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This Filipina Aims to Inspire Kindness Through Mindanaoan-Made Clothes

Marga Nograles built Kaayo in the hopes of creatively telling stories of the Mindanaoans.

by Steph Sison | Mar 11, 2019

"Kaayo, a clothing brand that hopes to inspire kindness and goodness in others, represents a modern Mindanao."

Being based in Davao seems to have been the best decision that Marga Nograles made. She's able to raise a beautiful family alongside her husband while enriching Mindanao as a haven of high quality and stylish weaves. With Kaayo, a clothing brand she started just over a year ago, Marga had already made great strides when it came to putting the spotlight on indigenous textiles. 

Marga positions Kaayo as an avenue to push Mindanao's modernity forward in the fashion scene—a feat she consciously strives for while supporting women's groups, multiple tribes, and organizations. This bold move of introducing Mindanao fashion underlined with the advocacy of helping Filipinos is exactly why Marga deserves a spot on this year's list of inspiring women in the world of fashion. Below, we get to know more about her plans for Kaayo, her causes, and what it means to be a Filipina.


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Jacket, scarf, and long top; all KAAYO, kaayo.com.ph

What is Kaayo? How did it all start for you?

"Kaayo means goodness or kindness in Bisaya. It is a curated collection of different Mindanao stories that we creatively put together. It started for us simply because we wanted to give a sustainable livelihood to a T'boli mother-and-daughter tandem from Lake Sebu. From there, two years later, we have grown to a small clothing label that continues to look for stories to tell together with the many indigenous tribes, women's groups, hand-woven textiles, local culture, and people of Mindanao."

What is your brand's overall aesthetic? What kind of Filipina are you dressing?

"Kaayo, our clothing brand that hopes to inspire kindness and goodness in others, represents a modern Mindanao. We envision this Mindanao to be rich in culture, tapestry, and textiles transformed into modern, elegant, fun, and chic pieces that are more wearable. The Kaayo woman is elegant, fun, and so very proud to be a Filipina."

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Does your brand have any advocacies? What makes your brand proudly Filipino?

"The essence of Kaayo is to be able to inspire and promote Mindanao. It has become part of my life. I'd like to think that my brand, Kaayo, is me. Kaayo is the result of my constant search of uplifting the many treasures of Mindanao and embracing the many learnings I picked up in the process.

"This year we are very excited to launch a special project with Alex Eduque of MovEd. This partnership is special because it was born out of fate, friendship, goodwill, and the desire to showcase the beauty of the south through the skilfull hands and work of its people. For this, Alex drew images that for her, represents Mindanao. We then, weaved these images into tops, sweaters, dresses, and skirts. Every piece of this collection has a story to tell and speaks the beauty of Mindanao. They're all something that we should proudly wear everyday, in our hearts, our minds, on our shirts, and on our sleeves.

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"One of my favorite images on our pieces is the Philippine gecko or butiki in vernacular. This image is hand-embroidered into our tops by the T'boli tribe of Lake Sebu. Also known as the common house lizard, Alex sees the butiki as a symbol that unifies all social strata and classes. In the Philippines, regardless of whether one lives in a bahay kubo or a palace, if one looks up at any given time of day, one is most likely to see a butiki on the ceiling. The creature does not only serve as a constant reminder to look up because as legends would have it, these creatures also come down to 'kiss the ground' every 6 p.m. It serves as an important reminder that we must never forget our roots, and must always be proud of where we come from.

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"Proceeds of this collection will go to MovEd to send more children to school."

Why do you think it's important to cultivate a local brand?

"A local brand has a soul and always a story to tell. I feel that it is important to come together to promote local because, in doing this, we help many people along the way and in our own little way, we also bring honour to our country."

How would you describe today's Filipina in terms of fashion?

"Today’s Filipina is now very proud of her roots, where she comes from, the story of her heritage and so eager to promote Filipino-made pieces to the world. This makes me so happy and so very proud to be part of the many many Filipinos now who come together to promote local."

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As a brand that's been up for a while now, what initial impressions did you have about having an online business and what has changed now?

"Kaayo is a very young brand. We are just about to go into our second year. The pieces we have are very limited and one-of-a-kind, so selling online has been a challenge because we cannot replicate too many of our pieces. The best-selling space for us are pop-ups where clients can come, see, feel, and fit our products. Since launching online, we were also able to set up our office where we can entertain clients who would like to fit and have some special pieces to be custom made. This year though, we are looking to set up an online store where we can select some select pieces."


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What do you envision for your brand in the coming years?

"I pray that Kaayo continues on and that we remain sustainable for our many tribes and women's group partners. I also dream for the brand to have many more collaborations and partnerships with like-minded groups, brands, tribes, and professionals to further uplift the many treasures of Mindanao and bring honour to our country. Today and always, my wish is that we always have hope for our country and never cease to be proud to be Filipino."

Please tell us something about yourself. Apart from growing your online business, what else do you do during your spare time?

"I am wife to eight-year Congressman of the First District of Davao, Karlo Nograles, who is now a Cabinet Secretary to the President. I also have three beautiful and talented children—Mateo, Massimo, and Nikka. Aside from working on Kaayo, I am also the exclusive sub-distributor of Havaianas in South East Mindanao—a business I have had for 14 years. Havaianas and my husband are what brought me back to Davao in 2005. I also have my anti-mosquito spray line called Kiele. I strive to have balance in my life and time with my husband, children, and friends are my priority so I am blessed that my businesses allow me this. I also find time to do yoga at least once a week (but hopefully more often) and I make sure to hear mass everyday. I find joy in the smallest of things and I live every day always with a grateful heart."

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Produced and Styled by Yanna Lopez

Co-produced by Jam Nitura

Art Direction by Mark Buenaobra

Photography by Tarish Zamora

Hair by Mong Amado

Makeup by Patrick Alcober for Make Up For Ever

Shoot Assistant: April Lozada

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