Cover Fashion Designer Mariton Villanueva champions slow fashion and Filipino heritage techniques through her brand, Himaya

Grounded in spirituality, Himaya takes sustainability and loving local to new heights

For designer Mariton Villanueva, fashion is no mere commodity—it is an intimate expression of her spirituality and a representation of our oneness with the Earth. Through her sustainable clothing brand Himaya, Villanueva not only aids in the revival of Philippine textile and dyeing practices but also champions the use of upcycled materials and botanical dyes, including the immaculate Philippine Indigo.

“I believe that as a designer/artist/maker we are co-creators with God, Earth, and natural materials, which all come from the Source,” proclaims the young artist. Himaya, which means praise or glory in Bisaya, is the raw transfiguration of these virtues. “The process of creating is my form of praise.” Outraged by the unethical and unsustainable practices she witnessed in the fast fashion industry, Villanueva took it upon herself to champion slow, alternative fashion, supporting the “communities that live through these practices” in the process.

See also: Weaving Patterns in the Philippines: Heritage, Design, and Their Meanings

This fervent commitment first took form in 2019 when the former fashion student launched her graduation collection, Ritmo ng Paglikha (Rhythm of Creation). The inaugural collection was an immediate success, showcased at Lao Fashion Week and France’s International Festival of Extraordinary Textiles (FITE) to name a few.

“From there it just grew, unravelled, and developed as I continue to learn from my surroundings, different people, traditions, and cultures”, Villanueva recalls. A disciple of creators from Mali to New Mexico and of course, famed artists and Master Dyers throughout the Philippines, her works are dynamic artefacts of her evolving artistry. She beams: “I believe that art and fashion are circular, my works flow with cycles within nature and people. My medium is nature and scraps; my creative process is very much inspired by history, science, culture, and botany; my designs are filled with movement.” 

Located in Fairview, Quezon City, Villanueva’s studio is the birthplace of her eclectic designs: artworks, clothing, bridals, accessories, home goods, and more, most of which are one-of-one pieces. “Textile is everywhere,” she states. “Art is a form of service of love, from land to textile, serving people and communities while upholding and sharing tradition. . .my experience with art and fashion has been both exciting and intimidating.”

Learn more about Villanueva, Himaya, and the storied past of the heritage art form, below:

See also: Barong Tagalog: The History Of The Traditional Filipino Attire

Tatler Asia
Mariton Villanueva, fashion designer of Himaya
Above One of Villanueva's botanically-dyed pieces

How did you fall into the art of fashion, and botanical dyes in particular?

Growing up, I really liked dressing up and making stuff that I would wear myself. I studied at a fashion school and along the way, I was exposed to the industry of mass production. It was hard not to notice the unethical and wasteful practices, the morals and values that didn’t seem right but fast fashion was just so accustomed to. I was already into gardening and working with plants, nature, and soil, so I was curious as to how I could incorporate this in my fashion/clothing/textile practice.

I learned botanical dyeing from different people and workshops as well as from research. One of my mentors is the son of Master Dyer Mang Luis Jr, or Mang Jun from Namarabar, Abra.

What was your first-ever natural dye creation?

My first natural dye creation was an Indigofera scarf/tapestry from a shibori workshop held by a friend, Luisa Jimenez of World of Patterns.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

I find inspiration from everyday sights, thoughts and encounters. Some of my favourite makers are Aboubakar Fofana, Rhiannon Griego, India Flint, and of course, Lang Dulay.

See also: Weaving the Threads of Filipino Heritage

How do you source your dye materials and where do you typically source them from?

I usually forage for dye materials wherever I am staying or travelling—really, anywhere: in the neighbourhood, sa provinces, sa siyudad, vegetables and fruits, produce scraps from the market, vendors, and stalls, whatever is available and abundant for the season. The Indigo I use is from communities in Abra, Bukidnon and Occidental Mindoro, and I also gather other dye sources from the community in Namarabar, Abra.

How do you source your textiles and where do you typically source them from?

I source upcycled textiles from different vendors that sell water-damaged or factory reject fabrics. I also source natural or handwoven textiles from weavers in Aklan, Abra, and Ibaan.

See also: Where To Travel In The Philippines: 7 Places To Discover Filipino Heritage

Guide us through your process. What are the key steps or techniques involved? How do you create such beautiful colours and patterns? 

After I source the materials, I prep the dye source. It is much like [the prep work involved in] cooking; there are different methods [you can use] depending on the outcome desired. I treat the textiles in different solutions, using materials like tawas, kalawang, soy milk, vinegar, and different metals and tannins from plants as well. Before dyeing, I design patterns with different techniques inspired by dyeing practices from different cultures like shibori, batik, and ikat. Dyeing textile is much like cooking and making tea or soup. 

What has been your favourite dye discovery so far? Why?

My favourite dye discovery so far is finding out that the same dye source could produce different hues depending on the soil, plant growth, sunlight, and preparation. I also love experimenting with botanical printing, where imprints of the leaves are dyed onto the textile. I love it because the process is so scientific.

See also: Kaayo’s Founder Marga Nograles Shares About Promoting Mindanao's Weaving Traditions

What has been your proudest work/collection thus far? Why?

My favourite collection is my first ever collection Ritmo ng Paglikha. It was just so monumental, both for me as I was creating it and also for the people who were able to see it. I went wild with creating; it was my first time to create [textiles] for a fashion show so it opened up so many discoveries from my mentors and from our history of textile. That collection was so pure, and I did not expect at all that it would take me to different places. The collection travelled to Lao Fashion Week as well as a museum and exhibit in France and Africa. It was a collection inspired by the creation story in [The Book of] Genesis.

Another favourite is my work in the Japanese Food Hall, Kiwami. They had me make a huge indigo batik/shibori art panel for a wall there, and also their server’s headscarves. I love Japanese food and Japanese culture.

See also: Kiwami Food Hall Is Your New Go-To for Japanese Food - Here’s Why

What is a natural material or colour you are intrigued by for dyeing, and why does it intrigue you?

I am intrigued by indigo and eucalyptus. Indigo, because it has so much story and history [behind it] and also the process is so intricate, extra-scientific, and there are so many variations [to work with] so it produces different colours and shades of blue. It is just so fun to use. And eucalyptus, because I feel like I'm nag su-suob (burning incense) when I'm using it, haha! Also because it creates so many different hues and colours as well, depending on the treatment and species of eucalyptus.

What would be your dream project?

To be honest, it feels like every project is a dream project, haha. But what I am working on really is a dream project, because I’m working with my idols and inspirations, Raffy Tesoro and Nina Tesoro. The project is about reviving Philippine cotton and natural dye textile weaving.

See also: Let's Keep Filipino Heritage Alive, Escuela Taller de Filipinas Shares Their Story

The use of natural dyes is a longstanding Filipino tradition—Philippine indigo especially so. Could you give us a bit of an overview of the tradition, how and where it endures today, and why it’s important to sustain the practice?

Philippine Indigo, or Malatayum/Tayum/Tagum—it’s called many different names in different places and communities—has been around for so long. Dyeing with Tayum is an early practice in our history. During the period of maritime trade, the development of textile art in the Philippines was propelled through trade with other countries. At that time, Indigo was a popular trade item from our country and was very abundant. To put it into perspective, our fields of Indigo then were grown like fields of rice are now. It was used in different textiles for ceremonies, regular clothing, and even for protective clothing for farmers since the smell of Indigo-dyed clothing was said to ward off snake bites.

The production and fields of Indigo were greatly lessened with the rise of demand for tobacco and rice. However, it was never lost in our culture—even today, the Apayao communities have pure Indigo clothing, and there has been a revival in Philippine Indigo. Organizations like PTRI (Philippine Textile Research Institute) and NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Products) have been helping IP (Indigenous People) communities to continue the production and growing of indigo and indigo-dyed textile for a couple of years now. A lot of local businesses have been selling Philippine Indigo-dyed pieces too, and workshops [that teach the Indigo-dyeing process] are being held.

I think it is important to continue this practice because Indigo grows well in Philippine soil, it is rising in demand in the fashion world, and it can be used for medicinal purposes as well. It would be beneficial for the livelihood of IP communities and different communities in the Philippines—not only will it keep our culture alive, but it will also be of great service to a lot of people.

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