Filipina designer brings PH traditional textile dyeing to France

Published October 20, 2020, 12:31 PM

by John Legaspi

Mariton Villanueva’s ‘Ritmo ng Paglikha’ collection is among those showcased at FITE 2020

The Philippines has a rich textile history. Each region, each province has its own weaving stories, all rooted in tradition and from mutual respect for nature and their ancestors. Even before, sustainability has been integrated in our clothing culture, where eco-friendly ideas and design concepts of the tribeswomen meet to create a thoroughly Filipino product.

It is said that the way for us to have a more ethical lifestyle is not by looking to the future, but to the past. And in our country, there are more indigenous ways to rediscover in building a much greener closet.

Filipina fashion designer Mariton Villanueva incorporates the country’s vibrant heritage of plant-based textile dyeing to her works to promote a more natural way of coloring fabric. This initiative eventually became the backbone of her brand Himaya, which in Bisaya means praise or glory.

This year, Mariton is among the many designers all over the world to showcase at the prestigious International Festival of Extraordinary Textiles (FITE) at the Musée Bargoin in France. The festival features 80 works from five continents, all are finding the very definition of love through global textile. With her collection “Ritmo ng Paglikha,” Mariton is proving that love can be defined through a spectrum of natural shades.

A new champion of Philippine dyeing tradition, Mariton chats with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle as she shares how her collection made it to France and the joys and challenges that come with playing with nature’s colors. 

Can you tell us the story of “Ritmo ng Paglikha” and its journey to France?

The pieces were initially made for my thesis/graduation in school and also became the starting point of Himaya. 

Ritmo ng Paglikha” is a collection inspired by the creation story in Genesis (lightness and dark, sun and moon, humankind, sky, water, and earth). I was surprised when one of the designers I look up to, Patis Tesoro, and her daughter, Nina Tesoro, had then contacted and introduced me to the FITE, a rich and varied program, where different artists, designers, craftsmen from different countries share aesthetics and societal aspects, human, ecologic, and economic issues through textiles. I was honored to be invited by them to exhibit the collection in FITE 2020, themed “Love etc.” in Musée Bargoin. 

Why did you choose to highlight botanical dyeing in your works and for your brand Himaya?

Our country is rich in natural resources that is oftentimes either overlooked or abused. I believe that honoring all life, heritage, and creation should and can very much still be integrated in the process of making clothes, just as it had been before. Through emphasizing the practice of natural/botanical dyeing in my pieces, I hope to bring about the idea that creating beautiful things takes time and is circular and does not always have to end in consumerism and consumption. These beautiful colors are gifts that come from plants, trees, and beings of life, to use them also means to keep planting and preserving. Besides all these, I just really do love the whole process of botanical dyeing, I am always excited by the colors and imprints that different plants can produce in fibers and textiles. 

Have you encountered any challenges when working on your own textile?

Yes, since I do try my best to use deadstock/reject/water damaged textiles to dye with. It is a bit more challenging to source the fabric, also since the materials are limited there is always the need to make the most of what I have around, which I find is also good and humbling exercise as a designer. Another challenge is time, since natural dyeing takes time (from harvesting and sourcing to extracting, cleaning, and preparing the fibers, and dyeing them). I do have to take all of these into account, and be patient with the whole process. Natural dyeing for me is a learning practice that doesn’t end, there is always something new to discover about it.

Where do you source your materials?

The undyed fabrics that I use are sourced from different vendors who sell deadstock and factory reject textiles. I also sometimes source local undyed handwoven cotton/silk/abaca/piña blends from weavers in Aklan.

Most of the plant sources that I dye with are found around my home and the neighborhood I live in. A lot of dye sources are found everywhere you can even find dyes in cogon grass and kitchen/fruit/vegetable scraps. Two dyes that I use, sapang/sibukao/sappanwood and Philippine indigo/malatayum I source from my dye teacher Kuya Jun in Namarabar, Abra, and from Non Timber Forest Products, where the indigo is grown and prepared by different IP communities. 

How can people purchase your designs?

They can view my works at Himaya’s Instagram page @himayaph.