Further to advocating women empowerment, Kandama social enterprise gives Filipinos around the globe something to be proud of by putting indigenous textiles in front and centre of the world stage.
It all began with a dream and lots of moxy while toiling away in law school. Soon enough, Victor Baguilat Jr., founder of Kandama Social Enterprise, found himself in Paris, at the Gustave Eiffel Salon, showing Ifugao fabrics to the discerning, fashion-forward Parisian crowd proving that Philippine-made frocks are world-class and très chic. This runway show for International Indigenous Fashion Week was one of the many platforms that became an avenue for the young designer to showcase his heritage and a decolonised, modern view of Filipino design.
Trading books and memorising legal provisions for sketching and design work, Baguilat was more than eager to follow his passion. “On my fourth year of studying law, I got really depressed. I felt like I was a fish out of water. And then I asked myself, if I only have two years to live, would I be doing what I am doing? So, I looked for activities that make me enthusiastic about life […] and I realised that what I wanted to do is at the intersection of wanting to express my identity as a person with indigenous heritage, my interests in design and the arts and my desire to contribute to the empowerment of women […] When I got clarity as to the direction that I wanted in life, I created Kandama Social Enterprise, which was incubated at the Young Social Entrepreneur’s Program of the Singapore International Foundation,” the designer shares.
“My vision for Philippine fashion design and for the local fashion design community in general is to decolonise and indigenise design. Decolonise means that designs take into account the pre-colonial thinking, the way of understanding and the intimate relationship that indigenous people have with the environment and the rest of the world"
The gamble paid off and the floodgates of opportunity opened. Aside from having their creations worn by beauty queen Gazini Ganados, actress Marian Rivera, songstress Sarah Geronimo, and international theatre icon Lea Salonga, to name a few, Kandama Collective was listed as one of the Development Bank of Singapore’s top 100 social enterprises to watch out for in Asia in 2018. More invitations to international fashion shows followed including the Melbourne Fashion Festival and the famed New York Fashion Week, an annual gathering for the world’s most stylish.
But despite all these glamorous prospects, Baguilat and his team acknowledge that Kandama’s heart is much about the gritty: generating a sustainable business model for the weavers and traversing the complex world of identity politics and representation. “One of the problems we were faced with was that the woven fabrics that we were selling do not command the price reasonable enough to compensate for the amount of time and effort spent by the weavers to make them. Hence, I was forced to find ways to add more value to the woven fabrics and that is where generating innovative designs came in.” For the artist, honouring the work can’t be separate from recognising the hands that made them.
Since becoming a familiar name in the world stage, Kandama is very particular with how the country is represented. More than views, likes, and shares, the designer emphasises maximising the opportunity to educate global citizens about Filipino identity through design. “My vision for Philippine fashion design and for the local fashion design community in general is to decolonise and indigenise design. Decolonise means that designs take into account the pre-colonial thinking, the way of understanding and the intimate relationship that indigenous people have with the environment and the rest of the world […] On the other hand, indigenising means that we naturalise Indigenous knowledge systems and make them evident to transform spaces, places, and hearts, from the clothes that we wear to the public spaces that we operate in.”
With these goals and principles in mind and heart, the designer also envisions the how Filipina--and Filipino--can take pride in wearing Ifugao weaves. “My design philosophy is that design is a cultural artifact. The clothes produced at my design studio tell a story. The fabrics that we co-create with indigenous weavers contain a cultural DNA that we seek to pass down from one generation to another. And while a garment’s function and its commercial value are important to us, the heart of our designs is about the impact that we make and the stories that we tell.” Truly, a good story is like a vibrant tapestry. It shows beauty that goes beyond the topical and tells of something meaningful. With Kandama Social Enterprise’s growing body of work, more people can learn more about the story of the Filipino. In a way, showing off these beautifully woven fabrics to the world is akin to raising our flag.