Traditional Philippine fashion and in particular weaving, once a dying art, is now experiencing a revival in sustainable, modern fashion. Philippine indigenous textiles, hand-loomed with centuries-old techniques in traditional patterns, showcase the diverse cultural heritage of indigenous groups across the Philippines. When combined with contemporary fashion, these fabrics can be celebrated and worn by a wider audience – creating an economic incentive for the skilled artisans creating them to preserve the ancient Philippine weaving culture.
For Filipinos, wearing these locally made fabrics can help create a sense of connection to one’s cultural heritage. However, it is important to keep in mind that indigenous textiles should be worn responsibly and with an understanding and appreciation for the culture of the tribe they were created by – and of course, one should never use traditional clothing and fabrics to claim to be from a culture they are not.
Here are two things to keep in mind when shopping for or wearing indigenous materials:
1. Is the brand you are buying from ethical?
It’s important to try your best as a consumer to only support brands that produce their products in an ethical and sustainable way.
When it comes to working with indigenous weavers – you want to make sure that the brand you are considering buying from compensates the weavers they work with fairly.
Preserving the traditional Philippine weaving culture is only possible if weavers are paid appropriately for their work, creating a sustainable business model for them to continue honing their craft and spending countless days and weeks creating one-of-a-kind textiles.
Another aspect of how a brand works with indigenous groups that is important to consider is confirming that they have permission from the tribe they’re working with to not only use the fabric, but to use it for the specific purpose they intend.
While an indigenous group may be happy to have their fabrics showcased in clothing designs, they might not be happy for it to be used in rugs or shoes that are meant to be walked on – or they may not mind, the important thing is that they are consulted in the decision.
2. What is the symbolism in the patterns?
Most of the patterns woven into these tradition cloths have cultural meaning and symbolism. Since we want to maintain respect for the culture they originated from that may impact the ways in which those patterns can be used.
For example, many tribes have symbols that are commonly incorporated into funerary wear or “death blankets” – meant to be worn by or cover the deceased to help guide them safely into the afterlife. It would be extremely inappropriate for a brand to use fabrics with these symbols in streetwear or casual clothing.
The following brands are helping to protect Philippine traditional weaving practices by supporting local weavers and bringing their textiles to a broader stage – both locally and internationally.
Cebuano / Visayan brands
ANTHILL, which stands for Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous or Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers, is a company based in Cebu City that works with indigenous weavers from communities across the Philippines to showcase and sell their work. Their goal is to allow local artisans to reach a global audience through an online marketplace where you can find a wide array of traditional, hand-loomed fabrics as well as fashionable, already made garments and home décor items.
Jor-el Espina, Iloilo
Jor-el Espina is a Filipino fashion designer based in Iloilo who incorporates traditional weaves and details into contemporary streetwear to promote and preserve indigenous Philippine culture through modern fashion. He designs both mens and womenswear and each piece is a unique, one-of-a-kind nod to his culture.
Balik Batik, Cebu
Balik Batik is a clothing brand located in Liloan, Cebu that works with weavers and seamstresses in Cebu to create gorgeous, modern clothing with traditional handwoven Philippine fabrics. Founded by Veronica Baguio in March 2020, the company’s mission is to create wearable, every-day garments that feature local textiles and patterns produced with centuries-old techniques.
Located in Basey, Samar, LARA is a fashion and lifestyle brand founded by the government of Samar in combination with the Basiao Native Weavers’ Association (BANWA) to bring banig (woven with reeds or grass) products made in Samar from high quality Tikog grass to a wider audience. They produce beautiful bags and home items made with traditional banig-weaving techniques.
Luzon & Mindanao
Filip + Inna
Filip + Inna works to rejuvenate and preserve indigenous Philippine weaving, beading, and embroidery techniques by partnering with skilled artisans and showcasing traditional materials from across the Philippines in their designs. They create beautiful designs that combine a contemporary feel with a deep appreciation for Filipino culture and heritage. Filip + Inna was founded by Lenora Luisa Cabili, who started by working with just a few artisans from the T’boli tribe in Lake Sebu; her company has now grown to the point where it is getting international attention and they are able to collaborate with and support indigenous weavers and craftsmen from across the archipelago.
Nina Inabel, founded by Niña Corpuz, creates unique, fashionable garments made with inabel – handwoven fabric made in the Ilocos region. The mission of Nina Inabel as a brand is to create unique garments that help to preserve Ilocano heritage while maintaining a sustainable supply chain – from the cotton farm to the final piece. They support both cotton farmers and weavers local to Ilocos to produce their wearable, casual styles using time-honoured, traditional techniques.
Herman & Co
Herman & Co creates beautiful, dreamy clothing that showcases indigenous Philippine textiles and weaves, focusing primarily on materials produced by tribes in Southern Mindanao. Their goal is to highlight the beauty and heritage of indigenous Philippine weaves on a global stage by incorporating traditional textiles into casual, wearable clothes.
Kaayo Modern Mindanao
Kaayo, based in Quezon City, aims to honor the skill and artistry of indigenous Mindanaoan artisans by incorporating their work – including weaves, embroidery, and hand-beading – into simple, elegant, contemporary designs. They offer a wide variety of clothing celebrating traditional textiles from Mindanao – menswear, womenswear, children’s clothing, and even activewear!
Narda’s, founded in 1972 in Benguet, where it is still based today, produces elegant, wearable clothing completely handcrafted by local artisans. Narda’s is especially well known for their exquisite Cordillera Ikat dyed fabrics – Ikat dyeing is an ancient technique where the threads are tied up and dyed before weaving to create a dye pattern where some portions of the thread receive more color than others.
PIOPIO sells youthful, modern designs targeted to millennials that incorporate traditional handcrafted materials from local indigenous tribes. They work closely with artisans to create the textiles used in their designs – making sure to preserve the ancient weaving techniques and patterns, while incorporating new colors that fit their bright aesthetic.
Based in New York, U.S., Narra Studio was founded by Katte Geneta, a Filipino American wanting to forge a deeper connection with her heritage. Throughout the process of learning about her Philippine roots she developed a deep appreciation for the weaving culture in the Philippines and even learned to weave herself. Now her company, Narra Studio, brings the work of indigenous Filipino artists to a global arena through both contemporary and traditional designs.
Cambio & Co.
Cambio & Co is a Toronto, Canada based company founded by Gelaine Santiago and her husband Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer. Gelaine is a Filipina who grew up in Canada, feeling disconnected from her heritage – so after a lot of soul searching and travels to the Philippines, they founded Cambio & Co.
Cambio offers contemporary jewelry and bags made with handcrafted traditional Philippine materials – completely made in the Philippines, from the design to handmaking each piece. Their mission is to help local artisans become self sufficient by supporting their work at fair prices, preserve Filipino handcrafting techniques, and create pieces that allow Filipinos to connect with their roots through their wardrobe.