Volume and detail. Bright lights and vivid colors. Towering installations and quirky pieces. At every corner, there is something to catch the eye. For a first timer, entering the exhibit halls can be quite overwhelming. But once the mental dust settles, the beauty in each of the pieces on display emerges, begging to be appreciated.

The leading design and lifestyle event in the Philippines, Manila FAME opened its doors on October 16 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. The biannual event, organized by the Department of Trade and Industry through the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, features a multitude of quality local handicrafts, interior décor, clothing and accessories that would surely entice global consumers. Manila FAME, which has been running since 1983, aims to make known to the global market Philippine manufacturers and producers. One of the big names gracing the 60th edition include German designer Detlef Klatt. Renowned Filipino fashion designers Cesar Gaupo, Lulu Tan-Gan and JC Buendia have collections on display, curated by fashion icon Josie Natori.

Eco-friendly products abound

Going green seems to be one of the trends at Manila FAME. A handful of exhibitors proudly display their products made out of native or recycled materials.

Who knew that a plant as common as agsam, a wild fern found in Surigao, could be used as adornment? Gina Nebrida Ty of Agsam Fashion Fern discovered the Manobo tribes people’s 40-year-old weaving tradition, and decided to introduce this to a wider market in the form of jewelry. The main material used by the weavers is dried agsam. Ty takes the weaved agasam and cleverly incorporates various materials like beads, ribbons, gemstones, and Capiz shells to make the jewelry pieces more fashionable.

Los Baños Handmade Paper Enterprises uses local raw materials like abaca fiber, cogon grass, and rice straw for their products. Cooperator Fe Frialde says they started out making handmade paper but later on added boxes and containers due to customer demand.

Ty and Frialde say their products are mostly for export, with Ty adding that foreigners really appreciate the ingenuity and craftsmanship of Filipinos.

KILUS or Kababaihang Iisa ang Layuning Umunlad ang Sambayan, a multipurpose cooperative based in Barangay Ugong, Pasig City, manufactures bags and accessories made of recyclable materials like juice drink packs, rice and onion sacks, and tarpaulins. Marichris Legaspi, currently the marketing manager of the KILUS Foundation, relates that while their products sell well abroad, the local market remains unresponsive. Legaspi thinks that this is due to the locals’ lack of appreciation for recycled materials, and she hopes that in future there will be a shift in mentality toward these kinds of products.

Local crafts get a chance to shine

To get support in the country, this 60th edition of Manila FAME partnered with local government units to promote products from local regions.

One of the prominent exhibits is that of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte, which highlights the use of abel cloth and repurposed wood. The Ilocos Norte provincial government is actively promoting the arts and crafts industry of the region, and theirs was the centerpiece exhibit at the event. At a press conference during Manila FAME, Governor Imee Marcos describes the Ilocano style as simple, Spartan, minimalist, and unembellished. She further adds that Ilocos Norte can be developed as a brand since the Ilocano identity is already “quite defined.” “We have no choice. We have to think big,” says the governor.

Melina (left) is assisted by Auring (right) as they weave abel, a cotton-based cloth from the Ilocos region at Manila FAME held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. (Photo by Chris Quintana)
Melina (left) is assisted by Auring (right) as they weave abel, a cotton-based cloth from the Ilocos region at Manila FAME held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

Piracy a challenge to local producers

Thinking big and having quality products prepare a designer or a manufacturer for the global market. However, once in the global market, designers and manufacturers are faced with new challenges, and one of them is piracy.

Ladi Velasco, one of the designers, says that the intellectual property rights situation in the Philippines is currently a challenge. Flor-Sans Handicraft of Paete, Laguna, uses driftwood to make unique and intricate furniture and art pieces. Although designers are able to create good and new designs that are attractive to the export market, these are still prone to piracy. Mark Dominic Pajarillo, export manager of RedFern Arts and Crafts, says that there should be government support especially when it comes to protection of intellectual property rights. Pajarillo adds that the Filipino design is exceptional but a bit pricey because of the craftsmanship that it takes to produce these pieces. Most makers are using either traditional artisan methods or indigenous and not-so-common materials. Pieces are made one at a time, and no two pieces are exactly the same. This makes competition with industrial manufacturers who mass-produce art pieces quite difficult.

Toward design and manufacturing competitiveness

The use of local raw materials and repurposed and recycled materials add to the appeal of Philippine-made products. The Filipino style and design are starting to get noticed by foreign consumers, and local producers are gaining access to the global market.

Events like Manila FAME certainly invigorate the local arts and crafts industry. Filipino designers and manufacturers and their crafts are now able to compete globally in terms of design and innovation. There is still a long way to go, but through the collective efforts of all the stakeholders, the local producers are sure to take off.

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