When Indigenous Fashion Becomes 'Colorful and Funky'
For Len Cabili and Ava Pessina, a trip to Lake Sebu was what it took to launch a limited fashion collection that promoted the work of women artisans from three Filipino indigenous groups. Cabili, the founder of the brand Filip+Inna, said the collaboration with the photographer was unique because of its unexpected beginnings. “It just evolved. We went on a trip to Lake Sebu and we were chatting about her interests. It was so natural,” she told Town&Country. “What’s special is that she has met the artisans and she knows the whole process that goes into making a collection.”
Around two years ago, that trip to South Cotabato struck a chord with Pessina. She told us how she rode on the back of motorbikes, through the green, and across rivers and pineapple plantations to meet Filip+Inna's group of artisans. Pessina adds, “From these remote places, you would not expect to find embroidered clothing to be shown at trunk shows worldwide. The people were so warm and welcoming, often inviting us for meals at their homes, where they did most of their embroidering.” The photographer could not put her camera down for a second because every shot told stories of “untouched nature and rich native culture.”
Len Cabili and Ava Pessina
Pessina in the collection's best-selling jacket
The collection debuted on the morning of March 15 at Lanai and quickly flew off the racks. As a whole, the collection pieces reflected a halfway point in Pessina’s personal style since her wardrobe either consists of “colorful and funky” pieces or simple staples. “I am attracted to pieces full of color, patterns, and interesting textures. I love to mix different pieces together and complete an outfit by accessorizing,” she said. While Filip+Inna is known for its fully-embroidered designs, Pessina wanted to tone down the embroidery and beading to make the collection more accessible. Price points range from P5,000 to P12,000.
The timely collaboration between the two friends could not have been a better match, as Pessina gushed how she was a fan of Cabili’s work even before they had been introduced in New York. Initially, Pessina admired the advocacy that Filip+Inna had been forwarding, working to empower artisans and providing them with a source of income through their unique skills. This melded well with Pessina’s sentimental nature. “I really appreciate the history in a piece when wearing it, whether it belonged to my mother, grandmother, or even my father,” she said. “As the fashion industry is one of the biggest pollutants to our home planet, I try to shop and support sustainably made or locally-crafted products as much as possible.”
In the past, she’s designed or altered her own clothes, but she admits this is her first time doing anything like this.
For the collaboration, Cabili and Pessina worked with artisans from the Lumban, Manobo, and T’boli tribe. The Lumban group specialized in the embroidery, the Manobo tribe produced some of the smallest tie-dyed patterns Pessina has ever seen, and the T’boli artisans provided the cross-stitch embroidery and mother of pearl beadwork seen on some of the garments. The unique techniques and materials were well-received on the collection’s first day of selling. “I thought it would look cool to do some fancy beadwork on a casual jacket,” Pessina shared. “It ended up being our bestseller and sold out on the first day. I couldn’t believe it!”
The passion for design seems to come naturally to Pessina, with both her parents involved in the design industry in some way. Her mother, Mercedes Zobel, was an interior designer who worked with her father, Carlo Pessina in opening a furniture and home accessories company. “I’ve been greatly influenced by my parents and their friends who I grew up around. They were painters, fashion designers, jewelers, photographers, and writers,” she said. “I have always been interested in fashion and all things design, constantly taking classes or picking up new skills wherever I can.”