Modernizing Mindanao’s Indigenous Fabrics

January 19, 2017 7:00 pm by Vicki Abary

Out of all the forty ethnic groups found in the Philippines, eighteen of them live in Mindanao. These indigenous tribes people are a symbol of cultural heritage with the long-standing traditions they continue to employ since their ancestors, despite living in a modern world.

Because of the increasing scarcity of available land for them, more and more indigenous tribesmen livelihoods have been threatened, as farming is their most important source of income. There has become a need to not only improve the quality of life for these people but also to find other sources of viable income.

In light of this, several women who hail from Mindanao have made it their advocacy to support these indigenous tribes people by not only providing them jobs but also preserving and promoting their local craftsmanship as uniquely Filipino culture geared towards a global perspective.trends-mindanafabrics2


Creative director for TADECO Livelihood and Training Center, Maricris Floirendo-Brias has for a long time championed the T’boli tribe craftworks. Founded by her father Antonio Floirendo, to provide support and livelihood for his banana plantation worker’s wives, the program provides training in creation of handicrafts and production of items for the plantation.trends-mindanafabrics

TADECO Home throw pillows at the Manila FAME

In 1989, Floirendo-Brias took over management, and her vision for the center was to preserve the Mindanao ethnic tribes people’s customs and to revive a sense of Filipino artistry. Her new TADECO Home soon made its way into export. Their focus is on the design and manufacture of home accessories and decorative items made of t’nalak or local abaca as well as banana fiber, as woven by the T’boli and Mandaya tribeswomen, who were allowed to work from home so that they could also take care of their families. As she said in an article by Elle Decoration Philippines, “My design philosophy has always been to bring the past into contemporary design in a harmonious way.”

TADECO Home has garnered several awards such as the Hall of Fame for Visual Merchandising at the Ayala Malls Merchant Awards, Best Product Design at the Katha Awards and many more. TADECO Home items are also found in the furniture and home accessories store, Philux Home.



Riding on the bohemian trend of ethnic prints yet in a subdued manner for modern women who enjoy wearing easy classic cuts with clean lines, Linea Etnika was formed in April 2016. Two congressmen’s daughters put politics aside to form a common thread in the show fashion-conscious clothing company. Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte-Alimurung and Looie Lobregat-Ocampo were together for the Congressional Spouses Foundation, Inc. (CSFI) Lakbay Aral trip to Clark in September 2015. After their shopping trip, the women sparked a fashion idea that would embrace not only their easy style of dressing but also promote ethic weaves from Lobregat-Ocampo’s father Celso Lobregat, Jr’s hometown of Zamboanga.trends-mindanafabrics4

The women believed that simple dressing for everyday could be turned into something special with a touch of uniquely Filipino. Furthermore, they wanted a social enterprise that would support local weavers, utilize Filipino dressmakers and provide livelihood in impoverished grassroots communities. Both hailing from political families, the women were frequently invited to events that required Filipiniana attire. They started by introducing Yakan and Tausug weaves from the Zamboanga Peninsula into contemporary classic wardrobe staples like shirt dresses and tops, items that could take a woman from meetings to dinners effortlessly. “I fondly remember how my late grandmother Maria Clara “Caling” Lorenzo Lobregat would wear her fashionable sayas almost everyday. She kept culture alive through her wardrobe and would share them with women who liked them,” says Lobregat-Ocampo.trends-mindanafabrics3

Here, I am wearing the Tin Wrap with Linea Etnika’s Looie Lobregat sporting the Looie Dress

Linea Etnika comes in sizes small, medium and large and produces minimum pieces to keep each collection special for its wearer. Sewers in Payatas, Quezon City are tasked to create Linea Etnika’s packaging. Joy’s advocacy includes supporting livelihood programs to uplift communities as well as improve the welfare of women and children among other things and she hopes to also do that through Linea Etnika.

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Kaayo jackets on display at the Kabuhayan Trade Fair 2016


Born and raised in Davao, Marga Montemayor-Nograles is a natural entrepreneur. Aside from distributing Havaianas slippers in Davao, she also co-owns Martish Boutique, a lifestyle store featuring all the local and international brands she loves for like-minded women who live there.trends-mindanafabrics8

Mindanao Clutch — an interplay of the Yakan by the Yakans and the Balud by the Maranaos

More recently she established Kaayo, a curated collection of stories and livelihoods centered on Mindanao, a weaving tradition and modernization to produce fashionable, one-of-a-kind pieces. “For me, Kaayo is more of an advocacy than a business,” she says.

For the last ten years, her mother Mary Ann Montemayor, has been doing volunteer work with the T’bolis and Bagobos to help make life better for them through training, organization and beading, though on a small scale. When Montemayor-Nograles was tasked to help them as well, Kaayo was born.trends-mindanafabrics7

Bagobo jacket, lovingly made by the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe

A word that means “very,” even “goodness” or “kindness,” Kaayo mixes traditional and modern techniques, connecting indigenous craftsmen and women together with up-and-coming designers to create new items that are distinctly Mindanao.

Currently, Kaayo is in partnership with the Indigenous Peoples led by Bai Arlyne Salazar of the Bagobo Tagabawa Tribe and Ate Elena of the Kem Lebon T’boli Hulong Tembe. Montemayor-Nograles and her mother design many of the fashion and home accessory items and the brand has a collaboration line with young Mindanao designer, Wilson Limon. Marga conceptualizes a collection based on a common theme.  Kaayo’s partners are given creative freedom to execute this, while given feedback and direction.trends-mindanafabrics6

T’boli beading and Bagobo weaves

Kaayo hopes to make collaborations such as these sustainable for its partners. The women earn a profit as soon as the items are delivered to them, and often before production. “This is their business as much as it is ours,” says Montemayor-Nograles. “Life is not so easy for many of them yet they are so talented. We would like to share that talent with the world and secure a better future for them and their children.”


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