Passion Points: Giving Back
Inspired by the authentic designs and beadwork of traditional tribes across the Philippines, Lenora Luisa Cabili founded Filip + Inna in 2010, after a career as a dancer with the Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company. “The traditional costumes we wore on the stage greatly influenced the design and direction of Flip + Inna,” says Calibi. The intricate beadwork is all done by hand—the subtle variations reflecting the techniques of different regional tribes—and the products are sent across the Philippines to be completed. Says Calibi: “In this day and age when technology has replaced the work of the hands, wearing something handmade has a special feel to it; the embroiderer has spent time on it so it becomes like wearable art.” Indagare spoke to Calibi about the Philippines and about the uniqueness of her company and designs.
How did your performing arts background influence Filip + Inna?
Wearing costumes from the many regions of the Philippines provided a way to know the different tribes and be proud of the Philippine culture and heritage. It planted a deep appreciation for the intricate designs and patterns in the traditional costumes. My interest in fashion came together naturally with my passion for the traditional handmade costumes. I often feel that it’s my way of bridging people – the creative hand and the one who appreciates the finished work.
What makes the textile heritage of the Philippines unique?
It’s a rich mixture of Malay, Muslim, Spanish, Chinese heritage that somehow come together as distinctly Filipino. The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,107 islands, 175 dialects and 17 regions, and the variety of influences has expressed itself in textiles. What makes it unique is the range of design and texture of the Philippine textiles, from the pinya (pineapple fabric) embroidery to the t’nalak (abaca fabric with ikat design) of the T’bolis.
Can you tell a little about the intricate beadwork that embellishes each item of clothing?
Each beaded clothing is hand-made and inspired by different Filipino influences, including Malay, Muslim, Spanish and Chinese or some combination of one or more of these cultures.
What types of beads do you work with and where do you source your fabrics and beads?
I love working with mother of pearl beads. At present, fabrics and beads are both sourced from local Filipino suppliers and imported from around South-East Asia. However, I am relying more on local suppliers for the Fall 2011 collection. The Philippines has a wide variety of local materials that can be used, and I am excited at the prospect of using them extensively.
How long does it take to make one of the embroidered pieces?
A dress with full embroidery in front would take two to three days but a full embroidered dress could take four days to weeks, depending on the coverage of the stitches. I often get calls from the embroiderers every time they receive the package of clothes to be embroidered and I hear laughter in the background as they find it very funny to be using their traditional embroidery, using crazy colors on clothes other than their traditional wear.
Where in the Philippines are the pieces made?
The pieces do a tour of the Philippines before it finds its way to the wearer. Each tribe does what it knows best to do in embroidery and/or beadwork as we apply traditional pattern into the clothes’ design. I found the T’bolis when I went down to visit Lake Sebu and met the different weavers and embroiderers. Word gets around fast among tribes; somehow there is always a connection that transpires which leads me to other tribes. The other artisans somehow found me. It is very important for me to establish a relationship with the people I work with so it’s always a delight to visit, spend time with them, share a meal and share stories.
What are some of the pieces you personally love the most and why?
I love the embroidered a-line dresses! It’s a conversation piece whenever I wear it. In this day and age when technology has replaced the work of the hands, wearing something handmade has a special feel to it; the embroiderer has spent time on it so it becomes like wearable art. I feel an affinity to the embroiderer of the dress I am wearing.
What are some of your favorite places in the Philippines?
The Farm in San Benito, Batangas. It’s the perfect place to get healthy food, a good massage, some peace and quiet and is easily accessible from Manila. The Peninsula Manila where you can find the best halo-halo – a Filipino dessert which literally means “mix-mix” of crushed ice, milk, sweet corn, jackfruit, purple yam, sweet beans, and sweetened coconut topped with purple yam ice cream. And I love Calaguas in Camarines Norte and Malamaui in Basilan and Palawan for islands off-the-beaten track with pristine private beaches for a Robinson Crusoe type of adventure.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a collection which combines mother of pearl beadwork and colorful embroidery on an indigo fabric which is based on the B’laan traditional costume. Also, I am excited to work on pinya, a fabric made out of pineapple fabric. The pinya cloth is distinctly Filipino with very rich and intricate embroidery.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope that my clothing brand will encourage Filipinos to have deeper appreciation of our ancestral textiles and costumes. Ultimately, I envision the brand to promote globally the innumerable facets of what is Filipino.
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