TO MAKE their clients fashionable is one of the major motivations of some designers when it comes to producing their fashion pieces. However, a tourism and fashion icon from Mindanao is looking beyond that objective.

Mary Ann “Baby” Montemayor won’t be among the most popular names in the business industry for no reason. For me, Tita Baby is definitely an icon, not just because of the way she carries herself, but more importantly, for her love for Mindanao.

Two years ago, her daughter, Marga Montemayor-Nograles, suggested to make her advocacy sustainable by providing regular livelihood to the tribes that she has learned to embrace as family over the years. And that gave birth to KAAYO Modern Mindanao Products, a promising social enterprise.

“The decision to produce KAAYO Modern Mindanao products such as wearables, bags, shoes, and accessories, initially started from the basic desire to bring Mindanao to the world, and make those outside of our island to embrace the love for artisanal crafts lovingly and wonderfully crafted by our various Mindanao tribal communities,” the entrepreneur-designer shared.

“As a tourism practitioner, the motivation started two decades ago when tourists hesitated to come our way due to peace and order concerns; thus, I told myself that if they refuse to come our way, we can bring Mindanao to the world by way of introducing Mindanao products such as shawls, scarves and ethnic jackets through travel trade shows and other marketing fora,” she added.

Tita Baby, an industry leader whose advocacy includes microenterprise development, revealed that in coming up with new designs, they get inspiration from the innate creativity of Mindanao artisans. They create products that represent the different Mindanao tribes and marvel at the patterns they create mostly culled from their dreams and spirituality.

“Marga decided to modernize our clothing cuts/forms, but we have retained the originality of the beading, embroidery, and weaving that our various tribes have traditionally created all these decades. We incorporated those traditional creations into modern wearable apparel,” she noted.

KAAYO is super special, especially that it draws its motivation from the rich Mindanawon culture.

“I would like to claim that KAAYO has indeed become special, only because in our hearts and minds, Mindanao is truly special! Our message is about Mindanao being a showcase of modern creativity and artisanship being promoted by Mindanao social entrepreneurs,” she said, adding that KAAYO is a celebration of culture and heritage.

KAAYO’s uniqueness cannot be denied as well because of its ability to promote the culture and tradition of Mindanao through its products.

“Marga has done a splendid job of promoting KAAYO through family, friends and social media who have realized that Mindanao has indeed so much to be proud of,” Tita Baby said.

Their fashion items have been continuously winning the hearts of everyone who sees the beauty and mystic of Mindanao.

“Gladly, many have welcomed the season of artisanship and have given due respect to the meticulous work of our tribal artisans,” she said.

KAAYO’s designs are classic and timeless yet trendy and fashionable at the same time.

When asked to define trendy and fashionable, the well-rounded business leader had this to say: “Currently popular, and that’s what artisanal and ethnic fashion is today. It defines culture and tradition. Thus in KAAYO, we encourage our supporters to always ‘wear a piece of your culture’!”

To experience Mindanao’s kaayo (which means “kindness” in the dialect) through KAAYO’s apparel, fashion accessories, bags, and footwear, please visit https://www.kaayo.com.ph.

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If you have special events and fashion tips to share, or just want to discuss about any fashion-related concerns with me, you are always free to reach me at mendoza.jennygrace@gmail.com.