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A collection of articles featuring the journeys of Ditta Sandico in her fashion career. 


Filtering by Tag: Dolce DItta

Ditta Sandico: The Queen of Wraps wraps up 30 years of trailblazing fashion

Ditta Sandico Channel

Designer Fernandina “Ditta” Sandico celebrates three decades of eco-chic, the innovative use of indigenous, natural fabrics.

Along the way, she has persuaded women to wrap themselves in abaca as a radical but easy-fitting alternative Filipiniana attire. After years of perseverance and promotion, Sandico’s wraps under her eponymous label have become mainstream.

A graduate of Wood Tobe Coburn fashion school in New York, she pioneered in transforming the lowly abel, the blanket fabric sold in the Ilocos markets, into fashionable daytime and evening wear. She collaborated with weavers from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, to produce blue and white printed abel and later developed plaids, stripes and geometric patterns.

Sandico says it has taken 30 years for the abel fabric to become a luxury item. From a P350 blanket, abel now easily fetches five figures. Aside from clothes, it is also used for home accessories and upholstery.

Collaborating with weaver Elisa Reyes in the late ’80s,  Sandico diversified into dressy clothes and barong Tagalog, using piñalino, a combination of delicate piña and linen.

Turning point

A turning point came when she met a weaver from Catanduanes, Virgilio Apanti, who showed her rough samples of abaca weaving. Although the fabric was dirty, stiff and knotty, Sandico saw the potential. Working with artisans from Baras, she made the fabric silkier, more pliable and colorful.

Sandico coined the term “banaca,” a combination of banana and abaca, for branding purposes. She explains that the abaca, whose scientific name is musa textilis, is a member of the banana family, the Musaceae. The hemp plant looks like wild bananas. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they discovered that the natives produced soft and silky fabrics from abaca and traded it with other countries.

Sandico’s first products were voluminous wraps in dramatic colors, hand-painted or spray-painted for effect.

“They were overwhelming. A strong, confident personality can get away with those wraps,” she says.

When women requested easy-fitting wraps that didn’t need too much styling, Sandico added slits for armholes and loops for belts. Called the Mariposa, the wrap was basically a bodice that crossed around the body and was tied by a matching belt. Because of its tautness, the collar could either stand up to lengthen the neck, or flap down to cover a flat or heavy bosom. The Mariposa also came in color-blocked versions and metallic colors.

Younger designers who use abaca

fabrics have paid homage to Sandico’s Mariposa.

“At first, women were resistant, but after several decades, the Mariposa has become mainstream,” says Sandico.

The other styles care called the Hikina, which is inspired by the native pañuelo; the Lucrezia, the three-tiered collar; the Mori, a kimono-inspired silhouette; and the Mira Lukot, made of mushroom pleats which gives the wrap a linear quality.


Versatile wraps can be worn in various ways with just a play of knotting, twisting, puffing and fluffing. It can either be geometric and edgy or be a romantic frou-frou. The woman can look like a flower in bloom in a flounced wrap, or a rock chick with angled flaps.

Constantly evolving, Sandico recently came outwith sculptural, show-stopping wraps for red-carpet events in her fashion show titled, “Dolce Ditta.” A basic jersey dress or pantsuit became dramatic with an additional wrap or a bolero top with banaca sleeves.

The structured wraps can emphasize the shoulders, the neck and the face while hiding unflattering curves.

“Wear them with a tube dress, and you’ll instantly look slimmer,” says Sandico.

The wraps come in warm tones of red, orange, gold and rust; cool greens and turquoise and the classic black and white stripes.

For an instant terno, Sandico developed a bolero with butterfly sleeves, with open weaves, inspired by native baskets. The formal wraps are embellished with hand-painted flowers and delicate beadwork. The edgier boleros feature zippers hidden under the bouffant for a boxy look.

For women on the go

Clearly, Sandico has fun with wraps. Some of the shorter wraps can work as instant scarves, structured sleeves, a neckpiece with a flower, visors, slippers and cowl necks. The excess banaca are shaped into earrings, wrist cuffs and evening purses.

Sandico adds that the wraps are designed for the woman on the go. They don’t wrinkle, and always stay in shape.

“It travels well because it’s flat. You don’t need to iron,” she says.

The wraps are worn by influential women such as Korina Sanchez, Christine Bersola, Cherie Mercado, socialites and diplomatic spouses.

While Sandico’s collection is thriving at Rustan’s Makati and Resorts World, she prefers to meet clients at her atelier in Quezon City. She started her business in the same neighborhood and, after 30 years, she’s back in her mother’s home, working in her newly renovated atelier.

Between those years, she raised a family, opened shops in different locations, and broke free from a relationship.

“Regardless of the venue, people will look for these wraps. The banacahas life because I put a lot of work into it. I bring out the soul of fabric,” she says.

Ditta Sandico’s store is located at 5 Mabolo St. corner Balete and E. Rodriguez, New Manila, Quezon City. Visit the website


Textifood: food for clothing

Ditta Sandico Channel

The Milan 2015 exposition, which has been running for the last six months, has seen 140 countries showcasing its most innovative and effective technologies that could provide solutions to one of the biggest global problems – guaranteeing everyone healthy, safe and sufficient food without harming the balance of the planet.

But it wasn’t the solution to this problem that really caught the attention of so many people.  And it wasn’t just one problem that was solved but two.

Fashion, as with all industry, has a responsibility to give back what it takes. And what does the industry take most of? Natural fibres – used to create the clothing we wear. With companies now pouring money into research and development schemes, it seems we have found a solution – clothes made from food.

This may sound like something only Lady Gaga could pull off, but this is slightly more innovative than the infamous meat dress. Within the expo, Pavilion France together with Lille Europe put on the incredibly successful exhibition entitled Textifood, with the objective to demonstrate the different possibilities of creating textiles from the food waste industry.

Roughly one third (approximately 1.3bn tonnes) of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets wasted. And with it taking approximately 7,000L of water to produce a single pair of jeans and 2,700L to produce one shirt, not to mention the long process of dying the fibres, this innovative way of creating textiles could be the answer to two major sustainability problems the world has.

Lille3000, a cultural programme within the city of Lille, sought out designers and stylists to produce designs using fibres that have been harvested in part or solely from food residues. Such tasty fibres included orange, lemon, pineapple, banana, coconut, nettles, algae, mushroom, coffee, rice, soya, maize, beet, wine, beer, fish and shellfish.

“These textile fibres come from all continents,” said a Lille3000 spokesperson. “They are studied by researchers around the world to meet the needs of an increasingly responsible world.”

Designers such as Em Riem and Ditta Sandico created dresses made from banana silk fibre. The produced fabric has a silky finish, is flexible and waterproof, and is already in use in Japan, Nepal and the Philippines.

Other designers such as Christine Phung and Moragne Baroghel-Crucq collaborated to create an organic dress made from metal thread, flax yarns and fish collagen. While eco clothing brand, L’Herbe Rouge, made clothing created entirely from coffee – weaved, dyed and finished in a coffee bath.

This kind of technology is still in the early stages of development but it does give us a hopeful insight into the types of alternative textiles available. Sustainability in many industries through collaboration is now a reality and effectively provides us with many solutions to the world’s problems. The future suddenly looks (and tastes) a little bit better now.

Sustainable Fashion Designers Spotlight: Ditta and Abaća (banana fiber) silk

Ditta Sandico Channel

It's Banana Week here at The Future King & Queen, so we are exploring and celebrating all the amazing things that are made from Banana Fiber - because it's a Future Fabric with a lot of good qualities, as we discovered in our earlier post explaining what it is, and why it has so much potential as an eco-friendly fabric.



All of these gorgeous items in this post are made by Ditta, an accessories label based in the Philippines, which is the creative outlet for Dita Sandico Ong.

As a fashion designer with almost 30 years experience, Dita Sandico Ong was one of the earlier designers working with alternative fabrics.

She designs wraps & soft bags made from Abaća fibre, which accentuates the beautiful lustre of the fabric. It's breathable and therefore perfect for the tropical conditions of the Philippines, where the Abaća fabric comes from.


Abaća is a species of banana native to the Philippines. The fruit is not edible, but the stems are made into multiple items. The inner part of the stem yields the silkiest fibres, which are woven into the beautiful fabrics used by Ditta for their wraps.

Handbags are made from both the silky fabric and the thicker woven Abaća leaves.


“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-savers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”


Dita Sandico’s ‘banaca’ is the new eco-chic

Ditta Sandico Channel

Once used to make common products such as slippers and ropes, the abaca is repurposed into a luxury eco textile.

A pioneer in the local eco-fashion movement, designer Fernandina “Ditta” Sandico sustainably produced her signature fabric from the exotic plant musa textilis. She christened it “banaca,” because abaca belongs to the banana family called Musaceae.

“I’m leveling up the look by adding more embellishments and coming up with bigger wraps,” she says. Sandico is underscoring her forte as the “Wrap Artiste.”

In the shoot with Anna-Maria Heidorn, the spouse of the German ambassador, Sandico shows how her garments could be twisted, scrunched and rolled into bulbs, rosettes, petals, scallops, cabbages, butterfly wings and other interesting shapes. The shirred and gartered capes can be worn like a column, puffed like an onion bulb or fluffed like a tutu.

“That’s our new story. We’ve come a long way,” says Sandico, who redefined contemporary Filipiniana. Unfussy and low-maintenance, the wraps are designed for the busy career woman who wants to wear local without looking too traditional.

After graduating from Tobe-Coburn in New York, Sandico worked as a fashion merchandiser for the now-defunct, family-owned C.O.D. Department Store. Meanwhile, she also started producing her line of clothing using inabel from Ilocos Sur. These native handwoven cotton fabrics were used for bed sheets and towels.

She gave the inabel a new fashion spin. She also developed other fibers such as piñalino or pineapple fibers blended with Irish linen.

MINAUDIERE made of kamagong,mother-of pearl and ethnic patterns by the Mangyans

“A few years back, I realized I wanted to focus on the local. We were doing linens and cottons which had to be imported. The supply for pineapple fibers was limited. On the other hand, abaca is abundant. We’re one of the top three producers of abaca in the world,” she says.

She credits weavers Elisa Reyes for showing her the possibilities of abaca.

Another weaver and entrepreneur, Virgilio Apanti, showed her samples of abaca fabrics produced by Tupas ng Baras Multipurpose Cooperative in Baras, Cantanduanes. Unlike the rough abaca used for ropes and slippers, the artisanal abaca exudes a sheen and softness. It is stiff enough to hold unique forms, yet pliableto follow the movements of the body.

Since 1995, the designer has been working with this cooperative. “I wanted to help them. So we started from scratch. I didn’t know how the plant looked like. We stripped off the trunk to get the yarns, knotted them from end to end, bleached and dried them. Although it is very labor-intensive, this is how we keep the tradition.”

The weavers were trained in natural dye extraction and advanced weaving techniques for abaca.

“Instead of migrating to Manila to work as domestic helpers, we’re giving them jobs. Even the out-of-school youths learn this craft. This will encourage them to stay. That’s the social entrepreneurship aspect.”

MINAUDIERES made by Mangyans are part of Sandico Ong’s livelihood program

Sandico Ong admits she had to establish a rapport with the abaca. “I couldn’t cut it like most fabrics. The fall wasn’t the same,” she recalls. “I had to think out of the box. I commanded, ‘Perform! Do what you want.’ I asked for divine help. With His guidance, the design just flowed. I shaped and reshaped, wound it around, according to how it draped the body. I never went against it.”

In keeping with the spirit of eco-friendliness, she recycled the scraps by making them into visors, tiny scarves and pouches. When she wears her uniform of a linen tank top, dark slacks and thongs made of banaca and mother-of-pearl, she coils a scarf around her neck or covers her shoulders with these easy-wearing scarves.

Sandico’s clients include ABS-CBN president Charo Santos Concio, actress Chin Chin Gutierrez, the Friends of the Cultural Concerns of the Philippines, and the diplomatic corps.

One of her patrons is Madame Heidorn, who googled the designer after receiving a banaca purse as gift.

Her wraps are sold in major department stores such as Takashimaya in Japan, the Banyan Tree resorts in Thailand, and high-end shops in Singapore.

She recently went on a tour to promote her fabrics and wraps in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, sponsored by the Philippine embassies and on a grant from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

THE VERSATILE banaca can be used to wrap presents.

The collection included her Mariposa line, which consisted of the modified wraparound panuelo; the Mori, the long banaca tunic with slitted armholes; Mira, which is distinguished for its pleated fabric. Mira Nila is cut on a bias and worn like a bolero or jacket.

“This is the way to go in the international market. Banaca is easy to maintain. You can travel with it and it will stay in shape. And it’s unique to the Philippines,” she says.

To the designer, the banaca is a metaphor of the Filipino. “It’s resilient. Our people have been through a lot but they bounce back.” Just like the banaca, it will always retain its original shape after all the manipulating.

Ultimately, Sandico debunks the perception that the fashion world is all about appearances: “It’s about working with materials that can sustain the environment and communities.”

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