San Jose designer Hector Manuel says he aims to make clothing that enables women to feel sexy and empowered. That’s why he named his label Acta Non Verba, Latin for “Actions, Not Words.”
A Saturday trip to the fabric store isn’t just an errand for a designer like Manuel—it’s a total event unto itself. Whether it’s Britex Fabrics up in San Francisco or Fabrics R Us here in the South Bay, getting lost elbow deep in yard upon yard and bolt upon bolt of textiles is one of the 26-year-old dressmaker’s most inspirational activities.
“I’m very driven by fabrics, and I really enjoy fabric shopping,” says Manuel. “Its part of the process, but it’s also almost a therapy thing too. I just love going into a fabric store and walking out with stuff.”
A few years ago, Manuel launched his first clothing collection with nothing but a dream and passion for material and design. Having left San Diego State University’s International Business School, he moved back to the Bay Area to attend West Valley College’s fashion design program.
Since then his line of sexy, body-conscious ball gowns and cocktail dresses has been featured in several Bay Area fashion shows, including a headlining spot in Helium Magazine’s Atomic Fashion Show last year.
Manuel says he aims to make clothing that enables women to feel sexy and empowered. That’s why he named his label Acta Non Verba,
Latin for “Actions, Not Words.”
“I think it conveys the idea behind the design aspect of it, because it’s how you dress up and how you act that leaves a lasting impression and makes you feel confident about yourself,” Manuel says. “It’s more about the wearer and the attitude and how they come off being comfortable in their own skin—superconfident, like they own it, as opposed to just wearing anything.”
He says that many of the bold, second-skin, usually corseted dresses he has sewn as part of Acta Non Verba were inspired by the Clinton-era look.
“I love the Gianni Versace–type of era,” he says. “I guess when you think about it, it was the attitude that was portrayed in the ’80s and ’90s. Everything is pretty body-conscious, so I’m cinching the waist, I’m giving you booty. … It’s the whole package.”
Manuel grew up in San Jose. He was born in Mexico, and still goes back occasionally to—shockingly—visit textile mills and buy unique patterns and fabrics one can’t find in the States.
He explains that his love of clothing and sewing came early on. “It’s kind of a generational thing at this point,” Manuel says. “My grandma sewed, my mom sewed, so I guess I inherited it in a way. I grew up around fabrics and dresses, so it made me develop an eye for it and an appreciation for how things are sewn.”
Accordingly, he has also practically become an authority on Bay Area fabric outlets. “You want to know where a fabric store is? I’ll probably be able to tell you, like, ‘OK, if you’re in this neighborhood, go here,” he says with a laugh.
Manuel says his dream is to take Acta Non Verba full time. The economy being what it is, he still works a clerical job at Greyhound Bus Lines in San Francisco during the day to fund his fashion aspirations. One day, he hopes to launch a full online haute couture label at actanonverbaonline.com.
“Unfortunately, I would love to just be able to stay in the studio all day and sew all day. I’d be happy with that, but I don’t have as much time as I’d like to work on it,” Manuel says. “Everything has to be perfect. You have to set the standards early on, and attention to detail takes a lot of time. It takes me a little longer to do it than one might think. But, once I put it out there, it’s because I’m totally comfortable with how it came out.”
Currently, Manuel is already manufacturing his collection for next fall, which he says will be a holiday, winter-ball-inspired affair that will be featured in a fashion show this November. As such, look for him at the fabric store.
“I get crazy about fabric sometimes. I’ve traded fabric with people, I mean, it’s like fabric is my favorite currency,” Manuel says of his material mania.