In a previous article by The Edition, we introduced Lenora “Len” Cabili, founder of Filip+Inna, a fashion label that intertwines traditional, local craftsmanship and contemporary, classic fashion. Here Cabili sits down with us to discuss the creative process, her relationship with the brand’s artisans, and how Filip+Inna supports the drive for sustainable, ethical fashion.

You’re work with time-honored weaves and traditional craftsmanship. How do you fuse these with contemporary fashion?

It’s all different because the artisans have different traditions and different ways of doing things.

When I start working with a group, I give them free reign in order to encourage their creativity, because they are part of the design process. I always say that it is a collaboration with them. So I give them a blank canvas, whether it’s their traditional garment or a piece of cloth or an a-line dress–I just tell them they can do whatever they want to do with it. Once I see it again, then I start looking at other traditional patterns and then slowly I start to incorporate them into more contemporary colors, things like that.

It’s don’t tell them, “Do this.” I really limit it according to what they’re capable of. It’s not about me just staying where I am and having them do what I want. It’s about doing research and looking into what they’re capable of doing and then starting from there. And then the contemporary aspect of it comes in once that relationship gets going. It’s a gradual process, and I think they appreciate it because they are part of the design process.

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

So once the designs come from them, is the next step purely your own creative process?

It’s basically telling them that we admire the work that they do, and then we ask, ‘Can we do this? Can we put this on a skirt? Can we repeat this pattern?”

They’re more open to it because we have a personal relationship. They know me, they basically know what’s going on in my life. So if there’s anything they don’t want to do, they tell me. I will adjust. I’m always the one who will adjust. If they say it’s hard to embroider on that fabric, then that’s okay.

How often do you visit the artisans?

Every month I try to go out and visit one of them.

I love going out and visiting them. I love the fact that they invite me into their homes and to sleep there–that aspect of my job I really enjoy doing. It gets tiring at some point, but I do love meeting with them and spending time with them.

YAB BOLERO. Handwoven abaca from Lake Sebu embellished with mother-of- pearl beadwork.

There is a growing consciousness among consumers to veer away from fast fashion in favor of sustainable and ethical clothing. How does Filip+Inna embody this consciousness?

When we do design a piece of clothing, we go for the classics. So whether it’s an a-line dress or a pencil skirt, we make sure that it’s a classic. We hope that it’s something that keep will keep and not pass on to someone else.

The pieces are hand made, of course. And I’m proud of the fact that the artisans can work within the contexts of their own homes. So they’re able to take care of their kids, they’re able to farm, they can do other things and at the same time they have the option to earn money from the brand. And we’ve been able to find a good rate for their work. Every year we look for ways to augment their earning capabilities.

I think the fact that from five, we’re at maybe 60 to 80 with the T’boli. And that’s not even me actively hiring them, they just tell their cousins about it. It’s just them talking to other people, and so the brandjust grew. I think that speaks for itself, that we’ve been able to grow. I don’t think that would’ve happened if they weren’t happy.

You mentioned being ethical. Yes, it’s really about giving due honor and respect to their craft. I think the artisans are becoming more–not that they weren’t proud of it, but I think they appreciate that outsiders appreciate their culture and what they do, and that makes them even more proud of their heritage.

The first image features a black cotton denim jacket hand-embroidered by Tagakaolo tribe.

Learn more about Filip+Inna here.

Words by Arianna Lim

Photos by JL Javier

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