Lenora Cabili: A Filipina Purveyor of Craftsmanship

Filip+Inna, November 29, 2015

By Cal Tavera

The year 2010 marks the birth of Filip+Inna, a local clothing brand that has managed to carve a niche in the global fashion industry and is fast becoming a household name in representing the work of indigenous tribes. Founded by its Creative Director Lenora Luisa “Len” Cabili, the brand has grown from its humble beginnings and a single tribe in Iligan. Five years after its inception, the company now collaborates with several tribes from Bukidnon to Davao, offering projects to over a hundred artisans. Len currently has two assistants working for her, each one handling 10 groups of artisans. She gives credit to both her childhood memories in Mindanao and exposure to national costumes from dancing in the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company for inspiring the idea of creating traditional wear for the modern times. Even as a college student, she thought of experimenting by pairing the costumes with casual denim jeans, but only took the steps when she thought the timing was ideal. 

With no demand but faith for the brand, Len took it upon herself to create around 30 pieces for her first collection. The end result married both tradition and contemporary designs produced from humble threads by local artisans. After some unsuccessful attempts, Len nearly gave up the idea but after a cold call to a luxury travel agency based in New York called Indagare, Len’s initial pieces found their way to the states. The brand was invited to be part of a trunk show at the Hamptons. Since that debut, people have been showing more appreciation for the indigenous designs created for Filip+Inna. This year, the brand participated in more prestigious trunk shows such as the ones organized by Aerin Lauder in Southampton and exhibited in their first Paris-based tradeshow called Tranoi in New York. The tradeshow’s intimate set up in a tunnel, which hosted a hundred other vendors, was the perfect fit for the brand. It opened up doors for Filip+Inna with more interested retailers. Len was also able to organize her own personal trunk shows with her friend, traveling and displaying her items in Los Angeles and New York.   

The demands and exposure may increase but the classic styles will remain throughout. Len reveals that the brand will stay true to the mission and vision of the company and focus on the designs they know instead of chasing after trends. Filip+Inna is positioned to be bohemian with a classic twist. Len shares that her buyers email her, messaging that they look forward to wearing her collections again when summer rolls in.There is a greater appreciation for handmade embroidery because of the story behind it. Part of the success is also because of the personal decisions and touches made by Len. With a degree in clothing technology from the University of the Philippines, plus her strong instincts, Len knew what colors to dictate. When the first samples came in, she immediately had a good feeling about the business. The key is in the colors. The challenge lies in updating the colors to make the pieces feel more contemporary. She had to find ways to bridge the traditions and the contemporary ways to churn out pieces that would appeal to the buyers. To keep the inspiration going, Len makes sure to research when she travels to see what is being produced, what is showcased in stores and the garments itself.

Len reveals that it was a long process getting to this stage. There are no shortcuts. She spent years of her life just enjoying looking at clothes. There is also that awareness that comes with it when she studies them and locks them in her memory. For future collections, she mentioned to expect a more cohesive line. As for the artisans, she hopes that the increasing popularity of the brand is building better lives for them by giving them livelihood opportunities as they create things out of the skills they possess.

This article originally appeared on The Manila Standard and can be read in its original form here.

Makeup and hair by Ramon “Chito” Fabello, Jr. of Creations by Lourd Ramos Salon.  Special thanks to B&P Just Like Home and Wicked by Cravings of The Cravings Group for providing the food during the shoot.