A few weeks ago, Billy Crawford and Coleen Garcia's pre-nuptial photo shoot in Ethiopia became viral due to a number of reasons. For one, the netizens were quick to point out their boldly printed outfits, which shared the same fabric as a couch, bag, and other household items. While it's easy to poke fun at the situation, we've yet to tackle the bigger issue this brings to light.
As far as the fashion industry is concerned, there is a deeper concern at hand. Wearing designer clothing comes with the expectation of top-notch craftsmanship and having a sense of luxury. But if the textile is so common that almost everyone can recognize and have access to it, it ironically defeats the purpose of having something custom-made. Still, we can't put the blame on the designer, the stylist, or the wearer. So what's the root of the problem?
We can easily summarize it this way: we lack unique, locally-made textiles.
This brings forth a more saddening, if not disappointing, sentiment because our country is supposedly a fount of creative expression especially in the field of fashion. Let's recall that in the 1960s, the country reached its peak in the textile industry, where we were at the forefront of producing our own fabrics. From spinning, dyeing, weaving—we could do it all. But as the years passed, the local textile industry plummeted as it competed and lost against cheaper imports. We were trounced by quotas, essentially dismantling our own textile industry.
Designers have turned to the unthinkable (hinging on the fact that we have the means and talent to make our own fabric): they started sourcing materials outside of the country on the hunt for unique fabrics. John Herrera and Gabbie Sarenas are two of our local designers who seek out fabrics that we don't have locally. "Most fabrics available here are from China, Japan, and Korea," John explains. It's a sad truth that many designers face; the local market has been easily saturated by imported fabrics mass-produced and sold at a cheaper price.
Not ones to lose hope, we're still feeling optimistic for the fate of our textile industry. We are at the cusp of reviving it through the efforts of NGOs, local stores, and designers. "Awareness is key. I think fashion schools are on the right track with educating our students about textile design," John says. "We just have to be very supportive and patient."
Further, Gabbie reminds us that we have everything we need, if we only knew where to look. She notes that we have our own textiles that are "rooted into our heritage and variety of stories of that certain community." By sourcing from these communities, we do not only uplift the local textile industry, but we also put the spotlight on our cultural narrative and support indigenous communities where these native weaves originate. Gabbie further explains the merit of producing your own fabric. "Knowing the process also lets you know the story behind it," she says.
Now the question is: how do we help this advocacy? Apart from spreading awareness, we also need to do our own research on what is readily available to us, like piña seda, silk cocoon, and inabel. Delving in deeper, we also need to know how these fabrics behave. "We have a lot of handwoven textiles, which [are] unique not only in design but on the tension," Gabbie shares. "Based on experience, some of the fabrics I’ve worked with has its specific behavior that you have to take note of when designing a garment. Our textiles need special care and attention to increase the lifespan since we want it to be garments that can be passed on."
Gabbie also stresses that we're all interdependent of each other. But this does not only include the traditional ways of making our own textile. As technology also continues to advance, we must learn how to wield it to our advantage. For example, John had been working with Epson on printing his own materials, especially for his Agila and Armada collections. He turned to digital design to create more "specific and precise" fabric creation that turned his dream collections into a reality.
Knowing these, we've come to realize that we actually have options. We don't always have to succumb to what is readily available in front of us. At this point, we are working to uncover and unearth local quality textiles buried deep beneath the glut of cheap, imported materials on the local market.
Hence, from this fiasco, we learn that the resurgence and sustainability of the local textile industry rests heavily on our shoulders. As Filipinos, we should look at our own products with a sense of pride and a higher level of admiration, and of course help to promulgate its reintroduction into the mainstream market. Remember that fabric origin is not the only telling sign of its quality. Most importantly, we should abandon the thought that just because something is made locally, it isn't as good as something made abroad. As Gabbie says, there is a need for "a strong pursuit for loving local and knowing our identity."