WOVEN piña and jusi of Aklan. Inabel of Ilocos Norte. Hablon of Iloilo. T’nalak of Lake Sebu. Hinabol of the Higaonons in Bukidnon. Inaul of Maguindanao. Textiles from the Cordilleras and Abra. And the colorful fabrics of the Yakans and Maranaos of Mindanao. All in neo-ethnic designs that draw inspiration from master weavers, dyers and artisans. All to propel Philippine textile into high Philippine Fashion and every day wear.
"It will provide the needed boost to ethnic textile production, to infuse fresh waves of ideas and concepts that makes these traditional textiles, designs and production updated, competitive yet still culturally relevant," Dr. Carlos C. Tomboc, Director of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), told Malaya Business Insight. Local and natural are the buzzwords: fibers from plants woven into traditional wear that have lasted centuries are turned into what PTRI calls neoethnic fashion. "The idea is to evolve ethnico textiles into mainstream fashion in view of their eco-character and novelty representative of local heritage and an embodiment of the labor of people who perpetuate the craft," said Jeannie Lynn J. Cabansag of PTRI’s Research and Development Division.
The PTRI, a part of the Department of Science and Technology, has developed technologies on Philippine tropical fabrics as well as dyeing and printing technologies using natural plant sources, and finishing including application of enzymes that make tropical and ethnic fabrics less itchy, less coarse and more wearable and easier to keep for a longer time. Enzymes are eco-friendly microorganisms; some varieties can be used to soften fabrics as well as remove itchiness in fabrics. Enzymes are household chemicals common, for instance, in detergents. "Product development, training and promotion add premium and value to revive ethnic textiles and turn them into cosmopolitan form and use, spreading the technologies to other textile producing communities and larger markets," Cabansag said. "It is a fusion of science and age-old art and craftsmanship."
Ethnic textiles are fabrics distinctively produced by a certain tribe, community, locality or ethno-linguistic group that has become a part of its identity, culture and heritage. Although in some places ethnic textiles have been revived, their production has either slowed down or even ceased, Tomboc explained. Ethnic textiles identified with specific places, like the piña of Aklan, have gained prominence in mainstream fashion when Bench, a leading Filipino apparel company, used them in its 2009 Philippine Fashion Week show. Ethnic prints are included in its spring and summer collections.
It is part of the "revival" of Southeast Asian textiles normally used as traditional costumes, re-created into contemporary looks and featured in the collection of fashion designers like Dries Van Noten, Givenchy Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Diane Von Furstenberg. Then there is the green thing. Standards for dyeing textiles are getting stricter as Oeko Tex 200 imposes limits on the effluents and the amount of extractable metals and compounds in textiles. To minimize pollution, Oeko Tex 200 limits, for example, the allowable amount of textile finishings, including dyes, that provide acceptable colorfastness. Textile coloration accounts for a substantial percentage in textile waste water.
"Our niche are ethnic textiles using eco-friendly, natural, low-impact dyes that are also superior and safe," Tomboc said. Synthetic, petro-based dyes now color most textile because of the great ease and more cost effective dyeing techniques involved. However, the health hazards of continuous exposure to synthetic dyes has made natural dyes attractive. Azo dyes, which are potentially cancer-causing, has been banned in Germany and selectively banned in other European countries.
The European Union’s policy on REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals) regulates dyed materials and the manufacture of synthetic dyes. It requires the declaration of content and composition, for example. "The trend in going organic and natural puts local hand-woven textiles in the mainstream," said Cabansag.
The revival and upgrading of traditional dyeing technologies that are cost effective started in the 1990s in Abra and Ifugao where dye-producing plants were cultivated in nurseries. The first of PTRI’s Common Service Facility (CSF) was established in the region. The nurseries provided the plants that produced the dyes, and the CSF supplied local dyers with colorants and processed the fabrics with the coloration required.
Nearly a decade later, another CSF was established in Aklan, this time at the Aklan State University (ASU) campus in Banga. It provides basic dyeing facilities for private enterprises and helps start up companies adopt color application. ASU also looked at the appropriate cultivation of four priority dye sources: indigo, sibukao, yellow ginger and annatto that were introduced to local planters.
"The propagation, planting and cultivation of dye species offers alternative livelihood to farmers and weavers alike," Tomboc pointed out. "Propagating and planting natural dye sources are already business ventures." "Surplus production can even spill out of Aklan to address the needs of other natural dye facilities elsewhere in the country. A dyeing facility is very strategic when located near clients and users," he added. The CSF in Aklan has gone beyond commercial-scale, large-volume application of natural dyes on piña-based fabrics. It is processing crude aqueous extracts into powder, extending the potential applications of natural dyes to six months.
Not only could these powders be used for dyeing garments but also for hand- and silkscreen painting. It is a viable alternative to textile coloration, design and product development. Laboratory trials show that the relatively short shelf life of the aqueous dye extracts are extended when in powder form without sacrificing purity; no preservatives are added. Packaging technology has been developed for easy handling. Aklan’s CSF is the only one in the country processing several plants into powered dyes although indigo powder production is being done in Baler, Aurora, which supplies small volume requirements. PTRI will showcase its tropical fabrics during the "Bagong Habi ...Salinlahi" fashion show on March 8 at the InterContental Hotel in Makati.