An expo in the Philippines featured textiles made of banana, pineapple, and abaca fiber as a way to demonstrate how technology can be used to enhance natural fiber textiles.
During the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Month, office uniforms made from tropical textiles spun from natural fibers got some exposure. These designs were created by local artisans, fusing fashion and innovation.
The event, which takes place in the first quarter of each year, promotes innovation in clothing production by raising awareness of regional fabrics and fostering partnerships between business leaders and academic institutions.
The fashion show held this year, which aimed to increase commercial production of native tropical fabrics made from silk and natural fibers derived from plants like banana, pineapple, and abaca, was the event’s high point. The exposition, which has been around for ten years, targets farmers, handloom weavers of natural textiles, merchants and millers, as well as manufacturers of various kinds of uniforms.
South-East Asia’s textile industry was invented in the Philippines. As early as 1906, large-scale textile manufacturing got underway. The export value of the apparel and textile sector fell from US$3 billion in the 1990s to US$1.2 billion by 2016, however, as a result of changes in global trade, preferential policies, a lack of technical expertise, and investments.
However, the nation maintains its competitiveness in the mid-to high-end market thanks primarily to its highly regarded embroidery and intricate design skills, including handwoven fabrics made from native fibers.
Julius Leano Jr., officer-in-charge of the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-PTRI) says that the country needs to innovate and while there is a need to “differentiate what is truly Philippine textile, the cornerstone has to be science, technology and innovation”.
The Department of Science and Technology is assisting the industry in areas like new natural dyes that replace hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of textiles while creating opportunities for local communities and producers. Natural textiles have expanded from wearable items to nonwoven applications for filtration, the automotive industry, bags, and footwear.
The Philippine Tropical Fabric Law (Republic Act 9242) mandated the use of local fabrics for the uniforms of public servants and employees in an effort to encourage domestic textile production using native materials and fibers, particularly abaca and pineapple.
Abaca fiber also referred to as Manila hemp, is derived from a species of banana and is valued for its durability in saltwater strength. 85 percent of the world’s abaca supply is produced in the Philippines, which is also the largest producer.
Pineapple fiber, which is recovered from the plant’s leaves, is soft and lightweight and often combined with silk or polyester. The nation’s traditional clothing, known as Barong Tagalog, famously incorporates it.
On the sidelines of the event, Leo Lagon, co-CEO of the locally produced clothing company Bayo, stated that, despite the law, the main problem is the outdated government procurement regulations that give the lowest bidder priority.
“Due to the cultural appropriation and lack of mass production, the materials (indigenous fibers) are already expensive. Moreover, it takes time to come up with designs, even years,” Lagon explained. “Additionally, innovation is not cheap, particularly if you try to address sustainability concerns.”
However, he claimed that this is not taken into account by government procurement law.
“The solution is for the government to adopt green procurement policies and buy from companies with an emphasis on sustainability,” Lagon added.
He thinks the next challenge is figuring out how to demonstrate that these businesses are actually doing it for the environment and not just to look good.