Davao City is known for its rich and diverse culture because of its 11 ethnolinguistic tribes from the Lumads and Moro groups.

These tribes are known for their unique traditions, exotic food, and brave people. But one more thing that makes them exceptional is their intricate and sophisticated designs for their fabrics, garments, attire, and accessories.

In promoting the Davao tribes’ designs, Dabawenyo designers and creative directors incorporate these to their creations taking Davao’s culture and traditions to a whole new level thereby preserving it for the next generations to appreciate and take inspiration from.

We talked to five renowned and rising homegrown fashion designers to know about their journey in championing Davao tribes’ designs and traditions.

Wilson Limon, creative director (NIñOFRANCO)

SunStar Davao (S): Take me to your process on how you create designs and clothes inspired by Davao tribes?

Limon: I closely work with our ethno-linguistic artisans. We have pieces hand-made by Bagobo Tagabawa and Maranao Artisans. I first identify which pattern to highlight on our classic silhouettes then I conceptualize the color direction for the collection.

S: Why are you so keen on creating designs out of the rich culture and traditions of these tribes?

Limon: Culture is our defying identity. I aim to preserve the various works of the ethno-linguistic group. If we do not preserve the culture that makes who we are, we are losing our soul. In order to embed the traditional works of the indigenous peoples in the modern times, we foster collaborations that are relatable to our generation.

The tubular skirt (Sun’od) which is hand woven abaca fabric (Inabal) Inabal from Bansalan, Davao del Sur is a traditional textile made from abaca with a special weave, either in patterns of kinatkat or ine, the cloth with a central panel, worn only by women. Designs are symbols derived from their dreams, environment, and the epics of their people. These textiles woven in the ikat-style and colored by vegetable and natural dyes.

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Kenny Ladaga, fashion designer (Kenny Ladaga Couture)

S: Why is it important that you follow a process of creating designs and clothes inspired by Davao tribes?

Ladaga: My process always starts with the cultural story of any Davao Tribes. I always try to learn their culture and learn all the necessary do’s and don’ts of their traditional fabric before I proceed in incorporating it into my designs—this is my way to respect the boundaries that involve their fabrics. With the design, I always incorporate the fabric either as an accent or as a whole main fabric. Once I’m happy with the design, I now put it into production.

S: In your own way, how do you preserve and promote the designs of these tribes?

Ladaga: Creating pieces with fabrics from tribes that we have in our country is like telling a story. It’s a small gesture that I can do in order to preserve and promote their rich culture. That’s why I am very keen on making pieces that incorporate their culture and tradition.

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Richie Uy Delos Santos, fashion designer (STUNNING CREATIONS Philippines)

S: What’s your first creation that involves the intricate designs of a Davao tribe?

Delos Santos: Maranao’s Landap was one of the first fabrics I worked with when I started doing creations inspired by the tribes of Davao. The Landap’s “langkit", the decorative strips of profuse geometric designs, has been my inspiration in creating what my designs will look like and will be appreciated by my clients.

S: How does working with this tribe’s designs allow you to grow and develop as an artist and designer?

Delos Santos: Maranao art is very unique and distinctive, and this is evident in every Landap I have worked with. Working with it allows me to play more with the colors and patterns of the materials. After having a unique piece of creation from it, my designs clearly speak of the Maranao Landap that symbolizes royalty and value in the community.

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Neil Patrick Jimlani, fashion designer (Neil Patrick Jimlani Haute Couture)

S: How important is it to immerse yourself in the community when using their designs for your creations?

Jimlani: As a member of the Tausug tribe, we are inspired by the stories of our great elders. Usually, we derived inspiration from our dance like the pangalay. The way the hand and body movement coincides with the kulintang. In creating, I usually search and interview some people of the moro or indigenous group. Ask for proper endorsement to use the garments, story, or fabrics.

S: Being part of a tribe, why do you think we give importance and value to these tribes’ designs and patterns?

Jimlani: I want to showcase what our tribe has to offer. Tausug is mostly known as a brave fighter but I also want to showcase the rich and regal side of our tribe. It is because of their colorful culture and costumes.

Some of the intricate details of our costume are janggay (brass or silver made elongated nails), tambuko (tiny gold snipped accent in the costume), and the beautiful and colorful fabrics like “pis sabit.”

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Nurainie Ampatuan, fashion designer (Hilyah Signorina)

S: How do you incorporate your own ideas and the story of a tribe?

Ampatuan: For my Hilyah Signorina brand, all of my designs are inspired by my own narratives. One of my inspirations is the authentic traditional attire of Maguindanaon. Before I create designs, I usually understand the materials’ potential first and their function. Also, the pattern’s history and its significance so I can create narrative-based designs.

S: As a Maguindanaon yourself, why do you think there is a need for designers to use traditional and ethnic designs and patterns in your creations?

Ampatuan: When I was studying at Philippine Women’s College of Davao, the experiences and skills that I learned made me realize to focus on what my community can offer with regard to the fashion industry. One of our talented professors, Sir Emi Englis, taught us to promote our own culture and heritage. And now, as a Maguindanao Designer and a Hiyas Sa Kadayawan 2019, it boosted my confidence to preserve our handwoven textile not just from our tribe but also coming from the 11 ethnolinguistic groups of Davao. So I had to keep this purpose because I had this genuine feeling of responsibility to promote our own identity for us to be recognized as talented Moros. ASP