As any hapa will tell you, sometimes it’s a struggle to connect with our heritage. As a non-speaking, first generation hapa, I keep asking myself the same question: how do I claim my heritage in a way that is authentic, non-exploitative, and tangible? Right now, as I scramble to grasp Tagalog syntax and still cannot differentiate regional dialects and accents, one of the most immediate ways I can engage with Filipino culture is to find ways to wear it. To some, this may seem superficial. To others, it may be one of the only ways we are able to embody our culture.
Up until recently, my sense of Filipino clothing was high-style Maria Claras and traditional Filipinañas. They’re great for impressing people on formal occasions…not easy to wear on the street. Thankfully there are a handful of small businesses interested in streamlining Filipino silhouettes and/or incorporating traditional textiles often used for native costume or as in-home textiles into contemporary clothing.
Anthill Fabric Gallery is one such project. Using social enterprise, Anthill is preserving cultural tradition by employing local women weavers and incorporating those traditional fabrics into clothing that can be worn on the street. This particular skirt is made using patterns from Cebu (where Anthill happens to be based), and while some people might cringe at the idea of wearing the same fabric on their person as the tablecloths they grew up with, I find it empowering. I know where my piece was made, and I know it was made with love by my own people.
The fabric is a delicious, airy cotton--made ideally for keeping cool in the tropical heat of the Visayas but PERFECT for the warm Santa Barbara weather! Even so, I can easily see myself wearing this all the way into the winter with tights and a crisp button-down. I’ve paired it with a plain white blouse, chunky heels, and my favorite pearl pendant. The result: a chic ensemble for a day spent enjoying a leisurely Saturday afternoon!
PS: the bag is also a Filipino enterprise! Aranáz bags are handmade in the PI and then exported all over the world—from Harvey Nichols Dubai to Selfridges London to Ambiance Boutique here in Montecito! This oversized rattan style is a wonderful statement bag--everyone's seen rattan on European bistro chairs (or in their grandmother's living room) but not everyone knows that rattan is a celebrated Indonesian and Filipino native reed and practice. Plus, it's just large enough to fit everything and yet small enough to keep around as a clutch (day-to-night dilemmas? Mastered).
Do I feel more Filipino wearing this? Not exactly. I am Fil-Am, and there’s no sense in “trying to be Filipino” if it doesn’t already exist in my being. I can, however, be mindful of my heritage by 1) choosing to carry it with me and 2) directly supporting the craftswomen who are quietly and diligently preserving Pinoy crafts and traditions.
As Marie Kondo will tell you about your house clutter: if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. The same can be affirmed about a wardrobe: our closets can and should be filled with pieces that inspire us by their beauty or their stories. It's taken me my whole life to be comfortable with it, but I am proud to wear pieces of my cultural heritage.