Phl. Fiber and weaves face near extinction

Sophia Manimbo takes on her mother's passionate advocacy for local fabrics and weaves

By Rose de la Cruz

Philippine fiber and weaves, which have earned the awe, admiration and respect of other countries around the world, face oblivion right in their country— dismissed as purely high fashion material—simply because majority of the Filipinos, including those in government and private companies, would rather use the fabrics and fashion of the west and those of their more progressive peers in Asia. 

Except for the Spanish era and perhaps even the Japanese occupation, the Philippine terno and daily lifestyle clothing materials have never seen a renaissance or rebirth in the country, except during the time of First Lady Amelita “Ming” Ramos, who by virtue of a presidential decree of Fidel V. Ramos, required government employees to wear on Mondays the barong tagalong and Filipiniana dresses during the flag ceremonies. After that, the clothes have altogether disappeared from the mainstream, and are occasionally used in high fashion during international events hosted in the country. 

Because the market has completely disappeared, so is the source—the weavers and the pina producers in the remote areas of the country have all but lost interest in these materials because of the RTWs (ready to wear) clothes and online shops which heavily promote other countries' fashion products made from all kinds of synthetic fabric from abroad, be they for normal or special occasion use. 

In fact, only a handful of fashion designers—like Cora Manimbo (whose shop in Greenhills is a testament to this beautiful clothing tradition) and Patis Tesoro (who used to be a mainstay in Rustan’s until she had to pull out because the market was simply not there)—using indigenous weaves and Philippine fibers have managed to sustain their businesses, not here but by selling them abroad. 

Insignificant support 

There is hardly any support from the government: Two agencies the Fiber Industry Development Authority under the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute with their limited budgets—have managed to support, albeit insignificantly, the local fiber industry and Filipino weavers, all of whom survive on a hand-to-mouth existence. 

Some ambassadors and private organizations abroad managed to keep the interest alive for Philippine fibers and weaves through special occasions and functions like the coming Philippine Independence Day celebration this coming June. 

Locally, after Ming Ramos' passionate push for pina and local fibers and weaves, the interest has been sustained by a few individuals like Sen. Loren Legarda, who uses such materials for special occasions like the State of the Nation Address and her speeches before the international communities and TV host Solita Winnie Monsod, who makes it a point to garb herself in a Filipiniana attire or in Filipino fibers and weaves in all of her "Bawal ang Pasaway" shows on GMA7.


Local designers 

Encouraging enough is that new fashion designers—the avant garde and those with a keen eye for natural beauty and elegance among them the millennials—are carrying on the advocacy for Philippine textiles and fibers and weaves in their creations in the hope that this could one day become mainstream, said Manimbo who dedicated her whole lifetime as a designer (for over 25 years) to using only and exclusively Philippine fiber and weaves.

Still the fight to make this fashion mainstream like it was used before for going to the church, markets and schools --in other words in ordinary lifestyle of the Filipinos of yore—is far from complete for the simple fact that supply of these fabrics and weaves is just too limited, because producers have shied away from these products for a long time because the market isn’t there.


Patches, strips of cloth 

But Manimbo says that all it takes to mainstream the weaves and fabric is to add a patch-like weave or strip of woven cloth over the existing clothes to put taste and elegance to an otherwise drab creation.  “This way, we are able to create the interest of the weaves with markets and at the same time inculcate in the people a genuine love for their culture, heritage and identity.”

If you go to Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan and other Asian countries and even tribal communities in the west, they continue to wear their customary clothes and fashion even up to now and they are very proud of it, which is why tourists make it a point to take selfies with them, Manimbo declared emotionally.

But here no one wears barong Tagalog in Congress (they would rather wear suits and long-sleeves with ties), the Muslims of Mindanao don’t even wear malongs and our tribes no longer wear their traditional costumes, she added.

“Not even our President would decently don the barong during state visits and international meetings. Imagine, he rolls up the sleeves of a long-sleeves barong, a no-no in the old days. He would rather wear jeans and plaid shirts or branded t-shirts that he could roll up,” Manimbo said.


No love for country

For as long as we continue to deny ourselves of our tradition, heritage and history, Filipinos—present and future generations—would never be able to have pride and love of country. No statehood, no identity, she sadly said.

She also decried the fact that Filipinos—past and present—have embraced the western culture and fashion so hungrily as if they never had one.

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Saturday, 20 April 2019
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