The trend in fashion may constantly change but what will probably always be a must in any trend is the edginess of the fashion item and garment while remaining to be wearable.
This is so with the founding of Kaayo Modern Mindanao in 2016 by Mary Ann Montemayor and her daughter Marga Nograles, which helped widen and improve the definition of Mindanao fashion.
Montemayor’s connection and relationship with the indigenous people in T’boli, South Cotabato started in 2002 when she was tapped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and New Zealand Aid to do product development for the six Lake Sebu People’s Organization (PO).
Montemayor recalled how this initial connection with the POs of Lake Sebu had taught and shown her the crafts of the T’boli – weaving, beading, and brass-making.
Montemayor earned the friendship of the T’bolis and became an advocate of the fashion garments they create.
“I was in tourism, so in all our conventions and trade missions, I would always wear the fashion garments that the T’boli created because I believe that is how you sell the destination. That was how we sold Mindanao. Other people will see what I am wearing and appreciate it, they will ask where I got it from. Then I will tell them about the place and about the people who work on it and then our culture. In that way, Mindanao is being promoted,” Montemayor said.
Her daughter grew up seeing artifacts and antiques in their house. She had seen unique patterns in the wardrobe of her mother. She got exposed to the type of crafts of the IPs in South Cotabato. Nograles was the one who suggested to her mother that they make their help to the IP community of South Cotabato more sustainable by providing them a constant livelihood.
Thus was born Kaayo Modern Mindanao.
Nograles, who is a congressional spouse, has already been modeling the garments during national and local events just as her mother did.
“We took this interest as a provision for the IP community. Why are the people very curious and attracted of this? This must be a provision from above. We believe they are very talented because not all of them are educated and yet look at the craftsmanship, the artistry, and the creativity of their works. It really is a divine gift. We tell them to take care of it because it is a special gift,” Montemayor said.
Since they started Kaayo Modern Mindanao in 2016, they not only help the T’boli of South Cotabato but the Mandaya and the Manobo of Caraga and the Bagobo Tagabawa of District 3, Davao City and of Davao del Sur.
“There’s a sense of pride of their culture and of their artistry because to them it is a form of art. When you provide them livelihood and there’s income coming in, they are happier... They are proud that it is a labor of love because it is artisanal,” she said.
Completed but bare tops, skirts, jackets, vests, and scarves designed by Nograles herself are sent to the community together with the instructions on the designs of where to put the weaves and the beadings.
Montemayor said they are very conscious and respectful of the patterns of the community. Even when they have the objective of modernizing Mindanao fashion through traditional patterns, she said the respect for the patterns of the community remains.