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Marketing Piña Globally As RTW

Manila Bulletin
March 10, 2012

Piña will not be ‘somebody else’s material,’ says Lulu Tan-Gan

MANILA, Philippines—The piña fabric has long been used for nationalistic, formal wear in the Philippines. But for designer Lulu Tan-Gan, known as Philippine fashion’s “Queen of Knitwear,” piña has good potential to be used for contemporary apparel as well—and this can be seen in her eponymous brand’s Spring-Summer 2012 collection, where Tan-Gan’s signature knitted ensembles are paired with flat-patterned, handmade piña vests, capes, and ensembles that can be easily folded and washed (just use mild soap or a fabric softener).

“I think piña is not yet fully utilized by anyone here,” says Tan-Gan, on the aptness of piña for ready-to-wear clothing. “Piña is one of our country’s best indigenous materials.” It’s about materializing piña into practical, travel-friendly, and modern fashions for jetsetters and women with an active lifestyle. “We’re trying to break this impression of piña only being used for formal occasion clothes. We want to use it as well for everyday outfits,” relates Tan-Gan’s daughter Jessica, vice president for the Tan-Gan brand.

It was challenging at first because piña is a delicate fabric that should be handled carefully. Tan-Gan experimented with piña for three years and studied its properties and how it can be constructed properly into garments. “A sewing machine can be harsh on piña,” she shares, “and until now, I’m cutting piña by myself.” Tan-Gan also tinkered with the idea of putting knits and piña together in some pieces.

Knits and piña are two opposing materials. Knits are strong, tactile, and opaque whereas piña is thin, ethereal, and flimsy, as Tan-Gan puts it. To complement the usually fragile piña, Tan-Gan had to use finer yarns to produce finer knitted fabrics. In the brand’s press note, Tan-Gan shares that the weights of piña and knit are “dissonant,” given “piña’s tendency to float and knit’s predisposition to collapse.” Thus, to achieve synergy in some clothes, Tan-Gan sewed “hidden trapezes that allow the knits to ‘float’ with the piña.”

On a wider aspect, Tan-Gan’s credo now revolves around “Indigenous Couture,” which aims to make Filipino artisanship more relevant today. While most brands resort to automated ways to briskly produce clothes, Tan-Gan is going back to handmade craftsmanship even if it means slower production (a piña piece or garment, depending on size and design, can be made from two or three days up to a week). “It’s almost impossible but we did it,” she says. “Everything’s handmade, hand-embroidered, hand-beaded, and hand-sewed.”

In addition, Tan-Gan sources her materials, such as wooden accents and synthetic beads, locally. Her piña supply comes from the provinces of Aklan and Palawan.

Tan-Gan also hopes to champion piña as an ingenious Filipino fabric worldwide. “Piña will not be somebody else’s material.” To increase global awareness, Tan-Gan has hired Sergio Boero as her managing director. Boero is an Italian who helped expand brands like John Richmond and Corneliani and worked with fashion institutions like the Instituto Europeo di Design Moda Lab and Domus Academy, among others.

Boero’s primary agenda is to market the Tan-Gan brand internationally, placing piña on the forefront as a Filipino product. One key strategy is establishing online presence. Boero shares that they’re currently working on a new website. Online shopping is in the pipeline, supposedly set for June or July this year, to let buyers get their Tan-Gan fix in any part of the world with just a click.