It was Kaayo Modern Mindanao that popularized the Bagobo-Tagabawa datu’s headpiece as the versatile, statement-making Tangkulo scarf.
Along with fully hand-beaded T’boli jackets and the Marga crop top as signature pieces, Kaayo became one of the apparel and accessories brands that jumpstarted a beloved contemporary Filipino fashion movement.
The Tangkulo, distinct for its oversized triangle proportions and intricate, vibrant, and contrasting beadwork and pompoms, has been spotted on fashion tastemakers, from Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray to style influencer Cat Arambulo, who Kaayo is collaborating with on a chic, jewel-toned, day-to-night silk collection, coming soon.
Mother-daughter duo Mary Ann “Baby” Montemayor and Marga Nograles started small in 2017. Living up to its Visayan name that translates to “kindness,” Kaayo was meant to provide a livelihood for T’Boli weaver Elena and her daughter Jie Jie, who was about to go to nursing school. Due to Kaayo’s success, Elena and Jie Jie were not only able to build a new house with its own weaving room, but Jie Jie has also taken up her mother’s craft, carrying on the T’Boli textile tradition and heritage for another generation.
But Marga would still think about how to move forward with the brand. “My mom always tells me to go back to why I started in the first place,” she recalls. “We have to remind ourselves that we have to start searching for more women who need our help. It’s easier to work with the tribes we work with now and start making products from there. But there are so many more women out there that need our help.”
Deviating from the seasonality of the fashion cycle and instead focusing on honoring the skills and traditions of Mindanao artisans with a sustainable slow-fashion model, the craft of each tribe that Kaayo works with shapes every unique piece. Reaching out to a new tribe begets a new design.
One tribe turned out to be closer than expected. Marga recalls, “My mom’s good friend and Kaayo fan Bebot Estanislao always knew that her household help Amay and Angga were talented in terms of sewing and weaving. They have been with her for almost 20 years, and her household staff is composed of Amay and Angga’s family and relatives. They are like family to her, so she came up to my mom and said maybe we can help them. We got to know them and found out they are from an indigenous tribe, Ata Manobo.”
The Ata Manobos are from the northwestern portion of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, and Compostela Valley. Their main source of income is employment in banana plantations that abound in the area. The women of the tribe stay home.
“They share that groups have come and taught the women sewing and beading and provided them with machines and equipment some years ago, but they were not provided with raw materials, so nothing of significance has resulted from this endeavor,” Marga shares.
With Kaayo, the Ata Manobo created a belt and a scarf, but these smaller pieces simply couldn’t showcase the artistry of the Ata Manobo beading techniques and patterns, handed down from generation to generation. The idea for a jacket came to Marga during this year’s Datu Bago awarding ceremony, the highest award given in Davao by the city government, where Baby was one of the four awardees. Marga spotted a friend of her mom’s in a colorful jacket that gave her the light-bulb moment.
“We just had to bead it and we know na who can bead,” she says. “The very first sample, perfect na. It really is an Ato Manobo jacket.”
They did a test run of five pieces on the Kaayo Instagram, @kaayo.ph, and it was sold out in a day. Each jacket is fully hand-beaded in the traditional style by the Ato Manobo; its production cannot be rushed and will be available in limited quantities and unique colorways at the Kaayo concept store in SM Aura when it opens on July 2.
Despite the meticulousness required of the intricate beadwork, Marga says, “There’s no problem with the beading. The tribe is so excited to have work. Still, if you have one, that’s the most amazing thing, because I don’t know when I’m going to get more.”
Marga made the journey to the women of the Bagobo Tagabawa of Bitaug, Davao del Sur. “It’s hard to get to them. It takes a three-hour drive from Davao, then 40 minutes into a dirt road path. The women there are so grateful. They appreciated the fact that we went all the way to them,” she shares.
“Their work is so malinis. They’re so proud of their work and are raring to do more,” Marga notes. They started with a revamp of the Tangkulo in elegant all-black and all-white, still textured with its hand beading, handmade pompoms, and texturized fabric, until Marga discovered that the tribe has one of the best tie-dyeing techniques she has seen, giving birth to the new Mary tie-dye shawl.
“The scarf design came to life based on a bestseller from a (now-defunct) brand my mom had with (Miss Universe 1973 and Cultural Center of the Philippines chairperson) Margie Moran called Tribes of the East. It carried silk scarves woven by Maranao women from Maguindanao and Sulu. Among all scarves they sold, this was the perfect size. You can wear it in so many ways, dress it up and down,” Marga explains. Baby taught the Bagobo Tagabawa women how to make the scarf.
Two new pieces feature more T’boli hand beading: the Marielle neoprene peplum jacket and new iterations of the bestselling Marga crop top. Along with the opening of a concept store, this is just a chapter in Kaayo’s rich, colorful ongoing story that will soon include the textile traditions of more Mindanao tribes, as well as (highly covetable!) collaborations that express a new perspective on modern Mindanao.
Kaayo opens on the G/F of SM Aura, Taguig, on July 2. Follow @kaayo.ph on Instagram for updates.
Original article by Philstar