DAVAO CITY – A designer in Davao del Norte has collaborated with local weavers and seamstresses to create personal protective equipment (PPE) coats and face masks from banana fiber.
Gleizl Joy Soo is the designer behind the Musa Fabric. Musa is the scientific name of the banana, which is one of the major industries of the province of Davao del Norte.
Soo said it was in early January this year that she found the feasibility of using the fabric.
“I was looking for a fabric that will be used during my final completion as a graduating student in Fashion Design. I went to our provincial government office to ask for help if there are communities that produce a manually woven fabric which is part of the Filipino culture,” Soo said.
Soo found out that there were already clusters of people that were trained on how to do it using banana fiber.
“The very first group I went to is the prisoners in Davao del Norte Provincial Jail,” she said.
Before this crisis, Soo, who worked as a Certified Public Accountant for 22 years, was able to spend two to three hours weekly with the prisoners who weave the banana fabric.
But at the end of the first quarter of this year, Soo said she decided to continue her endeavor not only for her graduation requirements but “for the lives of these prisoners, who amidst their situation are still full of hope and peace inside the four corners of the penitentiary.”
She said one of the persons deprived of liberty who weaves the fabric inside the penitentiary was released in March this year and has now become an accredited trainer for banana fiber weaving in the province.
“To date, there are more than 100 individuals who are breadwinners in the family who benefited from this mission. I dream that in the near future, I would be able to raise funds from this project not only for the daily needs of the people involved but also for the future of their children,” Soo said.
Soo’s network with weavers grew bigger. She now works with the Manobo tribe of Talaingod, the Dibabawon tribe in New Corella, the Banana Fiber Weavers Livelihood Association, and a group of persons with disabilities in Braulio Dujali. Soo also works with Muslim women seamstresses in Madaum, Tagum City.
Soo said the banana fiber is firm yet soft, making it suitable for sewing and designing. Soo said they take the fiber from the cavendish banana plant.
“It will be segregated to a single strand and will be combined with ordinary thread and undergo the weaving process. I personally design the patterns according to inspirations I draw out from different objects, experiences, places and valuable concepts,” Soo said.
She said the weaving process “takes a very long time.” They produce 10 meters of banana fabric in one week.
Soo said they currently have 35 seamstresses who can produce 210 to 280 face masks a day.
“I personally paint and some great painters in Davao del Norte – Mark Ofianga, Sora Moriguchi, Gilbert Apostol,” Soo said.
She said painting each face mask takes 10 minutes. Most of her designs are flowers found in the Philippines.
She said they have already sold at least 1,000 pieces of face masks with online orders through their Facebook page, The Musa Fabric. She said they got orders from the local market and abroad, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.
To date, they have also received a few orders of PPE using banana fiber. Soo said a pair of PPE and mask is sold at P2,000.
“Banana fiber is just actually a waste material. But now it became useful through the Musa Advocacy project,” Soo added.
Currently, the Musa Advocacy project is also producing colorful hats, tote bags, scarves, and customized clothes. Their latest product is the Miss Musa Doll, which is a collaboration with a women’s association in Cebu City.
“I may have started the advocacy, not for business purposes, but wherever it takes me, I know God is leading the way in this journey,” she said.