Casa Juan and Zenzest’s Michelle Fontelera literally and figuratively stepped up to the plate—both in motherhood and as a leader of the #supportlocal movement.
Founder of Casa Juan and Zenzest, Michelle Fontelera, proves that the weaves and art found in Filipino heritage can definitely step up to the plate. Literally and figuratively. A strong leading mama in the #supportlocal movement, she is determined to let the world see beauty in Filipino designs. “Filipino design is elegant and world-class. We want them to be proud of our culture and we want them to keep on supporting local brands so that we can all help each other in uplifting not just our economy but the image of our country as well.”
However, what brings her to the spotlight on Modern Parenting is not only her devotion to the #supportlocal movement with the Kaayo x Casa Juan’s latest collaboration but her inspiring story of love and loss as a mother.
A crisis a little too close to home for the mompreneur
A leader in a business movement and a mom at home, these are things that keep Michelle Fontelera busy. “To be honest, I am just busy with work (my businesses) and my family. What is different now is that I was able to add a workout routine to my usual schedule. The business and my family are more than enough to keep me busy every day.”
But there was one crisis that hit a little too close to the home of Casa Juan‘s founder: the loss of her son, Xavi. Like every parent, she believed in the norm that children should bury their parents and not the other way around. However, his death was a shocking deviation.
“Losing a child is the most painful thing any person has to go through in life. It is not in the normal scheme of things,” she admits. “Since Xavi had special needs and he was medically complex, I had a feeling that this could happen. But I was never prepared for it. Never. There were even times before when he would get confined in the hospital for months. We thought that he would not make it but he always managed to pull through. I never expected this to happen.”
She shares that despite the inevitable, his passing was peaceful which she is most thankful for. “He just closed his eyes and that was it.”
“It was utter agony and torture.”
The pain of losing a child is something that language can never describe accurately and completely. However, Michelle candidly describes the void left behind by Xavi. “The first few months were utter torture and agony. There were many nights that I wished I would not wake up anymore because of the extreme sadness.”
Sometimes, it is in moments of grief where support can be found in the most interesting of places. “One of the turning points was when I joined a Facebook group in the States of parents who lost their special needs children. The group helped me a lot because I felt less alone. I felt that I found support in these parents because they are also going through what I am going through. I pray hard for God to ease the pain. But I am reassured that one day, when my time comes, I will be with my son again and there will be no more goodbyes. Until now, I still sleep beside Xavi’s urn and talk to him.”
But how does a mother break the news to her bunso, who is still quite young to understand the complex concept of death?
“Juany is still a bit young and I think he still has no idea of the magnitude of the situation. But I am so happy that he prays every night for his brother. Sometimes, we would send imaginary food to his brother up in heaven,” reveals Michelle. “We would imagine what Xavi is doing in heaven and it would make all of us happy. Juany believes that his brother is now an angel, which I know my son is. Being non-verbal and special, he never sinned. He is now Our Intercessor up there.”
Fighting the crisis that moms most often face
If not helping the weavers of Casa Juan become a global fashion movement, it is her job as a mother that Michelle would never trade for anything else. “For me, parenting is not challenging at all. I think that it is the best job in the world and I would not trade it for anything else. Having my boys complete my life. I really enjoy being a parent and I love being a mom. All the people close to me know that I will drop everything for my kids without batting an eyelash. I guess the greatest challenge for me in the future is when my son Juany gets married—I will have separation anxiety!” she jokes.
She also recently began her fitness journey—fighting another crisis that most moms face: the regret of being unable to get their pre-pregnancy bodies back. “One day, I just looked at the mirror after taking a bath and I said EEEEWWW! I ballooned!”
Many of us became victims of the pandemic—forcing us to stay at home, eat more, and stick to a very unhealthy lifestyle. But with a strong vow to lose weight, several home spin classes, constant light-weight training, and a drastic improvement in her eating habits, Michelle Fontelera proved it can be done.
“Sometimes, moms like me tell ourselves that our weight gain is because we already have kids. We don’t have the time to work out, it’s hard, etc. I’m here to tell them that IT CAN BE DONE. We can all go back to our pre-pregnancy bodies, mommas! The hardest thing for me was the discipline to wake up early in the morning to work out. But once my body got used to it, it became a lifestyle.”
With the latest Kaayo x Casa Juan collab, she brightens homes — one plate at a time.
Always ready to step up to the plate, Michelle Fontelera continues her mission to elevate Filipino art — one plate at a time. “In Casa Juan, our main vision is that we want to bring a touch of the Philippines to every home, one plate at a time. Each plate design has a story to tell; a story about our country, our culture, our arts, and our heritage. This is what we want to share with the world through the artwork of our plates and tableware.”
Words KEVYN GOHU
Photography KIERAN PUNAY
Art Direction MARC YELLOW
Makeup TWINKLE BERNARDO and ANN PARBA of MAC COSMETICS
Hairstyling ARTHUR TOLENTINO and KRISTINE CAMBA
Shoot Coordination MJ ALMERO
Shot on location at THE PENINSULA MANILA