From a bird’s eye view, it would seem as if Lenora “Len” Cabili’s movement towards building her fashion label, Filip+Inna, was a natural progression.

Growing up in Iligan, Mindanao, Cabili was raised in a household that put a premium on local culture. “My mom was very good at involving or marking culture a big part of our everyday life. I remember seeing the Maranaos come to the house in their malongs, always in their  bright colors like fuchsia, yellow, blue. It really left an imprint on me,” she says now. In high school, she herself would be in traditional costumes when she joined the Bayanihan, the Philippine National Folk Dance Company. Then, come college, she earned formal training in fashion, studying clothing technology from the University of the Philippines. Tying the threads together, it only seems logical that she would then go on to build Filip+Inna–a small but internationally recognized clothing line that marries indigenous Filipino designs and craftsmanship with contemporary fashion.

It was at this point, however, that her neat trajectory veered slightly off course.

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“I didn’t think it was time yet [to go into fashion],” she says. “It took me years. I was in the family business first, and then I got sick–and that really pushed me to think about where I was at in my life, and I wanted to find something that had purpose and meaning, something I was really passionate it about.”

Then, on a trip to New York in 2007, she met textile designer John Robshaw, who is well-regarded for his work that draws from his extensive travels. “I remember sitting in his showroom, flipping through the books–they were all about Asian textile. I noticed that he’d encircle all these different villages and write the particular skills that they had. And right there and then, I knew I wanted to do something similar, but within the context of the Philippines.”

Working with the Maranao back home, she began to toy with the concept, even taking it through a homeware stage. But it wasn’t until 2010 when, finally, it arrived at its logical conclusion: A fashion label.

Working collaboratively with the local artisans, Filip+Inna was envisioned as a means of introducing traditional craftsmanship to the urban wardrobe. She began with a few sample garments, but the pick-up was slow. “I went to the States, tried to push it, nothing happened. I came back. No store was buying it.”

At this point, she happened upon another serendipitous contact. Browsing through the internet, she found Indagare, a group that organized pop-up stores in the United States. A few quick email exchanges later, Cabili had secured for herself an invitation to a trunk show in the Hamptons.

INABEL OPERA COAT. Product of a collaboration between Filip + Inna and Balay ni Atong. The fabric is hand-woven by the Ilocano artisans.
INABEL OPERA COAT. Product of a collaboration between Filip + Inna and Balay ni Atong. The fabric is hand-woven by the Ilocano artisans.

Since then, Filip+Inna’s pieces have been sold across the globe, from the Philippines to the Bahamas to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others. From one community of artisans, she now works with 10 different groups, from the T’Boli and the Tausug of Minadano to the Mangyan and the Gadang of Luzon. Highlighting the specifics skills of each group, the pieces marry time-honored crafts with classic cuts in a way that is well-balanced and never disjunct.

But this is not to say that the brand “boomed” in the way one might expect. Filip+Inna is founded on a collaborative spirit, conscious of creating shared value rather than trading in transactions. In an era when fast fashion reigns and still-new clothes are excitedly traded in for their newer counterparts, a brand that will gladly take a slower turnover for the sake of quality pieces and satisfied artisans is nothing short of admirable. Cabili has been conscientious in keeping it small and steady, and that it in every way to her credit.

In this following article by The Edition, learn more about Cabili’s work with the local artisans.

Learn more about Filip+Inna here.

Words by Arianna Lim

Photos by JL Javier

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