Weaving is an art deeply rooted in tradition and is highly regarded locally and abroad for its vibrant and intricate techniques. As this tapestry of culture dates back to the ancient times, a number of designers and entrepreneurs feel a strong sense of responsibility in keeping the tradition alive and passed on from one generation to another.
Driven by their passion, Davaoeños Margarita Montemayor Nograles and her mother, Mary Ann Montemayor, have made it their mission to advocate the versatility and viability of woven textiles and in turn, help the communities in Mindanao preserve the art of traditional weaving. The mother and daughter tandem put up Kaayo, a fashion line that marries the timeless style of the indigenous patterns with contemporary silhouettes. Kaayo means goodness in Bisaya to which Marga adds, “We would like to inspire goodness in all that we do.”
What sparked the idea to start Kaayo as a business?
“My Mom has been working with the tribes for decades now and they have become family to us already. This year, they learned to ask for help. So at the start, I was helping them, designing, buying for myself, or for gifts, then eventually, I asked them if they wanted to start a business together.
“I have always dreamt of having my own brand. I love fashion and I love making my own clothes. My Lola Pat would always tell me, year after year, ‘Margarita I really think you should make your own clothes already!’ I felt, and still feel that there is so much talent out there—and I don't think I am able to compete with that. With Kaayo, more than making my own clothes, I am able to help communities, preserve and promote culture, and weave that into fashion and lifestyle—really the best of both of my worlds. So this year, I decided to go for it. Kaayo is not just mine, but the weavers’, the bearers’, the tribes’, the young designers’ and all the Mindanaoanas’—all help bring our stories to life.”
What drew you to indigenous materials as key elements of your brand?
“Funnily, growing up, we had an over stock of all things Mindanao. My mom would just buy and buy to help the women. At home we had numerous weaves, bauls, antiques, jewelry, old jackets, etc. As a child, I didn't care much for it. But recently, I found myself being so drawn to their work and everything it represents—our culture and our heritage. I felt that now, more than ever, is the best time to bring Mindanao to the world.”
What’s the current state of traditional weaving in Mindanao?
“Traditional weaving has always been a source of pride and livelihood in Mindanao. But as of late, many of the young women have lost interest in the art. We are here helping make sure that our weaves are kept alive. We encourage, we inspire, and we empower as best we can.”
Are the skills still being passed on to the younger generation?
“Many of the young women don't want to weave, bead or embroider anymore. The one T’boli woman I work with is a nurse. At the start, she told me that she will do this with me just so she could earn enough to go abroad to work. But I kept telling her that she has so much talent and that we will make Kaayo big together. It's been eight months and she is still here—and happy.”
And do the women have the financial capacity to continue?
“For my Kaayo partners, I fully support them when it comes to everything they need for the business. They are empowered and I’m so proud of them. I feel now that I am responsible for these women.”
Tell us about your latest collection. Where did you draw inspiration from?
“With Kaayo, I just flow. Since the brand is very new, we are really just setting up, sampling, inventing. My first few pieces were inspired by a modern casual cool feel—wearable pieces that have a hint of Mindanao. I had beaded and embroidered T-shirts, polo shirts, sweaters first, then I eventually started doing dresses and tops.
“One of my favorites is our Bagobo Tangkulo scarf. The tribes are very particular with how we use our pieces and how we do our beading and embroidery. My mom always tells me to honor their culture and style and how they want to go about our pieces. Everything we do, we have them approve first.
“A good example is the scarf. A traditional Tangkulo is used as a headpiece for the Datu of the tribe. We had to ask permission to tweak the design and use it as a scarf. These scarves are now one of a kind and made from scratch by different women from the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe led by Bae Arlyne Salazar.”
What type of woman did you have in mind when designing the line?
“The Kaayo man and woman embody the modern, sophisticated, and fun Filipino. They are young, fashionable, and proud to be Pinoy.”
Who would you most like to see wearing your clothes?
“Our goal is to bring Mindanao to the world but before that, we want the Filipinos to celebrate it first. We want to inspire everyone to #CarryYourCulture. This is why we would like to keep good price points considering all the handiwork that goes into our pieces. I am thankful also that we are able to do that since I am from Mindanao and the tribes live very near us. I am able to see them at least twice a month.”
How do you like to wear your favorite pieces?
“I love wearing my embroidered T-shirts with skirts. My Bagobo Tangkulo scarf I take with me everywhere. My Kaayo skirts I now put over dresses. My beaded tops, I love using with distressed jeans and sneakers. And every time I travel, I am in my Kaayo sweater in the plane. It is so comfortable!”