Her brand Kaayo has an almost cultlike following, ranging from Sec. Berna Puyat of the Department of Tourism, social media star Catherine Arambulo Antonio, and food writer Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi to actresses Dawn Zulueta and Solenn Heussaff, but until now, it’s been under the radar, as she shipped often from her hometown of Davao and only accepted orders online.
That’s set to change on Tuesday, July 2, as Marga Nograles opens the very first Kaayo brick-and-mortar pop up in Manila, at SM Aura. The store will showcase the best of Modern Mindanao collections, and will introduce many Manileños to her beloved pieces, which incorporate designs and styles from different tribes in Mindanao such as the Bagobo, T’boli, Mandaya, and the Maguindanaoan weavers.
Marga says she doesn’t consider herself a designer, as it was an unexpected journey for her.
“It wasn’t something I planned. It just happened for me. I started with this brand, Kaayo, only because in the beginning, what I wanted to do was really just to help these tribes,” Marga says.
Having grown up around these tribes, she would have a lot of women come to her for their financial needs, but instead of giving them cash, Marga decided to give them something even better—empowerment to make money.
Initially, she would only buy something the tribes had made such as their jackets, and she would sell it to her friends, but it turned out to be a hit. After realizing that there was a big market for tribal wear, Marga decided to collaborate with Mindanaoan tribes to create clothes. Thus her brand Kaayo was born.
Marga’s partnership with the tribes from Mindanao became the tribe’s source of livelihood, and every piece of clothing has a different story to tell.
“I’m in this business to bring in a little creativity and [so] I’m able to help also,” she says.
Marga considers herself to be immensely blessed, and with all the blessings, she says it’s time to give back.
Her style is always classic with a twist. A good fit with something more fun, such as an accent. With her line Kaayo, she has found a way to mix her timeless taste with tinges of Mindanaoan fashion.
Born and raised in Davao, Marga says that’s the reason she wanted to work with women from Mindanao as she had known them for a long time.
“Why Mindanaoan fashion? That’s my roots. That’s who I am. What I want to do now is to use these treasures that I have in Mindanao, and tweak [and] modernize them to make them wearable fashion for the Philippines and eventually outside the Philippines,” she says.
By working very closely with them, Marga uses the talents and cultures of the Mindanaoan tribes to bring her designs to life. One example is the Bagobo tribe, who has a certain way of beading that cannot be replicated, a well-kept secret in Mindanao, even within the tribe.
“I wanted to apply this technique to modern pieces to bring the Bagobos to the world. So they see the culture and the talent in Mindanao,” Marga says.
Her dream for Kaayo is for it to be an instrument in uplifting Mindanao and bringing their culture and talent to the world. In the future, she plans to help Mindanao in terms of education, health, and more.
Marga’s favorite creations from her line are the crowd favorite tangkulo scarf from the Bagobo, the mikado jacket from the T’boli, the linen long sleeves from the Mandaya, and her inaul ball skirt by the Maguindanao weavers.
“I just want really to uplift and make Mindanao a better place, and to bring Mindanao up on a pedestal because for the longest time, hindi kami pinapansin (we’re not noticed). Now is our time to shine, and now is the time to showcase the treasures we have and where we’re from,” Marga beams.
The concept store at the SM Aura will be open for three months.
Asked how the partnership came about, Marga says, “SM Aura approached me to open a store. Right away I said that I was not ready for that and I definitely would not be able to sustain or afford a store, but they were so supportive and really worked with me, asking what I was comfortable with, what I could afford. After much back and forth, I decided to close my eyes and go for it. They have been so supportive and I am thankful! I’d like to thank Kara Ponce Enrile for bringing Candice Gil (SM leasing manager) and me together. And thank you to SM Aura and Candice for believing in Kaayo and moving mountains to make this happen!”
In the pipeline are two exciting collaborations, a first for the brand. Marga shares, “One with my dear friend and founder of MovEd Alex Eduque, which will launch late July, with proceeds going to MovEd, and the other collection will be with my other dear, dear friend Cat Arambulo Antonio, which will launch in September.” (with reports from Pauline Tria)