Our identities are composed of a multitude of narratives. While others discover their identities earlier in life, there are people who are still in the process. For many of us who left the Philippines or grew up outside of it, our connection to our selfhood may have been lost, repressed, or weakened over time.
I have lived in Canada for 5 years. And I'll be honest, during my earlier years here, there were moments when I would ask myself, “What does it mean to be Filipino?” I could sometimes feel my memories of the Philippines fading over time, as I slowly built a new life here.
Then, one long summer, I decided to make a change. I wanted to be more connected to my Filipino heritage and community. At the same time, I loved telling stories and highlighting the narratives of others. Hence, I poured my love for storytelling into an online organization called Ihayag and the rest, as they say, is history.
When I heard Victor’s story during the online Kwentuhan with Cambio & Co., I saw a parallelism in our journey of reconnection. Like him, I wanted to use my passion to rediscover my Filipino heritage. It was heartwarming to hear about his humble beginnings, outstanding achievements, and the purpose that drives him. His story reminded me of my own reconnection journey: a tumultuous pilgrimage of uncertainty and (un)learning towards a future of optimism and self-confidence as someone in the diaspora.
Victor Mari Baguilat Jr. is an Ifugao fashion designer. The Ifugao people, one of the many Indigenous communities in the Philippines, reside in the province of Ifugao in Central Cordillera of Northern Luzon, which is a place rich in biodiversity and forestry. They have overcome violent and colonialist forces throughout history, and continue to face oppression to this day.
The name ‘Ifugao’ is believed to be from the word ipugo which means “from the hill”. The rice terraces found in this province are known to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of their rich ancestral history. The Ifugao are industrious people as seen in their various forms of art, namely woodcarving, hudhud―“an epic dealing with hero ancestors sung in a poetic manner”―and textiles. The latter is the artform that Victor aims to preserve.
Wearing a grey robe woven by Ifugao artisans, Victor Baguilat Jr. of Kandama Collective recalls his past and reflects on his identity during a Kwentuhan with Cambio & Co. Victor’s vibrance is so contagious; you can feel his passion and pride for his Ifugao roots and for Kandama Collective emanate through the screen.
The Kandama Collective is a social enterprise that celebrates Indigenous heritage and empowers Ifugao women weavers of Julongan Village in Kiangan, Ifugao. Using innovative and sustainable product design, Kandama Collective expresses the timeless elegance of Indigenous art through their textiles.
Photocredit from Victor’s Instagram @victorrific_life
These handwoven fabrics are the hallmark of Victor’s designs, which have graced Paris Fashion Week, Melbourne Fashion Week, Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, and more!
Victor is a creative force of the fashion scene, both in the Philippines and abroad. As a storyteller of his Ifugao heritage, he makes Indigenous textiles part of people’s everyday vocabulary: increasing his media presence with influential figures adorned in Kandama designs. Every piece of his work is a testament to his unwavering vision of bolstering Indigenous heritage and Ifugao narratives in the mainstream.
Victor’s Journey of Reconnection
There is a saying that to be in the right place, one needs to be in the wrong place first. Victor mentions how his law school years were the preface to his search for Ikigai.
Ikigai is a Japanese idea that translates to one’s reason and purpose in the world. It is a framework that expresses the intersection of our profession, mission, and passion towards a more fulfilling life.
Photo from Victor’s Kwentuhan on finding his Ikigai.
Victor reflects on the multilayered reason behind his chosen philosophy. He shares how the interconnectedness of culture, fashion, and identity gave him so much joy in pursuing Kandama Collective.
He said, “When I was thinking of a social enterprise or an idea for a social enterprise, I needed to think of the things that made me happy. So, there was culture and tradition through fashion, my Indigenous heritage, and my identity as part of that happiness.”
His Ikigai solidified with the creation of Kandama Collective a year after joining the Young Social Entrepreneurs Competition in 2016. His participation in international fashion shows in 2018 put both his brand and the narrative of Ifugao weaves on the global stage.
As someone who did not grow up within the Ifugao community, Victor felt it was important to reconnect with his identity. For many of us in the diaspora, Victor’s story may resonate with us.
Just like him, living in close proximity to our Filipino heritage can become a driving force for us to reconnect with our heritage. Some of us listen to Original Pilipino Music (OPM) or learn a Filipino recipe as a way to bridge that gap within us.
By using our passions and interests, we find meaningful ways of knowing and understanding our roots.
Victor’s story reminds us that reconnecting with our heritage starts with the intersection of knowing your “what” and “why”. There isn’t a single formula or pace that works for everyone―we all run at our own speed and on our own path. The journey may be different for each of us but the end goal of having pride for our heritage is the same.
Preserving Ifugao Weaves through Fashion
It would be hard to miss the brilliant colours of the Ifugao weaves hanging behind Victor during the online kwentuhan. I couldn’t help but press my nose closer to the screen to take a better look at the intricate designs and vibrant hues.
The harmony of warm colours reflect the natural elements of the Ifugao community’s natural surroundings. In fact, the criss-cross symbols on the weaves symbolize plants, which tells us of the intimate relationship between the Ifugaos and nature.
The Ifugaos have different Indigenous knowledge systems that promote natural resources; they imbibe these systems as seen in their watershed or woodlot system or muyong which supplies the water to their rice paddies and provides them fuel wood. It is no wonder, then, that their pieces reflect the very surroundings they thrive in.
Similarly, Victor practices the same sustainable methods. He invests in environmentally friendly resources and high quality materials as a way to pay homage to the weavers’ rich narratives. When buying Kandama pieces, Victor urges us to look at the high-cost value as a reflection of the heritage and hard work of the Ifugao creators.
At the core of Kandama’s mission is to build spaces for weavers to practice their craft while preserving a dying tradition in the modern landscape.
He shares, “...They only wear it during special occasions. So, it really is a dying tradition and it is something we want to keep. Given that the Ifugaos only wear these during special occasions means that there is not enough demand. It’s not a livelihood that can take care of an entire family...”
By connecting traditional Ifugao weavers to larger audiences around the world, Victor hopes to increase demand and appreciation for traditional Ifugao textiles. The goal is twofold: to sustain artisan livelihood while preserving craft and culture.
Photocredit from Victor’s Instagram @victorrific_life
These narratives that are woven within their pieces are not only a testimony to the Ifugao community’s traditions, but also serve as a link to other Indigenous communities all over the world. Victor shares how international fashion shows became meeting points for Indigenous designers to come together, share their story and envision a more inclusive future for Indigenous fashion.
Empowering Ifugao Weavers
The work of preserving an art form like Indigenous weaving is not an easy task since it is not part of the fashion mainstream. Yet, Victor shows his confidence in Ifugao women weavers and the younger generation to continue the momentum of global expansion.
“We want the new generation to reflect their existing reality so that their culture will also evolve.”
Victor continues, “There is a part of the culture which we preserve and at the same time, in order to survive, it has to adapt. It has to reflect current realities, their lived realities, and not the realities simply of the generation before them.”
“It is enticing the new generation to get into the craft of hand weaving.”
One of the many things I admire about Victor’s work is his ongoing commitment to empower Ifugao women weavers whom he believes are key agents of community development. Brands like Kandama are models for women empowerment and social change which we can integrate in our own lifestyles.
How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation
You may ask, “I’d love to support Inidgenous artisans but where do I cross the line between cultural appropriation and wearing my heritage?”
This question may occur from time to time especially since many fashion companies have been selling Indigenous-inspired products without accountability and responsibility. You may have sifted through racks of them in fast fashion stores, lacking labels that tell you their origin.
Filipino heritage and Indigenous heritage are distinct and not interchangeable. We, as Filipinos, cannot claim Indigenous culture as ours. Here are 4 easy habits you can practice before purchasing Indigenous-designed pieces.
1. Know Your Intentions
Before anything else, we need to know our reason. Our intentions need to be placed within a context of learning about Indigenous culture and amplifying their history. In an Instagram post published by IKAT voices, they list guide questions that we can ask ourselves before purchasing ethically-sourced Indigenous textiles:
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Here's Marge and Nicole's, A Filipinx How-to on Confronting Anti-Blackness + Anti-Indigeneity guide, that was discussed during IgoROOTS & Allyship. We'd like to thank everyone that attended IgoROOTS & Allyship! We'd also like to extend our appreciation and gratitude to our allies at the discussion, @asiansolidaritycollective, @bayaniart, and @brwngrlz, to our sponsor UCSD SPACES and @cantstopwontstop for the technical support, and to our partners APICA, UCSD Native American & Indigenous Studies, UCLA Asian American Studies, UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UCD Bulosan Center, Arkipelago Books, Igorot of Californa Project, and UCSD Asian American & Pacific Islander Studies Minor. We're going to take a minute and decompress, but we'll be back soon. Thank you for learning with IKAT. #learnwithikat
2. Do your research
Victor encourages us to research the symbols and history of the craft in order to avoid cultural appropriation. In doing so, we can stay away from ceremonial and sacred textiles. We become more mindful consumers and lead by example.
3. Know Where The Weaves Come From
He stresses that it is our responsibility as consumers to seek out the story behind the weaves we wear and the very hands that carefully weave these textiles.
As an Indigenous designer, Victor believes that transparency towards customers is important. Knowing where garments originate from is crucial to avoid cultural appropriation, both in its design and in its consumption.
4. Support the Right Brands
Victor emphasizes finding brands that work in direct partnership with artisans. We need to be vigilant in ensuring that these products are crafted by the Indigenous community and that a significant percentage of profits go to them.
Respecting their tradition is respecting their story and ultimately, their humanity.
By acknowledging the origins of the piece and sharing it within our own communities, we can work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to preserve their heritage, too.
So, we need to not only be responsible buyers, but also storytellers by educating our own circles about cultural appropriation and current issues the Indigenous community face.
The Future of Filipino Fashion
Indigenized. Modern. Forward while calling back to our roots of sustainability.
These are few of the many responses attendees of Kwentuhan gave when asked, “In what direction would you like Filipino fashion to go?” The shift to locally crafted products is evident, especially with the emergence of social and cultural enterprises in the Philippines.
Fashion can simultaneously honour the past and be innovative with the times. This vision for Filipino fashion to be more inclusive, diverse, and modern is something many of us look forward to, including Victor.
Photos courtesy of Kandama Collective on Instagram.
Victor is excited to see a more global representation of Filpino fashion in the high fashion space.
He shares, “...I want it to go in all directions. For me, that dominant direction would be high fashion just to elevate the entire culture and heritage. That is how you try to activate the energy here in the Philippines when people see and look up to it. That is when other movements in the fashion industry will start to do other things.”
There is pride in wearing clothing that shares our country’s diverse stories. By wearing pieces crafted by Indigenous artists, we pay homage to pre-colonial craftsmanship and the artisan communities that continue to revive, to make visible and to manifest these art forms. We, as consumers, become active participants of this narrative.
Finding Our Identity
It is difficult to put so much of our mental and emotional energies in reconnection when there is this unspoken pressure to fit a certain ideal of Filipina/o/x. There is no perfect way to reconnect with our heritage. Nor is there an ideal Filipina/o/x identity we must strive to be.
As Cambio & Co. co-founder Gelaine points out, “We grow up in proximity with Filipino food, culture, and family but not necessarily be educated in the history, or the culture and traditions. It’s interesting to see that parallel experience.”
In his journey to reconnect with his Ifugao identity, Victor’s story mirrors many of our life stories in the diaspora. His story reminds us that being Filipino is not tied to a singular meaning. It is multilayered, diverse and unique to one’s own life experiences.
Reconnecting and discovering our identity may not be an easy task, but through social enterprises like Kandama Collective and Cambio & Co., we can do so by wearing our heritage and educating ourselves about the many Indigenous cultures that make up the Philippines. For non-Indigenous Filipinos, by wearing garments crafted by empowered Indigenous artisans , you are foregrounding their stories and amplifying their work to preserve their traditions.
Allyship is Part of Reconnection
Our world is riddled with different forms of oppression inflicted on Indigenous communities. As non-Indigenous people, we need to take an active stance towards amplifying their narratives through our daily actions and the vocabulary we use to talk about them. In acknowledging our privilege, we are taking the steps towards dismantling the oppressive and violent forces that we ourselves often benefit from. Allyship with Indigenous communities is intentional. It is exhibited through embodied practices of (un)learning, both individually and collectively as a community. It is breaking the silence within our homes and social circles about cultural appropriation and anti-Indigeneity.
Victor’s story reminds us about our role as allies in our reconnection journey. In learning more about your identity, you will have a deeper understanding of the realities that exist within it and the histories that surround it.Catch the recording of our Kwentuhan With Victor Mari Baguilat Jr. of Kandama Collective on Identity and Reconnection on Youtube