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7 Sustainable Brands from the Philippines

The Philippines is ahead of the game when it comes to shopping as social enterprise. These seven sustainable brands will make the perfect statement-piece souvenirs from your next jaunt to Manila. By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI. Photographed by SONNY THAKUR.

Published on Mar 15, 2016

High fashion and high minded: the current creative renaissance in Philippine design is also, in a way, a spiritual one. Rather than just emulating what's hot elsewhere, it takes a hard look at local traditions and revives them in ways that modernize and glamorize their distinct heritage. The result is contemporary covetability in products created out of a true sense of community—or, as designer Budji Layug, Created Director of the Manila Fame Design Show, calls it: Soul Craft. "People are looking not just for good design or manufacturing," he says. "They also want a product that tells a story. A product that has soul."


Arnel Papa

Indigenous Jewelry

History-rich Bulacan, the heart of the Tagalog region just north of Manila, was one of the very first provinces to revolt against Spain. But its expertise in metallurgy and jewelry-making stretches back to pre-colonial times—with anthropological evidence of bracelets and beads from the Stone Age having been unearthed across the country. Bulacan-based accessories designer, Arnel Papa, continues in this tradition with stunning designs that nod to a more primitive era with hammered brass, large stones and natural materials like carabao hooves and bones while still remaining on-trend for our era. With a freestyle creative process, he is inspired by nature to create loose shapes and forms that either can blend seamlessly with a bohemian look or can feel modern and edgy alone when paired with more minimalist clothing. 2F Greenbelt 5, Makati City; +63 2 729 0181.


Filip + Inna

Socially Conscious Shorts

Gorgeous ethnic motifs and old techniques mesh with vibrant colors and modern shapes in Filip + Inna's skirts, dresses, tunics and shorts; it's a staple brand for those wanting to make a statement. Founder Lenora Cabili travels the archipelago in search of communities and artisans with whom she can work and whose lives she can improve: "my mission is to create while also reviving," she says. In the vein of the farm-to-table food movement, Filip + Inna has been a pioneer in fashion here, taking a proudly local product straight from the hands of its maker and into the wardrobes of the stylish set. "Living in the tropics, shorts are a must, but little did we know that this design was going to be our best selling style," Cabili says of her Biti and Pilar shorts. "It has found its way to Capri, Positano, Nantucket, Palm Beach and the Bahamas." Now no one can argue when you say showing off your legs is a public service.


Tali Handmade

Handbags with Heart

Girl power is the name of the game at Tali Handmade. Contemporary with a boho twist, these bags snag the spotlight in both a stylish metropolis and on a lazy beach. Made from straw with leather accents, they are handwoven by female inmates of a city jail. Cofounders Liza Morales Crespo and Marielle de Leon-Lazaro, who also work with Filipina-owned firms throughout their production process, aim to empower women at a grassroots level by giving them a sense of purpose and a source of income to support their families. They couldn't have been more successful; the bags have become one of Manila's hottest accessories and are a example of looking good while doing good.



Weaving by Women

Pineapple fiber, or piña, has come and gone from fashion, but the Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation is breathing new life into it, and into communities now producing it again. An elegant fabric that lent itself well to dramatic turn-of-the-century designs because of its natural stiffness, it has proved difficult to adapt to today's sartorial needs and for years languished in the realm of dated traditional regalia. The foundation's ingenious idea was to interweave the natural pineapple fibers with silk resulting in a suppler and more lustrous material they call Tepiña. Based in Palawan, Rurungan aims to help the local population adapt to the changing socio-economic landscape by providing livelihoods for women marginalized by the seasonal agriculture economy and the adverse effects of climate change. In the same thread, so to speak, they adhere to the principles of sustainable textiles: the production of piña is extremely low-waste and consumes minimal energy.


Masaeco paper

Recycled Paper & Fiber Artwork

A paper roadblock might not sound very effective, but it's the method this Tagaytay-based company—whose name melds the Filipino word for "masses" and its eco-ethos—uses to help youth from rural areas avoid having to leave home for the cities just to find jobs. Working with Japanese technology and young designers to create products using paper and fibers made out of recycled agricultural waste, Masaeco's new business model is meant to help prevent provincial brain-drain. Philippine-based Japanese designer Wataru Sakuma uses these fibers to create panels of hypnotic patterns that can be used as either captivating artwork or dramatic wall divisions. This paper may be used as dividers, but it is bringing people together.



Local-Loving Lamps

The Philippines has a strong heritage in weaving felt most often in textiles or furniture made of natural fibers like rattan. Schema by Kalikasan Crafts takes it one step further by combining this old technique with an unlikely material—metal wires. The result is a juxtaposition of both striking rigidity and alluring movement and fluidity created by the crisscrossing patterns in their lamps, votives and other home accessories. "When people see our designs, their immediate reaction is that they want to touch it," says founder and owner Jerry Jiao. "They can't seem to understand what the material is or how it's made, at first glance. It gives the illusion of being really supple but they are so surprised at how solid it is." Another surprise: everything is handmade by artisans that were retrained by Kalikasan in innovative techniques blending metallurgy and weaving. "No one can believe they are not produced by a machine because of the precision and exact symmetry," Jiao says. "This proves that we truly have exemplary artisans."



Ethnic Embroidery

"Embroidery is a dying tradition," says New York-based textile designer Iñigo Elizalde. "It's a very slow and intricate process, and in this present sped-up world, it is getting left behind." That's why he's been working with Catalina Embroideries—a socially conscious firm that provides full schooling scholarships for all of its employees' children—to create eyecatching, graphic home accessories. He draws inspiration from a "halo-halo of influences," such as ethnic motifs and the colorful jeepneys that roam the capital. And those fresh energy designs, which move far away from granny's dining table and into the modern living space, are hand embroidered by skilled artisans. "It is an amazing local tradition with incredible quality," Elizalde says. "It would be very sad to see it die out."



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Masaeco Paper
  • Tepina
  • Tali Handmade
  • Masaeco Paper
  • Filip+Inna
  • Catalina Embroideries
  • Arnel Papa
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