By Alex M. Eduque
It is no secret that Mindanao has hogged the headlines of national (and globally even) news in the recent months. And until the Marawi siege ended, it has most certainly made the headlines not in the most positive light – on the contrary, actually. So much so that we sometimes fail to remember the good and the richness of the region – the talent, the heritage, the distinct culture, the abundance of resources and raw materials, to name a few. Which is why when I met one of the founders of, and learned about Kaayo Modern Mindanao, – a socially conscious fashion brand that not only pays it forward, but pays tribute to all things Mindanao, it tugged a heartstring. It was the light amidst the dark I long yearned and was searching for – more than a brand, a concept that fully understands and embraces every bit of what I believe wearing culture proudly is all and should be about.
Started by Marga Montemayor Nograles and her mother Mary Ann Montemayor in January of this year, they like to refer to Kaayo as a curated collection of various Mindanao stories. One that brings awareness to the tales of the tribes told through time, deeply rooted in honoring the extraordinary skills of the local artisans, and transforming their traditional creations into modern bespoke Mindanao fashion. Marga fondly shares that she has always dreamed of having her own brand. Her love for fashion, and making her own clothes evident even at an early age, that her Lola Pat would always tell her to pursue her passion and “make her own clothes already.” Born and raised in Davao, Marga has been exposed to her mothers’ volunteer work for some of Mindanao’s tribes for over a decade now. It just seemed natural then to incorporate this timeless, but often overlooked talent of the weavers into her venture. After being received ever so warmly by family and friends, fast-forward to today and the rest is history – Kaayo has become a household name for fashionable staples in Davao and beyond.
Aware of the talent overflow that exists in the Philippines’ pool of designers, Marga is quick to admit that she is not competing with talent. Rather, she is looking to preserve and promote local culture by bringing forth a deeper appreciation for traditional arts and crafts (such as beading, embroidery, dyeing, and weaving) that many women in various tribes solely depend on as their source of livelihood. Working closely with the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu and the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe of Davao, Marga says that Kaayo is not just hers and her mom’s, “but the weavers, the beaders, the tribes, the young designers and all the Mindanaoans that help bring our stories to life.” More than looking at what sets them apart from all other socially conscious fashion brands, it is the stories Kaayo is able to tell and how everything has so organically fallen into place to help the communities they work with that makes its star shine brighter than the brightest. I firmly believe that it is the mother-and-daughter tandem’s humility of embracing the tribes they work with, not just as business partners, but as family, and knowing where everything in Mindanao is sourced – from the raw materials, to the weaves and fabrics – that has enabled their success and upward trajectory. It is also because of this very notion of what kaayo literally stands for (it means “kindness,” “to go beyond,” “for the good” in Bisaya) that people have come to love what they offer. It inspires us as consumers in the very same way that the work of Marga’s mother, and the prodding of her Lola Pat has inspired her.
While one may consider Kaayo to be a very new brand, it has most definitely made a much greater impact than many other brands that have come before it has. Born to give back, it has undoubtedly churned waves of change in lives so greatly, that it has been worn beyond our shores – it already even has a presence in Europe through its French agent Zazie Mordret. While Marga considers their biggest milestone to date to be their presence in some of the biggest and most respected establishments like SM’s Kultura and their partnership with Mons Romulo’s Katutubo, I beg to disagree. While those are well noted achievements that one should definitely be proud of, what I consider to be Kaayo’s biggest trophy to date is the big step forward it took to bring forth what could have otherwise become a forgotten art of the south. At a time when Mindanao was ridden with so much violence and went through some of its darkest days, Kaayo was a beacon of light, and an instrument of hope in numerous households. Whether it be providing jobs to women in the area, or adorning some of the country’s most respected figures with skirts, scarves, and the like, Kaayo gave that much needed boost of confidence and commerce to the Mindanao region (and most especially the tribes it works with) at what could be considered a most tumultuous time for the South in our country’s history. And if only because of that, only greater things can be in store for the team, the tribes and what is yet to come for Kaayo. On behalf of its proud wearers and all whose lives have been touched by Kaayo, I thank Marga and her mother for bringing to us not only some of the most well-curated Mindanaoan stories expressed through painstaking weaves and beading on garments, and accessories, but also pieces with so much heart and heritage.
Most evidently a brand built on inspiration that will only continue to inspire in the years to come, Kaayo believes that we as Filipinos should not only carry our culture, but carry it proud. Kaayo dreams of every Filipino to have a piece of their culture – to bring Mindanao to the world, essentially. But before that, to give Mindanaoans and the rest of the Philippines the chance to celebrate it first. I most definitely think that they’ve made the right first leap, and are just about ready to soar. And soar high, it will!
Kaayo is now available at The Park (4th Floor, New Wing, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong) and the Martish Store (Door 4, Deri Building, Bajada, Davao City). Follow their Instagram account @kaayo.ph for online order availability, and for updates on their pop-ups. For inquiries, call or text Kaayo’s concierge Cliare at +63936-736-2442.