In the Philippines, sustainable designers are creating compelling alternatives to fast fashion

“When we encountered this situation, we thought it would certainly be nice if we could simply connect the craftsmen to the market or offer them an apprenticeship,” remembers Ferdinand-Ruiz. “But what would be really life-changing is to have a company that can do that for a long time because that’s the essence of a livelihood. They need their livelihood for a whole year every year.”

In the decade and a half since, Rags2Riches has reinvented apparel manufacturing in the Philippines, collecting scraps of fabric from Manila’s many textile mills and sending it to hundreds of urban artisans, many of whom are stay-at-home moms in the country’s poorest neighborhoods. By collaborating with these artisans, the brand has also revived the popularity of the artisans’ decades-old Basahan Tela technique of stitching scraps of fabric together into new products such as bags, wallets and home goods.

However, during the pandemic, Rags2Riches had to say goodbye to its iconic bags and accessories. “When the pandemic happened, the demand for bags was really low,” explains Ferdinand-Ruiz. “But luckily, people still had to dress up, even if it was just for Zoom or working from home.” The new On Repeat line takes the same imaginative sensibility inherent in their Basahan-Tela accessories, and applies them to clothing design. The result is a collection that is proudly multifunctional and designed to be worn in multiple ways and for multiple occasions. Take for example the sayaw dress, which can be worn in 10 different ways thanks to its detachable aprons and straps. As more material was needed, On Repeat also prompted Ferdinand-Ruiz to reconsider their manufacturing techniques. The garments are a mix of recycled textile waste, organic materials like linen and cotton, and woven fabrics sourced from indigenous tribes — a true showcase of the low-waste options found in the Philippine fashion industry.

“We’re just glad that fashion can be so good,” says Ferdinand-Ruiz. “When you make something valuable and come up with a design that people absolutely love, you can make a lot of arguments in the product. With this product, you can carry people’s lives


Toqa 2021-2022”Midnight smoothie‘ Collection at the 2022 Hawaii Triennial in Honolulu. Model NaleoOlokahi Faurot wears a toqa swimsuit, shorts, sun hat and basahan cloth bag. It takes six hours to make a meter of toqas basahan-tela, named after a distinctly Filipino practice of ingenuity. Model Lana Kristianna wears swimsuit Toqa and bags.

Photo: Jason Chu / Courtesy of Toqa

“Fashion has always had an outsider’s vision of the tropics,” she explains toka Creative Director Isabel Sicat. “It was this superficial imitation that lifted the aesthetic for people here without any grounding or skin at play.” Aiala Rickard, her co-founder and creative director, adds: “It was always cruisewear or resortwear from a tourist’s point of view – never out an islander’s perspective.”

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