By JOHN LEGASPI
Images by NOEL PABALATE
Bringing the culture of Mindanao to a broader audience, Kaayo Modern Mindanao has opened a popup store at SM Aura packed with bespoke pieces that speak loudly about the rich tapestry that is southern Philippines.
WEAVING THE DREAM
Headed by the brand’s visionary Marga Nograles, with her mother Mary Ann Montemayor right behind her, the brand features the beauty of Mindanao as woven in intricate patterns by Philippine indigenous tribes, such as the T’boli, the Bagobo, and the Mandaya.
As a tribute to Mindanao’s weaving heritage, the brand held a “scarf unknotting” instead of the usual ribbon cutting ceremony using Kaayo’s tangkulo scarf. Gracing the ceremony were the Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, broadcast journalist Karen Davila, former PBA player Chris Tiu, Congresswoman Lani Cayetano, and Marga’s husband cabinet secretary Karlo Nograles. Also among the guests of honor was retail magnate Tessie Sy Coson. Through the brick-and-mortar shop, Kaayo aims to take the Mindanaoan art to the forefront of modern lifestyle. It is also the next bold step for the brand’s commitment to providing a sustainable livelihood to the artisans behind it. Indeed, Kaayo has become a platform to introduce to the world the beauty native to the Philippines as preserved in the pre-Hispanic, precolonial crafts of Mindanao.
Helmed by a mother-and-daughter tandem, the brand has been built with love of family at its core, “family” extending to include the weavers by whom they have been surrounded from the beginning. Two decades before the brand name was coined in 2017, Mary Ann, Marga’s mother, has led a personal crusade in behalf of the indigenous tribes and women’s group in Davao, their hometown. In her youth, Marga was herself a witness to the struggles and the potential of the weavers and the artisans.
“When she got married, when she went into business, that’s when she adopted the advocacy,” says Mary Ann. “From the very start, she knew the advocacy has to be sustainable if it should make any meaningful impact.”
Keeping the advocacy in her heart, Marga founded Kaayo, which translates to “good,” “kindness,” and “to a great extent,” celebrating the rich art of weaving, a centuries-old tradition in southern Philippines that dates back to way before 1521.
“Kaayo is not just me. The brand is Kaayo, not Marga Nograles,” Marga says. “It is the dream of the indigenous tribes we’ve worked with, the women’s group, the textiles, and the beauty of Mindanao that bring the brand to life. It is all of us together, not just one single person.”
In order to create a successful brand, Marga must overcome hurdles as seemingly as insurmountable as Mt. Apo. “Of course, yes, a brand like this is confronted by many challenges,” she says. “We encountered so many problems, especially sourcing the material in Davao. We have to climb mountains and cross the seas to meet our timetable. Other times there are problems like power outage and typhoons that disrupt the workflow.”
But it is in Marga’s nature to look at the bright side of things. “I never really dwell on the negatives. My mindset is ‘When there’s a challenge, there must be a solution.’” She believes that success is a collective enterprise. “It is really about working closely with your partners, forging and developing good relationships with everyone you work with. It’s about bringing these minds together.”
In keeping with its “Malling is More Fun in The Philippines” initiative, SM Supermalls, especially SM Aura, tapped Marga and offered her a space to house the brand. At first, she was happy, but she declined. “I said, ‘No.’ I didn’t think I could afford, let alone sustain it. But SM Aura has been so supportive. They asked me what would work for me, what I could afford. And they guided me through the process and I’m so thankful for everything. I just closed my eyes and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
The popup features the best of Mindanaoan weaves from balud, inaul, and yakan to tinalak in various, modern applications, from formal wear to casuals, for women as well as men, in a wide range of fabrics, from cotton and linen to silk, chambray, and organza. In a multitude of colors, for instance, there is a wide array of tops and skirts made from handwoven inabel and decorated with the ornate T’boli beading. Scarves and bags by the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe are made from naturally dyed indigenous materials adorned with handmade pompoms. The brand’s latest offering are block heel sandals with indigenous prints in their soles, a collaboration with Marikina shoemaker Stella Quimbo.
“The Kaayo woman is proud of her heritage and who is here to support, encourage, and bring pride back to the Philippines,” says Marga. “I’m very happy, proud, and thankful for all the blessings and for everyone here supporting Kaayo. It’s a little overwhelming for us, but salamat Kaayo!”