HIS name first came to our collective consciousness when he copped the Grand Prize of the Stellar Mindanao Young Designers Competition by the Davao City Fashion Design Council in August 2016.
It has been a steady rise in the fashion world, but the big bang came when Miss Universe Catriona Gray posted a selfie wearing Wilson Ninofranco Limon's creation last January 5, 2019 and having only good words about it, and that wasn't the first time that she donned the label.
“Dropped by the @missuniverse headquarters today super jetlagged but giant cups of tea and coffee are getting me through! In a denim skirt hand-embellished with mother of pearl by the Tagakaolo tribe @ninofranco.ph @ton_lao,” Catriona posted on Instagram, and we bet, just about every fashion designer was wishing he or she was at Limon's place at that time.
Limon’s story is where every student of art and design, and any discipline in fact, can take inspiration from.
The fame that he is enjoying now and the building blocks that led him to this new phase in his very young career was born when he was assigned a thesis subject. Every college and post-college student knows the agonies we go through in thesis such that many just move on and forget about it once passed. Not Limon.
“My love affair with the ethno linguistic group started almost five years ago when I was working on my grad show thesis collection for my Bachelor’s Degree at Philippine Women's College of Davao. We were tasked to reinvent the traditional and the ethnic into contemporary wearable pieces,” he told SunStar Davao.
He was assigned the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe, the tribe residing on the foothills of Mt. Apo, who have through time been protecting the country's highest peak as their ancestral domain. “Tagabawa” means “of the south,” Bagobo-Tagabawa means they are the Bagobo tribe of the south referring to the borderlands of Davao City and Davao del Sur.
“The name of the tribe is familiar but I didn’t have prior knowledge as to what they do so I went to their cultural office in Lubugan, Toril to ask their endorsement on who to interview regarding their arts and crafts. They endorsed me to Bae Arlyne Salazar, the traditional artisan for beading. I also went to Bitaug in Bansalan, Davao del Sur to interview the weaver Vivencia Mamites.”
From there, it has been one immersion to another as Limon was drawn into the folds of the indigenous peoples communities, mesmerized by the colors and patterns, and learning more about their ways and crafts.
He has Prof. Emi Englis, PWC's Program Chair for Fashion Design and Industrial Design, to thank for teaching the fashion and design students the protocols on how to facilitate interviews and immersions in the communities. Along with it came the lessons in getting free prior and informed consent to use specific designs and patterns and engage with the communities through livelihood opportunities.
The #ninofranco label is now working with five IP communities: the Bagobo Tagabawas in Toril and Bansalan, the Tagakaulos and Blaans from Malungon Sarangani, and the Tbolis from Lake Sebu South Cotabato.
“Our partnership helped them earn for a living in without having to leave their families,” he said.
He is over the moon with Catriona's post and only has good words for the 2018 Miss Universe for her help in spreading the advocacy in promoting and preserving the talent of our artisans since she was still in the competition.
“Now that she’s already the Miss Universe, her influence made a huge impact and many people started to appreciate and patronize local made products. For me, she is the best ambassador for championing contemporary pieces with a touch of our culture,” he said.
He looks at this boost as a challenge to create and immerse. He is working on new design patterns and silhouettes and intends to reach a much bigger audience this year, because it's not everyday that a fashion designer is highly endorsed by the reigning Miss Universe and there are the communities who are greatly benefitting from his success.