Dubai: Filipino designer Dita Sandico-Ong has brought her elegant banana wraps to the UAE to clothe the women of today as part of her sustainable fashion advocacy.
Wrap artiste Sandico-Ong has just finished international business trips to Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam, and made her last stop in Dubai last week to share not only her designs but also her cause.
The wraps are made from natural fibres, particularly abaca or manila hemp, a tree-like plant indigenous to the Philippines of the same genus as the common banana. Abaca fibre is the strongest natural renewable fibre in the world, with 85 to 90 per cent of the world’s supply coming from the Philippines.
The wraps are Sandico-Ong’s version of the neo-Filipiniana, the traditional long, elegant dresses with butterfly sleeves worn by Filipinas during the Spanish colonial era.
All the fibres used are planted, harvested, processed and woven in the Philippines in what was then considered an already dying industry. Sandico-Ong revived the industry 17 years ago, which now provides livelihood to two communities in the Philippines composed of around 200 farmers, knotters, dyers, and weavers and their families.
“In so many years, their children have gone to school, they’ve finished their college degrees. Now they have teachers, nursery, grade school. They see their parents working on the loom, they’re not driven away from home. They don’t have to go far to different countries to provide for their children,” Sandico-Ong, who has been in the fashion industry for 28 years, told Gulf News.
Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Grace Princesa, who herself is an advocate of the wrap and wears them at different functions, said Sandico-Ong’s passion is rife with opportunities for Filipinas back home for it can help minimise feminised migration. She hopes to see Filipinas work abroad by choice and not because of need.
“Hopefully, if we can give livelihood to the women, then we can give them a choice not to go out [of the country] and be given jobs that might not be good for them,” Princesa told Gulf News.
“Maybe by just buying a wrap, they are able to send a child to school. The opportunity, the thought, the whole process of being able to help is there,” Sandico-Ong said.
Asked why she chose abaca of all fibres, Sandico-Ong said the distinct quality of the fabric stands out for her.
“It [abaca fibre] is versatile, it’s very easy to manipulate, and it’s a very strong fibre too. So these are all the qualities inherent in the fabric,” she said.
These characteristic of the abaca are what Filipinos should capitalise on, Princesa said.
“Our first market will be ourselves first — to be proud of what we produce by supporting Philippine products and Help Pinas (Philippines) and a Pinay [Filipina],” Princesa said.
“The abaca represents the Filipino — strong, resilient, exceptional. I hope before the end of my term, each home of Filipino has a piece of abaca to remind ourselves of who we are — a strong, resilient, exceptional race—which sometimes we forget. Some people think we’re just household service workers, which we’re not,” she added.