This year marks the Philippines’ 65th year of diplomatic ties and 150th year of consular ties with the Netherlands. In that light, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands organized a series of events with the theme “Inspire Innovation: Leading Sustainable Innovations Toward a Progressive World” to celebrate the many years of trade and collaboration between both countries.
Part of the celebration was a fashion exchange program, where three young talents from both countries were flown halfway across the globe to immerse themselves in each other’s cultures and design techniques. Representing the Philippines were Nina Gatan, Damaris Chua, and Riza Bulawan, who traveled to the Netherlands last July and attended Amsterdam Fashion Week. From the Netherlands were Britta Bentele, Zena Ankersmit, and Loes Van Nijnatten, who flew to the Philippines last April to attend design workshops and visit local embroidery centers.
As the culminating activity to the exchange program, as well as capping off this year’s Manila Fashion Festival, a runway show was held to showcase the three-piece collections each participant came up with.
But first, after dinner and cocktails, ambassador to the Philippines H.E Marion Derckx opened the program with glowing words on the partnership between the Philippines and the Netherlands, two maritime nations that have been working together for the betterment of both countries’ coastal protection plans and overall economic improvement. “Since the 70’s, the Netherlands has always been one of the largest investors in the Philippines; always one of the four largest. Last year, we were number one. Trade has grown enormously over the last five years,” she shared.
“How can you make Manila a better place with the private sector and meanwhile work on social housing and improve social and economic infrastructures? Similar things can be done in agriculture, also with sustainable solutions. In the Netherlands, a hundred fifty years ago, poverty was quite normal amongst farmers. Today we are the second largest exporter in the world, so we have something to share.”
What does this have to do with fashion, though? “If you want to have sustainability, you need innovation. If you want innovation, you need creativity,” Marion said. “I think Filipinos and the Dutch are good craftsmen and we’re quite creative, and we said, [with] all the talk about sustainability and innovation, let’s make it tangible. Let’s see what it looks like. Let’s mix the two and see what happens.”
Before the runway show started, the Dutch Embassy also recognized the achievements of Sir Rene Cristobal of the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines and founder of the Association of Professionalism in Overseas Employment, Inc. He was appointed knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau on behalf of King Willem-Alexander. “He has always been advocating for the well-being of seafarers,” Marion said of Cristobal’s years and years of contributions to the prospering relationship between both countries. “[He is] a very important partner in stimulating of Dutch and Filipino trades.”
Kicking off the show was Riza Bulawan’s collection—her personal interpretation of the theme of innovation for sustainability. “The crafts we have in the Philippines, they’re basically dying. I feel we have to create an interest in these crafts so that there’s a growing market for it to keep it alive.”
Britta Bentele followed with designs on her view of the Filipino identity based off her readings on Filipino history and culture. “It’s about appreciating the given but not imitating it,” she shared. “Filipinos can go much far because there’s so much; there’s such a richness [in the culture]. With my collection, I just want to give[…]and to show how amazing the people are.”
Nina Gatan centered her collection around the use of Hinabol, a fabric produced in Bukidnon. “Since the demand is low, they don’t make Hinabol fabric that much anymore. By making use of this, we were able to sustain from leading communities and continue the vision and support of these communities.”
Inspired by jeepney art, Zena Ankersmit’s collection is bright and playful. “I was really fascinated by all those cars—they’re all really shiny and all the bright colors. And to me it almost seemed like it was an unofficial competition of who has the most amazing ride.” Her designs made use of religious images, a cheeky nod to the strangely common use of divine icons as jeepney decor.
Taking inspiration from a Dutch fairy tale called Spin Head and Miss Snow White, Damaris Chua produced a whimsical yet wearable collection by using a mix of modern fabrics and native Filipino textiles. “For my collection, I wanted to make them wearable because I believe that if you can reuse garments, that’s a step towards sustainability, because reusability and sustainability go hand in hand.”
Loes van Nijnatten’s collection focuses heavily on conveying a handcrafted quality to her clothes. “I chose to work with the weaving technique because, for me, it’s a really good translation for the collaboration between the Netherlands and the Philippines. But also society here…I was very surprised by that. So many people living next to each other in one big city, and for me that was the idea of weaving.”
Click on the slideshow above to see all the looks from the show.