A new creation that is set to make environmentalists happy and the fashionistas curious is emerging from the Philippines and is slowly making its way across Europe and the UAE.
The wraps, made from the natural fibre of abaca (known globally as Manila hemp), has been trending in the Philippines for the past years with local women celebrities, as well as, diplomats abroad wearing them.
A brain-child by Dita Sandico Ong, a well-known Filipino fashion designer and owner of Cache Apparel, the “pieces of fabric” can be wrapped around like shawls and used as accessories or as complement to an outfit.
“They are very versatile you can wear them in several ways. One piece of wrap can be worn in six to eight different ways, or even more, depending on your own creativity,” explained Ong.
She was in Abu Dhabi and Dubai this week to present her signature creation after a promotional trip to Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, where she held several fashion shows.
Speaking to Khaleej Times about her aspiration, Ong said: “I would think that this fabric is now getting its place... It’s now getting into high fashion and looks like eventually reaching the (European and UAE) markets.”
“And I think it’s pioneering because we are really trying to break through the market just now,” she added.
The banana-like plant, abaca, comes from the banana family and is indigenous to the Philippines. Abaca fibre is obtained from the leaf sheath and considered three times stronger than cotton, and its fat content more resistant to salt water decomposition, making abaca suitable for the production of specialty papers (such as currency paper and cheques), ropes, furniture and textile/fabrics.
“I’m probably leading the pack of designers who can actually experiment and draw from this fabric so much potential,” stated Ong who has worked with powerful Filipino women that included broadcast journalists Mel Tiangco and Corina Sanchez, and Filipino amabassadress.
The idea to create a wrap out of the abaca fabric came out of “desperation”. Ong related how she fell in love with the fabric and couldn’t bear the thought of cutting it for apparel.
“So I wrapped it around myself, looked in front of the mirror and I danced. I was just making it run through me, feeling the energy. It felt very soulful,” she said.
What makes the banana-abaca wrap different?
“It is very unique; quite exotic, because not everyone has seen this fabric. It has its own sheen. If you notice, the fibre is silky silvery and has its own structure,” Ong explained.
Through mix and match, or combination, the wrap also creates that “new look”, evolving the Filipiniana (traditional formal wear) style into the twenty-first-century fashion.
“This one has more edge and can be worn on formal or casual occasion. And it comes in different colours (through natural dyes),” said Ong.
And because of its natural composition, the fabric “breathes” making it ideal for tropical climates. “It is nice to actually have air moving around you,” Ong pointed out.
“On the other hand if it gets too cold, you can wear thermal underwear and long sleeves. You can top it with a pretty scarf and you’re off to another country,” she added.
Another important element of the wrap is that it can be worn by everyone.
“We don’t have a size, it fits all sizes. No limitations in terms of who can wear it,” the designer pointed out, adding that because it is lightweight, you can easily pack or roll this in your suitcase or hand bag when travelling.
It is also very easy to maintain. You can handwash it using a mild soap and water, hang to dry and press using a flat iron. It doesn’t require dry cleaning. And because it doesn’t get brittle, the lifespan of a wrap can go down generations “as long as you care for it and you don’t cut,” cautioned Ong.
However, with price tag ranging from €100-500 (Dh470- 2,350), Ong’s creation is not for everybody.
“It has a niche market; it’s the upper crust, and mid-level too, because a lot of women in the offices and a lot of balikbayans (overseas Filipinos), the diplomatic corps and celebraties like to wear these things,” she said.
And that’s for a very good cause too, as the abaca textile gets woven the traditional way, thus creating livelihood and sustainable income for the villagers in Catanduanes, a province in the Philippines’ Bicol Region. The use of abaca also helps spur the fibre industry and bolsters the country’s cultural heritage through the conventional weaving process.
Ong said this is her way of giving back to the community.
Grace Relucio-Princesa, Philippines ambassador to the UAE, underscored the importance of creating job opportunities in distant provinces that could impact the financial status of the family.
She said that local economic development would help minimise the outflow of Filipino migrants and potentially “make migration by choice” in future.
“These are dreams that we are weaving together and hope to help humanity in future by giving more livelihood projects,” said Ong.
In additon to banana-abaca, Ong also works with a combination of other natural fibres in her creations. These include pineapple and linen or “piñalina”, and pineapple with silk or “pinyasilk”.
Asked if she would consider designing apparels suitable for Arab women using natural fabrics, “I’m sure we can toy with some ideas,” Ong simply said.
For now, she is looking at tying-up with other designers here and perhaps hold a fashion show in future.