Arts & Leisure

By Nickky F. P. de GuzmanReporter

Filipino Fashion: wearable and sustainable

Posted on May 23, 2016

JUST LIKE FOOD, there are two clashing philosophies in the fashion industry: fast versus slow.

A FORMAL outfit at the Mga Likha ni Inay fashion show -- NICKKY F. P. DE GUZMAN
Fast fashion has been defined as “a cheap version of the good stuff” on the AJ+ Facebook page, an Al Jazeera online news channel. It is often sold in bulk and doesn’t usually lasts long, no thanks to the materials used and the fast revolving fashion trends.

Its counterpart is anything but hasty: handmade with love.

With international brands like Forever 21, H&M, and Mango at the forefront of what’s in and what’s not here, there’s also a “slow” fashion community that marries chic and culture, and one that is wearable and does not wear out easily.

Many private and public organizations wish to support and highlight local weaving traditions. Last month, for instance, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) held its first ready-to-wear competition which aimed to reclaim the fame and appreciation of our indigenous textiles and the people who made them.

“The moment we put down the indigenous peoples (IP), we are putting down ourselves in the eyes of the world... The moment we raise the stature of the IP’s, the indigenous peoples, we raise our own stature as Filipinos,” NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr. told BusinessWorld then.

The RTW competition was such a success that it will have a second run in October.

Patis Tesoro, a renowned designer who champions local materials and is often called the “grand dame of Philippine fashion,” also laments our lack of appreciation for the local and long lasting, in favor of fast fashion. In previous interviews with BusinessWorld, she lamented over the “throw-away generation we have today” which seemingly forgets the value of a piece of clothing and the passion that went into to creating it, when “we buy cheap clothing then throw them away.” She is known to champion Filipino materials like silk, abaca, piña (pineable fiber cloth), and abel (Iloco cotton fabric) which, with care, are sure to last a lifetime.

Last Tuesday, May 17, Mga Likha ni Inay (MLNI), an institution under the social development organization, CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (MRI), held an arts fair that showcased clothing that is eminently wearable and made of indigenous textiles. The event was done with the aim of promoting local fabric and keeping our weaving traditions alive.

“We would like to raise awareness about the brands that we are building to support the CARD MRI micro-entrepreneurs,” said MLNI President and CEO Julius Adrian Alip.

In collaboration with the Cebu-based design house Antill Fabric Gallery and CARD member and designer Beth Agarao of Lumban, Laguna, the mini fashion show highlighted Philippine textiles from Sagada, Lumban, Laguna, Mindoro, and South Cotabato, among others.

Some of these fabrics were made into office clothes while others were used for more formal attire -- like a full-length balloon dress. All were wearable and fashionable at the same time.

The trick is to make clothes that are not costumes, but something that are considered wearable in normal situations.

“We want to promote them (fashion items using indigenous textile) to the youth by putting them in contemporary designs. This also provides sustainable livelihood with the communities we work across the country. When the younger weavers see that the younger people wear them -- that it’s not something you can only wear for special occasions or Linggo ng Wika (Language Week), that you can wear it to work -- they can now appreciate the relevance of their work. Before, it was not relevant to them since people would choose not to buy a weave in exchange for a fast fashion brand, say Forever 21... Now they see the relevance,” Anthill Fabric Gallery founder Aynya Lim told BusinessWorld.

She said there’s a growing number of fashion-forward Filipinos who appreciate these kinds of clothes.

The prices are comparable with those of Zara, Mango, and Topshop -- ranging from P1,500 to P5,000 -- yet the clothes are not cookie-cutter, they are unique in design, very Filipino, and sustainable.

Ms. Lim said CARD approached her to help the partner weavers upscale the value of their textile. “We have ecosystem partners like Mga Likha ni Inay, where they purchase the fabric [from us] and we help them with their innovation and design. [We] transfer business skills, master and apprentice program, marketing skills.”

She said that the more private organizations and companies supporting local fabrics, the better.

“People have the perception that it’s too tribal and makati (itchy), that’s why we design it for everyday wear.”

Marilyn Dulay also likes to change the notion that indigenous fabrics are too itchy and hot to wear daily. While she admits it takes a lot of getting used to, these clothes are wearable and they last long.

Ms. Dulay is the granddaughter of master weaver and National Treasures Lang Dulay, who died last year at the age of 91.

The T’boli tribe from Lake Sebu in South Cotabato if proud of its tradition of T’nalak weaving. In her lifetime, Lang Dulay created over 100 designs. The NCCA bought her last design before she died.

T’nalak is a stiff cloth made from abaca and natural dyes in a laborious process that takes three to four months to finish a bolt of cloth. This tedious process includes the stripping of the abaca fibers, then drying them, creating the design, dyeing the fibers, re-drying, setting them up in the loom, and finally, doing the actual weaving. No two fabric are the same. Lang Dulay’s unique designs came to her in her dreams.

Lang Dulay may be irreplaceable, but her legacy continues thanks to her granddaughter, Marilyn, 36.

Tinuruan niya po kami. ’Yung iba [design galing] sa lola at mama niya, ’yung marami galing sa dream niya. Kahit namatay na ang una, generation to generation, hindi po pwedeng mawala,” said Ms Dulay. (“She taught us how to weave. Some of the designs were from her mother and grandmothers, while most were from her dreams. Even if she passed away, the weaving tradition should be passed from generation to generation. It should not vanish.”)

A CARD member since 2012, she said the organization has helped her set up her small business as a fabric producer. She sells T’nalak at P600 per meter -- the cloth can be used to create tablecloth or fashion items like tops, dresses, and skirts.

“When she died, she had 16 T’bolis in trainings. We incorporate T’nalak into bags, pants, and wall décor. It’s our livelihood,” Ms. Dulay said in Filipino.

Besides the apprentices, 43 other T’bolis had been trained by Lang Dulay. They range in age from 21 to 50.

“Some of us are still young and are still studying, but during Sunday, we teach them. Those who cannot do T’nalak, can create beaded accessories, of which the designs are inspired from T’nalak. We have to keep the tradition alive,” said Dulay.

In a world where everything seems to be fast, ever changing, and fleeting, it pays to appreciate the painstaking slowness of some things, and that includes fashion.