Ditta Sandico continues to champion indigenous textiles with latest collection ‘Tropical Paradise’

‘The many colors and bright hues signal the dawning of better days to come and the reopening of avenues for growth—definitely a better and more vivid new normal.’

Years before the term “sustainability” entered mainstream fashion, Ditta Sandico has been pioneering it since the establishment of her namesake brand. For more than three decades, the fashion designer has been campaigning for the eco-chic movement, producing designs that not only celebrate Filipino heritage but also put artisans and the environment at the forefront.

Ditta believes that in order to achieve a truly ethical style, people must know the stories of the people that worked on what they are wearing and respect the materials used in creating those pieces. Today, she continues to spread the word about it with her latest collection dubbed “Tropical Paradise,” shown in the recently-concluded Panasonic Manila Fashion Festival 13.

Through her collection, Ditta paints vivid colors of the Philippines with the use of banaca (more about this later), forming them into elegant and sculptural pieces and giving a new look to the Filipiniana silhouette.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the fashion designer shares more about the stories that go into her latest collection, how the pandemic affected her design process, and how tiny conscious style decisions can make a difference in helping the planet heal.

Hello, Ditta! First off, what is the story behind the ‘Tropical Paradise’ collection?

“Tropical Paradise” is set around the vibrant hues that radiate in the tropical islands of the Philippine archipelago. We seem to take for granted the dazzling colors of the birds, the chameleon-like colors of the butterflies, and the vivid visual confluence of our local flora and fauna. These hues evoke a certain feeling of happiness and euphoria. The pieces are punctuated with colors that not only shimmer and sparkle but give an empowering feeling to the woman donning the wraps.

They are made from the natural fibers of the banaca, a term coined from banana-abaca wherein the abaca belongs to the same genus as the banana. The fabric is woven on the island of Catanduanes, which is now dubbed the Abaca Capital of the Philippines, by highly-skilled weavers. The fibers have been culled, hand-stripped, dyed, and eventually woven to perfection, mindful of the heritage that every fiber possesses. The final finish is done by pleating the fabric to give it a highly textured look and sewn into pieces that are made to mimic a modern piece of panuelo, a kerchief scarf worn with the traditional Filipiniana costume.

Always a crowd drawer not just for its texture but also for the biomorphic shapes that the fabric can portray, each piece never fails to give the added oomph to the wearer and lend a disarming glamor to the entire ensemble.

How long did you work on it?

This collection took me six months to complete, in terms of putting the whole look together. It's fascinating to note how the concept was drawn with so much emphasis on building the collection, not just to show stylish and sassy pieces, but to exhibit an empowered and impeccably dressed woman who can meld fashion, as well as cultural heritage, rolled into one.

How was it creating this collection during the pandemic?

The lockdown period brought a lot of havoc to our everyday lives, making me rethink the possibilities of charting my growth in the fashion industry. It gave me time to think of how I could pivot and tweak my lifestyle to better suit the changes demanded of me. It also required me to do drastic paradigm shifts in terms of how to adapt to the pressure of keeping my atelier in survival mode. The moment I was asked to do the collection, it triggered a lot of thoughts in my head. I felt like doing something that would excite not just my senses but also how to give back to the community that I was advocating in a new way. I was hoping for the best outcome in terms of psychosocial, as well as financial security in helping the weavers grow their craft and keeping the flame alive in their hearts, especially during the height of the pandemic.

What is your goal or the message you wish to share with the people who will be seeing this collection?

My message to those viewing the collection would be to look further and beyond ourselves for how we want to look ahead in our daily lives. Little things can make a lot of difference, even a conscious effort to wear organically produced and sustainable clothes, being mindful of environmentally friendly products, as well as giving back to the communities where they have come from. The many colors and bright hues signal the dawning of better days to come and the reopening of avenues for growth—definitely a better and more vivid new normal.

Check out Ditta Sandico’s “Tropical Paradise” collection below:

Photos from PMFF

Photos from PMFF

Photos from PMFF

Photos from PMFF

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