twitter and Facebook.