Slow Fashion Brands From The Philippines To Invest In This Spring

It was not too long ago when fast fashion giants began to infiltrate the local market. Inside super malls, where most of Philippine life took place, prime spaces of at least two floors were occupied by global brands selling cookie cutter garments. Trends sold at affordable prices was a perceived commodity that sacrificed craft and quality. And it wasn’t only in the country where this phenomenon occurred. It was a universal movement that came with a high price: pollution, poor working conditions for makers, excessive waste, sub par quality, just to name a few. This was the price for the democratization of fashion through mass production.

It was this very realization that gradually shed light on sustainable, ethical lifestyles as the smarter option. In the Philippines where time-honored traditions of weaving, embroidery and craft abound, these ideals are intrinsic. Little wonder that as more thoughtful and intentional products began to take front and center in the global fashion stage, local brands and wares became reliable points of reference. Put simply, i cannot think of a better place to celebrate craft and conscious fashion than in the Philippines. It is second nature to us—consumers, makers, designers and enthusiasts alike.

Admittedly, awareness for conscious living is relatively new in the Philippines, but that’s not to say that our grasp of the concept is in its infancy. A quick look at local brands making sustainable products more accessible to its consumers will reinforce that Philippine makers and designers are forces to reckon in as we invest in the future of fashion. We continue to celebrate fashion for all, but this time more mindfully and with intention.

When DISENYO DEL SUR launched in 2020, the idea was to amplify female voices of the Visayas (in southern region of the Philippines). Its founders Amanda LuYm and Cacay Moras, have long been in working in luxury fashion through their fine jewelry brand, ALL THAT GLITTERS. When they though to diversify with the launch of an online platform, both women decided it was time to create a special space for like-minded female designers, makers, suppliers and yes, consumers. Amanda shared, “We were only halfway through building a site, and we wanted to continue but we were in a quandary for how to do it. Most importantly how to do it in a meaningful fashion.”

They found that products with a positive impact on communities held the answer. DISENYO DEL SUR is more than a multi brand for ethical and sustainable products. Theirs is a dynamic retail eco system that celebrates co-creation, collaboration, connection and conversations on modern living. “We go beyond collaborations. Some of our partners are suppliers for raw materials. We also work with other makers who offer design or manufacturing expertise. Sometimes, we turn to each other for leads in terms of sourcing,”

That the platform’s founders have a clear vision for their audience factors into the distinct edit of products they offer. Amanda opined, “I’d like to think that the space we have is one that resonates with women who have their own agency.” She also adds that in creating and curating products for the site, they hope to shape the lifestyle choices of consumers especially following a pandemic. From efficacious face oils blended by Cacay primarily for family and close friends, to genderless garments using hablon weaves, hand beveled soaps and jewelry inspired by literature, science fiction and mythology, you will hear an empowered female voice through limited edition items on DISENYO DEL SUR.

It was also at the height of the pandemic lockdowns when I visited the newly opened FRANKIE AND FRIENDS GENERAL STORE in Molito, Alabang. While other establishments were downsizing or simply closing shop, the team behind this intentional marketplace were realizing that now more than ever, the modern consumer needed access to smarter, greener lifestyle options.

The idea behind Frankie and Friends was to create a creative community of “small-batch creators for slow and ethical fashion, unique find, handmade pieces, and sustainable goods.” There is a wide range of products in stores as well as on their online platform that include: clothing, footwear, home décor, toys, workout gear and even wellness products. Everything is decidedly local from sourcing to production. And the company curates their products so that it is more accessible and easy for consumers to start integrating slow fashion into their lifestyle choice.

As testament to their vision for a new retail experience that supports communities and seeks to create change, FRANKIE AND FRIENDS takes accountability to heart. On their site, they publish regular Impact Reports that discuss community support within the supply chain as well as proceed remitted to various causes. It is their unique way of encouraging others to join in their mantra of creating, cultivating and connecting.

A two-hour creative experience at MAISON METISSE using Japanese natural dyes revealed a new expression of ethical fashion as an art expression. Founded by multi-faceted artist Adrienne Charuel, MAISON METISSE was envisioned as a retail concept that supports the unique lifestyle, travels, experiences and passions of the consumer. It does not box or confine local, honest, sustainable fashion but instead attempts to explore its many facets. The company also hopes to “honor design, craftsmanship and one spirit: human-made.”

For some months now, Manila’s gypset have been upping their lockdown looks with Shibori tye dye tops and dresses from MAISON METISSE. Utilizing ancient resist dying techniques from Japan to create prints on organic cottons, Adrienne marries a love for local fabrics and art forms discovered from other parts of the world. Her pieces are distinctly handcrafted in the Philippines, while reflecting a well-traveled sensibility. Through her personal creations at MAISON METISSE, she is able to integrate Saori weaving technique, macramé, hand embroidery and Shibori dyeing into local garments and wares. If anything, it is living and breathing testament that mindful and conscious creativity knows no boundaries.   

The company set up an Artisan Fund that aims to support communities from Bukidnon, La Union and La Paz. MAISON METISSE also extends aid to women weavers of DAWN (Development Action for Women Network) as well as artisans from the Itneg Tribe. The brand’s light and airy pop-up spaces are must-visits when in Manila. Their current address at the Powerplant Mall is not only home to the unique product offering from MAISON METISSE. It is also an inspired venue for art workshops and intimate tasting immersions of artisanal cheeses, crafted spirits and other culinary finds.

Under-the-radar brands are gems in a world where one’s outfit is almost always a replica of another’s. One of the reasons why slow fashion labels, no matter how simple or elaborate, are intrinsically special is because they come in limited batches and made using purely hand crafted materials. So chances of running into someone wearing the exact same thing are slim to none. CAMLU is a fashion secret only accessible through its Instagram platform. Founded by creative director Luis Espiritu and fashion designer Camille Villanueva, the brand was created out of a desire to support sewers and makers who’d lost work during the pandemic. “Our sewers are our reasons for starting the brand,” said Luis.

With access to precious textiles entirely handmade by various communities around the country, the duo envisioned a collection of resort pieces for a compact wardrobe edit. In upholding ideals of slow fashion, they thought to come up with designs that would cross over seasonality and geography. Dresses work beautifully both as a cover up on seashore excursions as they do for days in city. The same concept goes for tops and other garments highlighting traditional embroidery.  

Apart from dresses, tops and tunics, CAMLU has become known among the well-heeled for introducing footwear designs that are ahead of its time. Long before the big brands began storming social media with their new take on nomad sandals, this well kept fashion secret was creating stripped sandals using Kalinga weaves in small batches. Working exclusively with abaca and woven fabrics, these pieces are the stuff of effortless sartorial style. More recently, CAMLU also launched a limited collection of Step-Ins (or in modern context, slides.) In staying consistent with their choice of woven materials, artisanal Inabel fabrics were this time utilized, highlighting vibrant color ways and remarkable patterns done solely by hand.

When I was doing my thesis on local fabrics, one of the experts who evaluated my work commented: “Your study lacks depth where textile design is concerned.” He expounded that without a strong textile design component, a local textile industry or business will never flourish. “It is necessary for brand identity and it is often overlook by other brands. They would rather buy finished fabrics—either in bulk or smaller quantities—and apply their designs on those.”

In the Philippines, you will be hard pressed to find a label that creates its own prints. There are only a handful and among the most impressive of this lot is fashion icon, photographer and now retail ingénue JOANN BITAGCOL. Her brand, BITAGCOL, is a visual album of memories, adventures and passions. “As real as it gets,” said the brand’s Instagram post. Her pieces are artistic narratives the hope to bring the past into our everyday lives, and a lot of it has to do with the creative process.

Inspiration for BITAGOL’s collections are usually ignited by daily encounters spanning both the mundane and milestones. The launch of coffee table book, Fashionable Filipinas, for instance, saw the birth of her first collection, Baul. A trip down memory lane inspired a set of prints capturing details of the traditional barong. BITAGCOL’s first few collections saw an application of her very own digital prints on satin silk scarves. The brand’s distinct approach for creating prints soon expanded into the creation of robes, tees and aprons. Silhouettes are decidedly easy and simple, which is very much a reflection of Joann’s distinct style sensibility. To create a sense of fluidity and elegance, BITAGCOL works with Balotelli fabrics for the creation of its apparel.  

Like photographs that live through the ages, colors and imagery of BITAGCOL transport one to various eras and realms. One piece will bring back childhood memories of snooping around your grandmother’s chest, or sneaking in to try accoutrements from your mom boudoir. Then there are prints bursting with life, taking you to far off locales or secret gardens. BITAGCOL does not follow seasonality or trend. Instead, the brand chooses to work instinctively, drawing from a rich well of experience: everyday life.

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