Fashion

From Farm To Fashion: The Most Innovative Filipino Textiles

Photograph by Josh Tolentino

These revolutionary textiles showcase Filipino creativity at its finest.

Demand influences supply. And, as it stands, demand for clothes is at an all-time high with global consumption slated to keep increasing from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million by 2029. That’s terrifying, especially since the fashion industry is notorious for its harmful contributions to the current climate crisis, namely the alarming rates of global carbon emission. In the Philippines, more and more local brands are looking towards eco-friendly solutions such as resale and vintage brands, and most importantly greener textiles.

With higher environmental stakes and a greater call to transform the industry’s supply chain process to be more climate positive, the Philippines is leading the way in finding alternative sources of textiles: bio-based raw materials that could drastically change the fashion industry. The Filipino has always been resourceful and with the country’s plethora of flora, it’s no surprise that locals found ways to transform even the most inconspicuous (and unwanted) of resources into textile gold. From banana fibers to aquatic weeds, here are the most innovative natural textiles from Filipino designers and manufacturers to know now.

Piña

Part of the Filipino national costume, the use of piña (meaning pineapple in Spanish) dates back to the sixteenth century. Derived from the waste of pineapple fruits, these fibers are blended with polyester or silk to create a creamy, silky texture. Passed down to many generations, piña was predominantly used for formal and wedding attire, but contemporary designers such as Gabbie Sarenas, Ma Collecta, and Kelvin Morales are giving these intricate, heirloom fabrics a fresh, casual update.

Banana Fibers

Extracted from the barks of the banana tree, banana textiles are biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic fibers. Made from fourteen layers of the plant, this lightweight and lustrous textile is also used in India, Nepal, and Malaysia for saris and scarves. Durable and easily-dyed, banana fibers rival conventional silk as the next go-to material for environmental defenders. 

Abaca

A close relative of the banana, abaca is a material native to the Philippines, and weavers typically use abaca-woven fibers for dyeing (to create colors derived from indigenous plants). In Visayas, it’s known as “Manila hemp,” while the T’boli tribe in Southern Mindanao are known to use special hand-woven abaca fabric called Nalak for their tubular skirts worn by men and garments for women. This innovative luxury eco-textile improves biodiverse conditions, minimizes erosion, retains water capacity in soil, and is a hundred percent biodegradable. Compared to both banana fibers and piña, abaca’s material is coarser.

Bakong

If you think alternative fabrics are relegated to land-based options, enter: bakong, an aquatic plant species found in the province of Cagayan, Northern Philippines. Once considered a water pest, this versatile plant fabric can infinitely be cycled back into the economy. 

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