Culture, Fashion, Living

A Gathering of Tastemakers: Artisanal Magic at Balanghai

Meticulous self-curation— that is the current name of the game. Amidst rapidly shifting trends in fashion and innovations in how people share art and culture, artisanal brands are the haven of customers who crave to tell a narrative based on the clothes they wear, accessories they adorn themselves with, and even the products they use. 

During a weekend at Ayala Center Cebu’s The Gallery from September 22nd to 24th, 2023, Balanghai, curated by designer Neil Felipp San Pedro, brought together a diverse array of artisanal brands in the heart of Cebu. 

A bird’s eye view from the floor above The Gallery showed a clearer sight of the exhibition: an elongated shape with tapered ends. A boat, which ties back to the event’s name and concept, as a “balanghai” is a pre-Hispanic vessel used to transport cargo and for trading. 

The exhibition curator, Neil Felipp, spoke about the conceptualization of the event, harkening back to his own design process as a natural storyteller. Neil wanted to highlight collaboration and innovation, highlighting the desire to uplift local art and talent. He is set to helm the Himu Foundation, an initiative that aims to promote Filipino artisanal brands, for which Balanghai serves as both its inaugural event and benefactor. 

An evident element that tied Balanghai’s concept together was the use of the “sarok”, a wide-brimmed hat made out of bamboo strips and banana leaves most notable in the municipality of Consolacion. Each participating brand in Balanghai was given its own sarok to design in their vision.

The brand Ato.a by Cheeky Chic, which specializes in embroidered bags and purses, designed their sarok with multiple embroidered pockets, maximizing the hat’s quality of being multi-use while showing off the brand’s aesthetic. Shepard, a life goods brand, adorned their sarok with local botanicals they used in their products: eucalyptus, guava leaf, and lemongrass. 

Balanghai was a haven for fashion enthusiasts, bringing together local designers showcasing clothing that reflected the essence of Filipino culture while pushing the boundaries of contemporary fashion. Among them were Kelvin Morales, a brand that experiments with local fabrics and different materials such as Ecuadorian roses, Tagpi, a brand that transforms traditional wear into contemporary clothing, and Edited Limited, a champion for sustainable fashion.

Jill Lao is a personal favorite, a womenswear brand that showcased beautiful pieces for the quintessential Filipina it girl: put her anywhere and she just fits. In conversation with Jill Lao, the designer highlighted conscious choices when it came to clothing and the importance of having products for women designed by women and having functional pieces that are wearable and versatile for our tropical climate.

Brands specializing in local textiles were also present at the event: with Balay ni Atong featuring hand-woven and embroidered textiles by Ilocano artisans, and Filip + Inna showcasing a variety of clothing created with textiles and embellishments from Filipino artisans from all over the country.

The exhibition also shone a spotlight on the artistry of jewelry making, featuring masterpieces by Adante Leyesa, Natalya Lagdameo, and Strozzi. Their creations were intricate works of art that blended precious materials with cultural motifs. Other brands included Capricho, which specialized in woven bags made out of the materials used in resort furniture, resulting in sturdy yet stylish pieces. Setting fashion aside, Shepard Life Goods showcased a range of products for personal health and well-being with their botanical formulas that are safe for the environment.

In order to further cement the commitment to artisans and their crafts, Balanghai worked with brands that are passionate about the same vision—Seda Ayala Center Cebu, Globe Platinum, and of course Ayala Center Cebu.

Balanghai was a celebration of culture, art, and the indomitable spirit of Filipino artisans, reminding us that true beauty lies in the hands of those who craft it with passion and dedication. The event was a testament to the fact that the true soul of a culture resides in its craftsmanship, and it invited us all to be part of that timeless journey. Moreover, it was a gathering of tastemakers: brands that influence and guide individuals in playing pivotal roles in shaping our local communities through the products they choose. 

Make sure to check out all the brands involved in Balanghai through their Instagram page 

Photography Kong de Guzman

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