Chic Clothes from Banana Waste Is Now in NZ

By Carla Teng

Dressed in bright, stylish, and traditional Filipino clothes, thirty models aged six to sixty-five, all shapes and sizes, from various parts of Aotearoa and around the globe, strutted the runway in Palmerston North for the official debut of the House of Musa in New Zealand.

These designer barongs and baro’t sayas were all eco-friendly, woven from Banana fibres.

The barong tagalog, often known as barong, is a traditional embroidered long-sleeved shirt worn by men; its feminine counterpart is the baro’t saya; both are considered Philippine national dress. It borrows characteristics from both precolonial traditional Filipino dress and colonial Spanish influences.

The House of Musa also chose to celebrate their opening with a theme called “Flores de Musa,” which was connected with the traditional festival known as Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) in the Philippines. Throughout the month of May, it is a celebration that is held as a tribute to the Virgin Mary for both religious and traditional reasons.

The grand procession, also known as the Santacruzan, is the centrepiece of the event. The Santacruzan is a parade that takes the form of a pageant and comprises ladies and gentlemen dressed in traditional Filipino garb parading through the streets. The event is filled with exuberance and merriment, and it exemplifies the grace, beauty, and devout spirituality of the Filipino culture.

Councilman Lew Findlay and his wife, Meriam Findlay, a Filipino, were among the models at the launch event in Palmerston North City.

The couple shared that participating in the fashion show was a delightful experience for them. However, they didn’t simply show up and walk without preparation; they underwent training with a professional modelling instructor who taught them catwalk techniques, posing, and projection.

The Findlays expressed that they decided to take part in the launch to show their support for the vibrant Filipino community in the city. They believe that highlighting such an incredible tradition and the craftsmanship of Filipinos is essential. They are wholeheartedly behind the initiative and hope that others will join them in supporting its future endeavors.

“I hope that all Filipinos would support it because it is really showcasing our own fibre, the banana fibre,” Meriam said.

“[To the Filipinos in the city] You have a spark, fan it, that is the importance of community,” Lew added.

The Musa Origin

The Musa fabric, the House of Musa’s signature material, originates in the Philippines, specifically in Davao del Norte, recognised as the country’s banana capital. Joy Soo, a Filipino accountant and fashion designer, founded the fashion brand in the midst of the global pandemic in 2020.

Indigenous tribe in Davao del Norte crafting the Musa textile. Photo: House of Musa

The handwoven textile incorporates banana waste fibres and coloured threads, resulting in a range of clothing items, accessories, bags, and shoes.

Within three years of its inception, the company expanded its reach to international fashion shows held in the countries such as Japan, Thailand, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

The fashion house made its way to Aotearoa through the efforts of Carmela Evora-Laylo, a Filipino immigrant and the chief executive of the House of Musa New Zealand. She won the 2019 Mrs. Universe New Zealand pageant and represented New Zealand on the international stage in China.

This victory opened many doors for her, including the opportunity to model Musa Fabric outfits at New York Fashion Week last year.

In an interview with the Asia Media Centre, she narrated how it all started, “I was inspired when I went to New York and saw other models and learned the story of the Musa advocacy, and I had the first-hand experience when I went to Davao in January. I’ve invested time and effort to also learned how to manually weave the banana fibre.”

“It wasn’t an easy procedure, especially the fibres were extracted from the banana tree trunk. It was all worth it though, especially when you get to see the finish product and turn it into gorgeous outfits, bags, and accessories.”

Driven by her love for fashion and a strong commitment to environmental conservation, she eagerly embraced this venture, recognising that it allows her to merge her two passions. She emphasised that the collision of fashion and sustainability within the House of Musa aligns perfectly with her values.

Musa Advocacy

In the context of the Philippines, Musa fabric plays a significant role in generating income and empowering marginalised communities. One of its impactful deeds is providing economic opportunities to indigenous people and prisoners in Davao.

By engaging indigenous communities in the production of Musa Fabric, the initiative allows them to tap into their traditional skills and craftsmanship, empowering them to earn a sustainable income and preserve their cultural heritage.

Similarly, by involving prisoners in Davao, Musa fabric presents an opportunity for rehabilitation and skill development within the prison system. Through training and employment, inmates gain a sense of purpose and a chance for personal growth. Not only does this contribute to their rehabilitation journey, but it also instils hope in their families, who see the positive impact that this initiative can have on their loved ones’ lives.

The Musa advocacy is driven by the belief that every individual, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a chance for economic empowerment and a brighter future. By providing income opportunities to indigenous people and prisoners, it not only uplifts their lives but also creates a ripple effect of positive change within their communities and beyond.

“Some of them [the inmates] received life sentences, and still, they have family to feed. By giving them jobs, they can still provide for their families. Also, they are paid fairly in accordance with the Philippine’s Department of Labor and Employment law,” Evora-Laylo said.

Apart from helping people in the Philippines, the House of Musa New Zealand also donates a portion of its proceeds to Women’s Refuge Aotearoa, an organisation that supports women and children affected by domestic violence.

On top of these advocacies, Evora-Laylo’s broader objective is to blend Kiwi and Filipino cultures together and create masterful tailored pieces, she stressed, “This is just the beginning, we have envisioned the House of Musa to be big. With this event, I think we can actually do a much bigger event. We are going to have autumn and spring collections in the future.”

“We wanted to provide livelihood here in New Zealand as well, how? By importing the Musa fabric in the Philippines, and collaborate with Kiwi designers, bring their designs to New York and Paris fashion weeks.”

The former beauty titleholder holds Palmerston North City, her new home, in high regard and has chosen it as the primary focus for her upcoming projects.

In her own words, she prioritises this vibrant city because it has become an integral part of her life. Not only has she been accepted by the community, but she has also been embraced warmly, allowing her to truly fulfill her life’s purpose.

Palmerston North City has gained a reputation for actively encouraging and celebrating cultural diversity. The local government plays a crucial role in supporting and fostering these new activities.

A shining example of this commitment was when Palmerston North City Mayor Grant Smith and his wife participated in the fashion show as well, donning in traditional Filipino attire. This gesture showcased the city’s dedication to inclusivity, demonstrating that cultural diversity is not only acknowledged but actively celebrated.

Mayor Smith said, “[it was] a very exciting experience, and I acknowledged the colour, the flare, and the innovation of the Filipino community.”

“We see ourselves [Palmerston North] as an international city, although boutique and small on an international scale, we see it to supporting our wider community whether it’s for the people-to-people connections, whether it’s for international education, international research, trade and business, and just general international bilateral links, I think it’s vital.”

The House of Musa New Zealand is up for a good start after their successful launch two weeks ago, and Evora-Laylo believes that the Musa textile has a place in Aotearoa as the country has a deep-rooted appreciation for sustainability.

With its eco-friendly approach and dedication to reducing environmental impact, Musa fabric resonates with the values cherished by the Kiwi community. By championing sustainable practices and incorporating them into the fashion industry, she aims to raise awareness about the importance of responsible fashion consumption and the preservation of our planet.

She sees the House of Musa New Zealand as a platform to inspire others, demonstrating that fashion and environmental consciousness can coexist harmoniously.

Banner photo – The thirty models and brand ambassadors of the House of Musa New Zealand. Photo: Supplied.

Credit: Asian Media Centre