How to wear your culture

Published August 4, 2019, 12:00 AM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By John Legaspi

When cultural appropriation is among the many issues being called out in the world, espe­cially in the fashion and enter­tainment industry, it is pretty inspiriting to see that the Philippines is hitting the nail on the head by bringing the country’s vibrant weaving culture onto the centerstage.

Jeannie Javelosa, in one of GREAT Women's community visits
Jeannie Javelosa, in one of GREAT Women’s community visits

Filipino fashion entrepreneurs today give the country’s weaving heritage the spotlight it deserves by providing avenues to make the long thread of the Filipino craft a sustainable source of livelihood while pro­viding a sense of pride and true patriotism to its wearer. Without a doubt, Philippine-made fashion is more than a trend. It is here and we’re all championing it.

Threading lives

In the ’70s, the Philippines ranked sixth among the top exporters of garments to the US based on a report made by the UN Comtrade. But the country’s textile industry started to dwindle at the beginning of the 21st century with neighboring countries like China, India, and

Myanmar leading the tex­tile race around the globe. With the rise of fast fashion, the Philippines lost its revered place in the global export industry.

Thanks to modern marvels, our weav­ing heritage and local textiles are now see­ing new light and form, passing on the story of Philippine tribes to the next generation.

“We are making a stand against fast fashion,” says Jeanie Javelosa, the chief visionary officer of the Gender Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women, simply called GREAT Women. Promoting slow heritage, the group sought for a niche in the market that would be solely Filipino through what they called “Philip­pine fusion.”

This simply means using materials manufactured in the country — piña-jusi (pineapple organza), abaca fibers, etc. — and combine them with cotton, playing with different colors to produce beautiful, culture-imbued fabrics that can be easily put into production.

“We need to be sustainable. These textiles provide another dimension when turned into clothes. Its durability lasts years — you know you wove it, you know where it grew. That’s what you get with these textiles.”

Another who sees potential in making indigenous textile a thriving industry in the country is the mother-daughter tandem of Kaayo Modern Mindanao, Mary Ann Montemayor and her daughter Marga Nograles.

Kaayo, which translates to “good,” “kindness,” and “to a great extent,” cel­ebrates the rich art of weaving, a tradition in southern Philippines that dates back to way before 1521.

“It is the dream of the indigenous tribes we’ve worked with, the women’s group, the textiles, and the beauty of Mindanao that bring the brand to life,” says Marga. “It is all of us together, not just one single person.”

These social entrepreneurs saw that handling business enterprise with the tribes plays a key role in creating a sustain­able livelihood, which, unfortunately, small communities of local weavers around the country lack. “They are truly empowered when they are part of an inclusive business,” says Javelosa. “They learn business ethics, they became knowledgeable of the quality that comes with every purchase.”

Cultural influencers

Among the many catapults for local tex­tile recognition are the crowned queens of our homeland. Crafting new classic Filipina garments, designers Mak Tumang, Albert Andrada, Cary Santiago, Charina Sarte, and many other designers dress today’s beauty queens in neo-ethnic garments to be show­cased on the international beauty stage.

Made from textiles such as piña silk and cocoon, balud, and t’nalak, the traditional ternos and Filipiniana are given a much more contemporary vibe that appeals to a younger audience.

On the lookout for the next Patis Tesoro and Ramon Valera is the first-ever Terno Making Convention and Contest of the country, the Ternocon.

This design sym­posium is initiated by the Cultural Center of the Philippines through its Cultural Exchange Department and Bench (Suyen Corporation).

The project aims to encour­age and inspire a new generation of Filipino designers to make ternos that are grounded in the history of the Philippine National Dress.

It motivates regional designers to create works that are at par with the construction techniques of senior fashion designers.

Joining in the movement in preserving Filipino cultural wear is the Designer Circle Philippines (DCP). Composed of 80 design­ers all over the country, this fashion design organization aims to innovate traditional wear and local textiles, infusing values and traditions of the ethnic tribe with the modern taste of Filipinos.

“We want to strengthen the use of indigenous materials in the market,” says Francis Calaquian, chairman of the DCP. “And by mixing those textiles with other fabrics, we transform the cultural garments of the Philippines, celebrating both the craft of weaving and the art of classic Filipina dressing.”

Respecting the ancient craft

While wearing modern Filipiniana can make one feel part of the movement toward nationalism, it is still important to seek knowledge about the stories, values, and disciplines woven into the indigenous textiles. These artisanal fabrics are rooted in rituals and traditions and must be used ethically and with proper respect.

Here are some tips to avoid mistranslat­ing these wearable crafts.

1. Know the context.

In today’s modern technology, informa­tion regarding indigenous textile and how to wear them appropriately can be acquired by a push of a button. Educating oneself is part of the process of wearing these artisanal works with pride. Books such as Sinaunang Habi: Philippine Ancestral Weave by Mar­ian Pastor-Roces and Journey of a Thousand Shuttles: The Philip­pine Weave by Norma A. Respicio can give one a proper introduction on the weaving heritage of the country.

2. Give proper credits.

Stories of the past are threaded in the discipline of weaving. Ethnic tribes have different interpretations, rituals, and pro­cesses in creating their local fabrics. And each textile requires long hours of labor to produce. So apart from studying them, it is also appropriate to give them the recogni­tion they deserve.

3. Go for collaborations.

The best way to elevate the Philippine weave textiles and the people behind them is to establish a good working partnership with them. Organizations such as the GREAT Women and the Habi: Philippine Textile Council help entrepreneurs and designers by building bridges with the ethnic communities. These are trusted producers that are dedicated to uplifting weaving tribes and promoting the responsible use of the textiles. This way, consents are given by the tribes and they are compen­sated for their work.