Filip + Inna

While in Manila, I read on the local newspaper about a few local designers. Apparently, the Filipino fashion panorama is very lively, it’s growing fast and it’s getting more and more attention worldwide. Since one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog is to share inspiring stories, I got in contact with Lenora from Filip + Inna and ask her to join me for breakfast at Manila Hotel to have a chat about the amazing job she is doing to preserve local weaving tradition. She accepted, and, after a few from-Blackberry-to-iPhone-and-back emails we met. Here we go!

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Lenora is a charming and beautiful woman who was born in Mindanau, the southermost island group in the Philippines. When I met her, she was wearing a simple white silk shirt, but my attention was caught by her bangles and by her green skirt. It was beautiful. This is the fabric, hand-embroidered with shells.

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Being born in the most culturally diverse group of islands in her country, during her childhood Lenora has always been exposed to a very interesting indigenous environment: colors, tradition, folk dance and singing. As Lenora herself said during our meeting, she was taking it all in, but she was not sure about what to do with it. And my impression is that even when she enrolled in clothing technology faculty at the University of the Philippines she was still uncertain about it. She told me fashion has always be in the back of her mind, and that it was her unaware dream, but even if back then she was already styling and writing for some magazines and designing clothes for friends, she didn’t know how to make it happen.

When she started thinking about realising her fashion plan by creating her own brand back in 2010 there was only one sure thing: she would not name it by her own name, but she would rather pay a tribute to her country so that fellows Philippinos could rediscover and be proud of their tradition, and foreigners could see the Philippines in a different light. That’s how Filip + Inna was born. Sorry to disappoint you: there are no Filip and Inna, and so no romantic involvement between them!

It all started with a trunk show in the Hamptons in 2010 that she used as a trial market. After that she did another couple of trunk shows before registering Filip + Inna in 2011. Then a few events followed in the US, and since 2012 she has been focusing on her brand full time.

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Since 2013 Lenora has been introducing the brand in the local market by designing a capsule collection for Bayo, Filipino brand. Each piece of the Tboli collection is hand-embroidered by artisans in Lake Sebu. The collection is going very good, so good that a second one is already on its way. This time I really hope I can get a least a piece! By getting to a wider audience (the pieces of the capsule collection have are very reasonably priced), Filip + Inna is trying to introduce Philippinos to the appreciation and understanding of the preciousness of a work-of-the-hands (this is how she calls her creations) that the American market is already showing. As this comes at a price, and Lenora is not sure if locals are willing to pay the premium for it, she is even offering discounts to Philippinos people, as she really wants them to wear her creations.

At the moment the place where she got the best feedback from customers is New York City, where she personally meets most of her clients during trunk shows. She even told me the story about when one of her affectionate customers told her she couldn’t wait for the summer to come so that she could bring the dress from Filip + Inna out of the closet and wear it. She said she felt fulfilled and I do believe it!

Every piece of the Filip + Inna is designed by Lenora, and she matches every one of them with a particular pattern from one of the indigenous groups she works with; in this way they are familiar with the work they are doing and it’s easier for them to adapt it to every garnments.

Then pieces are done and assembled in Manila and sent (via plane+bus+motorcycle) to the mountains where the indigenous groups have their looms. Then each garment is sent back to Manila for quality control. The whole process takes around two weeks.

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On a separate note, the project “Back to the loom” saw the collaboration with John Robshaw Textiles to finance the purchase of new looms and the establishment of a weaving center. Part of the donation will also go into the training of new weavers, and as financial support for them to open a bank account for their business. When she was telling my this story I was amazed. I love fashion, and I love it even more when it’s about endorsement of local know-how.

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Woman from indigenous group that are collaborating with Lenora had the amazing opportunity of earning a living out of their unique skills. And it is reassuring for them to know that for that specific pattern they have no competitors and that they won’t be asked to embroider something they are not familiar with. Lenora goes and visit them from time to time, and loves to spend time with them. As she said, they made mistakes and forgave each other, exactly like it happens in  a normal family.

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It’s not a factory system, and she is not detached from these women, and they are part of the decision making process. She even encourages them to take care of their families and makes sure they are always comfortable with the job they are doing, and she doesn’t want them to work crazy hours to fulfill an order. If necessary, she would just hire more people instead.

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At the moment, Filip + Inna collections include women’s dresses, skirts, kaftans, pants. They are also looking into men and children’s lines.

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And they also have house ware accessories in the pipeline. And wallpaper. As an interior designer, I am particularly interested in this line and can’t wait to know more! Lenora said they would have more information online by March. Stay tuned!

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When Lenora talks about her team she calls it ‘the family’ and can’t hold a smile, and at the moment she has  an intern and an associate, Natasha. But, as she kept repeating, there is room for growth so she doesn’t exclude that one the family might get bigger.

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As our chat was coming to an end, I invited her to come and visit me in Beijing, as she has never been. She said she already has a very busy travel schedule for 2014 – she is planning to visit UK, France, Germany and Austria – but she is also targeting Singapore and HK. I insisted she should make a bigger loop and come and try some Chinese cuisine.

I really hope to meet her again, as I definitely want to know more about the amazing job this passionate woman is doing.

 

For my breakfast meeting with Lenora I was delighted to wear:

Yellow dress: Ochirly

Silver and gold bracelets: Dodo by Pomellato

 

The picture of Lenora and me chatting was taken with my white iPhone 5. All the other amazing pictures are a courtesy of Filip + Inna.

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