Fashion and design in the Philippines has come a long way in the last few decades particularly in the areas of sustainable and ethical fashion and manufacturing; this Asian nation is one to watch.
Dedicated to “lifting Filipino artisans out of poverty”, R2R has become well-known for its unique mix of traditional crafts with modern shapes and colours, first with accessories like bags, then homewares and clothing. There is a strong ethical and sustainable focus throughout the brand; they use unwanted fabric scraps, weaving it into new textural materials to use for rugs and bags. Begun in 2007, in one of the Philippines’ largest urban poor communities where artisans were being paid scandalously low wages to produce woven items. Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, the founder of R2R, started small by connecting weavers to materials, and over the years has developed an entire production eco-system that ensures living wages for the makers.
“R2R is a fashion and design house empowering community artisans from the Philippines. But we really started R2R with only the last half of that sentence. We started because we want to empower community artisans from the Philippines. Fashion and design became the platforms for us to do so. Aside from creating opportunities for the communities we work with, we also trained ourselves to use whatever materials we have available. We use natural materials but also scraps from the global fashion industry. I believe our connection to our communities and resourcefulness to use what are available are strong characteristics of Philippine fashion,” explains Reese.
“When we started R2R about 15 years ago, the Philippine fashion industry was already quite amazing, filled with the most creative and influential leaders of the country. But back then, it felt quite exclusive and a little intimidating at least for me who did not have a background in fashion or deep connections in the industry.
“Thankfully, we had great designer partners who not only introduced us to the industry, they also helped us develop our own design voice and capabilities. These days, it feels like fashion is extending and expanding in ways that I have not seen before. There are more niches now than before, which also means more space for different voices to shine through.
“So in that sense, I feel that the industry got stronger. But of course, we still have a long way to go especially when you look at it from a global perspective. Filipinos are very creative and talented and we have seen Filipinos shine globally in different industries especially music. Fashion could be a stage for us too. There are already a few well-known Filipino designers abroad, and I hope we are on our way to adding more representation for our culture and heritage.”
While the industry environment seems to be improving, Reese says that there are still a variety of issues that need to be dealt with: “The issues are not always so simple and clear cut, they are multi-faceted and multi-layered.”
“I think years ago, the issues were more about market access, manufacturing capabilities, logistics, and financing. It was tough to know the right buyers for the right channels, it was expensive to join global trade fairs, and because of our location, it was also expensive to ship out products.
“Today, the same challenges still exist but thanks to technology, many of us in the industry are able to reach different parts of the world without having to physically go there. Technology has been a real game changer. While technology is able to help us reach the world, there are many who are doing the same and we still don’t have the same access as others because of where we are and in some cases, still because of who we are. The world is changing though and in many ways (hopefully) for the better.
Founded by Patrick Bondoc and Rik Rasos, Proudrace is a modern streetwear-style brand that focuses on “distortions and approximations” in their designs that take classic silhouettes and reworks them into new shapes and contexts. The brand’s vibe is comprised of oversized proportions, natural materials and touches of humour in their conceptual looks. Like other brands from the Philippines, Proudrace is also strongly focused on producing with local artisans.
“The brand is being sold in different countries in Asia and a huge demographic of our customers are coming from East Asia and Southeast Asia. I’d like to believe our aesthetics appeal to a huge part of Asia. The brand is all about deconstruction and reconstruction. Regenerating existing found garments to give them new life with the Proudrace DNA,” explains Rik Rasos, the creative director of Proudrace.
“The Philippines is a melting pot of different cultures from different colonisers so it really is hard to pinpoint where our voice is when it comes to our representation in Asia. However it is great to see how the Filipino young designers are pushing boundaries to promote our culture as we understand it and interpret it.
“I do see a clear vision of Filipino values and traditions being represented quite well by the younger generation of fashion designers. I dream of the day that not only traditional Filipino clothing will be recognizable in Asia but also the contemporary interpretations of it,” Rik says.
Rik believes that Filipino fashion is becoming more progressive: “I’ve noticed there are more Filipinos who are supporting local fashion. More brands are getting in touch with their Filipino roots. I can’t really say it is getting stronger but definitely it is thriving.”
However, he also feels that there remain some issues that need to be overcome: “[The] Colonial mentality is still a huge factor that hinders the growth of Philippine fashion. If only we could see how competitive local fashion is, and [that] we have an abundance of talented Filipino designers. But I am so glad to see there are movements that are pushing Filipino fashion to the local market and also elevating it globally.”
This mission to elevate Filipino fashion is something that Rik is proud to be a part of; Proudrace was a part of Vogue Talents with a focus on sustainable and progressive brands, prior to being featured recently in Vogue.
“It was a great way to revisit the brand’s progress in sustainability and eco futurism in Vogue US. Thrilled to represent our country all the time on a global platform,” says Rik.
FILIP + INNA
Another Filipino brand that celebrates traditional material techniques, Filip + Inna was founded by Lenora Cabili and her love for the culture of her country, in particular that of the Maranao, Yakan, and Higaunon, when she grew up in Iligan City, Mindanao.
The brand she launched features the traditional weaving, embroidery and beadwork from the different indigenous groups of the Philippines, with the aim to preserve and revive artisans’ skills. Filip + Inna works with artisans to ensure that they can make a living with their traditional skills.
“Philippine fashion is, for me, synonymous to craftsmanship and design,” says Lenora. “It is an integral part of the diversity of the Asian industry as a whole. Its contribution to design, textiles and craftsmanship rooted in culture brings its own soft power in fashion.”
Lenora says that now is an exciting time for the Philippine fashion industry: “It is getting its share of recognition in the global setting as well as there are opportunities for the stakeholders to broaden its reach. It has gone through a natural ebb and flow of any industry but the creativity and craftsmanship of the Filipino designer has always been its strong points. As the global fashion industry makes an intentional move towards sustainability – the Filipino is in a good place moving forward.”
Filip + Inna is also part of the focus on craftsmanship explains Lenora: “Filip + Inna is inspired by tradition and pushing for Philippine culture through fashion as we create with artisans around the country, celebrating and honouring the work of the hands of the artisans through weaving, embroidery and beadwork.”
Although Lenora does note that in the Philippines “the textile industry needs to be revived to help support the growing Philippines fashion industry”.
“We were thrilled to see our Filip + Inna basics inspired by our traditional clothing using Pina fibres being chosen for a Vogue feature. It reaffirms our belief that our mission is to create pieces that will point back to the country, our culture.”
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