Written by David Pingree

As environmental consciousness makes inroads into the fashion industry, garment and clothing designers are turning to a new material source: abaca fibers from the Philippines.

Last month, 21-year old fashion stylist and designer Carl Jan Cruz showcased Filipino style at the London College of Fashion. Witnessed by editors from Vogue U.K., Dazed and Confused, A Mag Curated By and others, Cruz showcased three outfits in which fabrics for the most part were sampled, sourced and developed in the Philippines, philSTAR.com reported.

Last year’s “Banaca goes Athena” event hosted by the Philippines’ ambassadors in the Greek capital, highlighted the various styles and arrangements that abaca fibers can form.

“This is part of our ‘Meet my Country’ series which we initiated in 2012 in line with our economic and cultural diplomacy efforts,” Ambassador Meynardo Lb. Montealegre told Rappler. “We aim to enhance awareness of the ingenuity and artistry of the Filipino,” he added.

As popular source of Manila rope, Manila Hemp and the Manila folders and envelope, abaca, is now experiencing a revival as more industries see the potential of the eco-friendly fiber, representatives from the Fiber Industry Development Authority told InterAksyon.com.

According to Yahoo News, synthetic materials, which have dominated the textile and garment industries for decades, are derived mostly from oil and are therefore seen by many as being detrimental to the environment. Conversely, abaca fibers are taken from banana and abaca trees and are considered much more eco-friendly.

Furthermore, abaca fibers can be used in a wide range of products, including textiles, pulp, furniture, cars and even medicine, according to AbacaPhilippines.com.

Fashion United reported that a delegation from the Philippines recently travelled to Europe to meet with small and medium enterprises in an effort to pitch the country’s abaca products. A report by the Department of Trade and Industry said that major Spanish retailers El Corte Ingles, Becara and Mango showed the most interest in Filipino garments and textiles.

Manila, which hosts a surging middle class and a new generation of designers, may become a leader in sustainable design processes, according to the Philippine consul general to London. Filipino designers are starting to synthesize the country’s tropical environment with western design art forms to create an exciting new fashion identity.

Popular for both men and women, the banaca wrap, formed from banana and abaca fibers, is becoming a rising fashion accessory. Abaca fibers can also be infused with polyester to create denim products, a possible alternative to traditional cotton-based denim.

“For many decades, the abacá fiber has been considered a high quality soft fiber, though less suited to the needs of fashion and more commonly used to create specialty papers,” Charlotte Turner, project manager for The Sustainable Angle told The Guardian. “However, there are designers using luxurious hand-woven abaca fabrics in their collections.

The Philippines also enjoys the advantage of controlling 85% of the world’s abaca production, according to Rappler. Ecuador is the only other country to have successfully transplanted the abaca plant so far.

For the first quarter of 2014, Filipino garment and other accessories exports rose almost 4% to more than USD 433 million, according to the National Statistics Office.

–Edited by Kristine Diaz

By Ray