BUSINESS and LEISURE - Ray Butch Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2018 - 12:00am

Several years back, the word “imported” was synonymous with good quality or expensive taste.  Buying local was almost taboo for people who could afford it and those who wore imported clothes just had to flaunt it.

Then, the “Buy Local” trend was introduced here.  It took some time before it caught on, and then our local artists and designers became emboldened to market their own designs right here. We, as Filipinos, are not lacking in talent.  Maybe the Chinese businessmen are far more successful profit-wise because of their mass-produced labels, but we have carved our own niche in terms of design and craftsmanship not only here at home, but in the global stage as well.  We have built a reputation as talented designers and brilliant executioners even if the niche we built is a small one.  I am personally happy that our people now are not ashamed to say that their clothes, shoes, and bags are locally made by talented Filipinos.  It’s about time we take pride in our own.

With the advent of the “proudly Filipino-made” mentality comes another awareness, and this is the appreciation of our tribal heritage. Our “katutubo” have always been relegated to the background all their lives, deprived of opportunities available to the lowland people like quality education, jobs, and livelihood. Ancient ethnic cultures have likewise been relegated to history books so that the art of weaving with hand and foot looms has all but disappeared.

In a recent column (and in one of our Proud Pinoy segments on Business & Leisure, the TV show), we featured Ms. Looie Lobregat who champions the cause of the Yakan community in Zamboanga. Her heritage brand Linea Etnika revived and cultivated Yakan weaving and transformed it into a social enterprise with relevant fashion designs that can be worn today.  Luckily, people like Sen. Loren Legarda and Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte are among those who appreciate her fashion sense and her advocacy as well.

Slowly, the sense of pride for what is inherently Filipino is catching up with more and more people.  I would say that Mindanao’s time is now, especially with a populist president like we have now who takes extraordinary pride from being a native of Davao, hence a native of Mindanao. Mrs. Marga Montemayor-Nograles, wife of the representative of Davao City, shares this same passion and pride.

She started her brand “Kaayo, Modern Mindanao” in early 2017. The word “Kaayo” means goodness and this is precisely what she wishes to convey with her brand.  She hopes to bring the best of the best of the region to the rest of the Philippines first before she sets out to conquer the world with her collections.  These tribal women have a unique fashion sense because their pieces are a collection of different stories of Mindanao.

It started out with one jacket that she asked one tribe to make for her and she wore this jacket to a function in Manila. To her surprise, her friends loved the design and the fact that it was made by a tribe from Mindanao. She brought whatever the tribe could finish and gave them away to family and friends, but she realized that the tribes do not have a sustainable livelihood from only a few pieces of clothes sold intermittently. The idea of Kaayo was born as a social enterprise, precisely to help the tribesmen develop a sustainable livelihood. Ms. Marga who is a fashionista, started making clothes which she would then send to the women of the tribe to embellish. This created a lot of interest among Manila folks who, I suspect, were just as interested to help and propagate the advocacy.

Now, Kaayo, the brand, has a partnership with three tribes in Mindanao. One is the T’boli tribe from the mountainous region of Lake Sebu. The ladies there do embroidery and beading on the clothes.  Next is the Bagobo tribe in Davao City, whose princess is a personal friend of Ms. Marga.  This one is interesting because, as Ms. Marga says, the Bagobo ladies draw their inspiration from their own dreams.  They are, in fact, called the dream weavers and the ladies from this tribe are responsible for the beautiful scarves in Ms. Marga’s collection which are intricately beaded and come with colourful pompoms. The pompoms, she says, are made from scratch and are very colorful.  The third tribe is the Mandayan tribe whose ladies come up with colorful patches that Kaayo incorporates in their long-sleeved linen shirts for men.

Right after she started Kaayo, Ms. Marga got an invitation from Paris to join a trade show.  Though excited for her brand, she politely turned down the offer to make her debut on the global stage because she felt she wasn’t ready for it.  All her clothes and accessories are handmade and it was impossible for her to come up with the necessary number of pieces.  Besides, she says, she would rather focus on the Philippine market first and let the Filipinos appreciate our cultural heritage.

Now she is also partnering with a Marikina lady for her espadrille-sneakers that are colourful and ethnic. Slowly, she is expanding her collections which can be found in Shangri-la Mall, Kultura, Dimensione and special bazaars. Her Instagram account has kept her so busy with inquiries that she simply cannot cope.  It’s a welcome problem, but a headache too as she struggles to cope with the sudden demand. 

Her goal, far from being profit-oriented, is to help the different tribes of Mindanao through a sustainable business, but another goal is to showcase the beauty of Mindanao through brands like Kaayo which is already starting to make waves.  After all, who doesn’t want to wear a story?

Mabuhay!!!  Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments & inquiries: (Email) sunshine.television@yahoo.com (website) www.businessandleisure.ph

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