Weaving fallen leaves across 7,100 islands
Having resigned from a corporate career, Therinne Goyeneche witnessed the popularity of tropical-themed handicrafts mass-produced by international retail giants. The Metro Manila-based entrepreneur travelled to regions across the Philippines and discovered an interest in community building to match her knack for product design. She fell in love with creative possibilities posed by raw materials native to the archipelago.
Her labour of love INNÉ joins the surge of sustainable and slow fashion companies gaining new ground. Together, these brands are spearheading a revival of tradition and the reintroduction of intentional design practices to local and international supporters and enthusiasts.
Therinne takes B-Side on an in-depth conversation on the various aspects involved in bringing a business and brand to life as she nurtures it into the new year.
How did INNÉ begin?
I have no formal education or experience in fashion. My background is rooted in Marketing as well as Product Development and Innovation after having spent over 10 years in the corporate world. When I decided to leave to focus on my family and my other businesses, I guess you could say that my instincts as a marketer and a new product developer were still somewhat up and running.
In late 2017 when international fast-fashion companies were beginning to utilise natural materials for accessories, I realised the Philippines held potential for a homegrown brand to develop similar products.
I knew that creating a slow-fashion brand that gives significance to fair trade and sustainability was relevant.
I met artisans and communities whom I’m happy to say I still work with today. The more I learned about their heritage, the more I wanted to help them by providing work opportunities and ultimately preserving Filipino crafts. What began as a simple idea born out of curiosity turned into a passion project, which then became a viable business. After nearly a year of sourcing and product development, INNÉ was launched in October of 2018.
Could you talk us through the design process?
INNÉ’s design aesthetic incorporates natural materials and traditional techniques into contemporary and minimalist designs for everyday wear.
My design process usually starts by identifying raw materials I want to work with. I then study their application, possibilities, and limitations. I try to integrate other materials, like leather, which could give a more modern feel to complement the natural material. The final stage before prototyping involves consultations with our partner artisan communities.
This step is the most important phase in the process because consulting with them nurtures a sense of shared ownership of designs. Although I am the sole founder of the INNÉ brand, I attribute most of its capacity and growth to the partner communities. The support these groups have provided are invaluable and integral to the brand.
The collaboration and knowledge transfer completes a cycle of shared learning, seamlessly blending tradition with innovation.
How have the lives of your partner communities changed?
INNÉ provides livelihood opportunities to partner communities and small families in Bicol, Bohol, Bulacan, Cebu, Laguna, and Marikina.
With the local fashion scene slowly gaining ground, traditional practices are being highlighted now more than ever. This has piqued the interest of younger generations.
Whereas previously I noticed that artisans were a bit older or seasoned, I am seeing younger artisans today.
They are now able to see the fruits of their work through social media. This gives them a sense of pride, which encourages and empowers them to continue their craft.
How did INNÉ become a part of Stride Collective? What essentially is its mission?
Around the time that I launched INNÉ, Tal De Guzman, who owned the manufacturing house for my footwear, started engaging with “shoepreneurs” (shoe entrepreneurs). She proposed an idea of having an online platform that gave customers easy access to Marikina-made shoes. After brainstorming, the team came up with Stride Collective.
Marikina is dubbed the Shoe Capital of the Philippines. For generations, it’s been a hub for the most experienced footwear artisans in the country. With their unparalleled skill and perseverance, designers and craftspeople translate their visions into wearable art through quality handmade footwear. Stride Collective hopes to empower a thriving industry of sapateros (shoemakers).
It was organic for INNÉ to become a part of this because we were made in the same manufacturing house. Moreover, we believe in the same values and principles held by the community. We provide handmade, artisanal, and premium quality products that highlight Filipino talent while empowering the very people that make them. It’s about collaboration over competition.
Together we want to create an ecosystem of sharing, learning, and supporting in our mission to bring impact to Marikina and its local artisans.
What sustainable practices align with INNÉ’S overall vision of combining old and new?
We make a conscious effort to minimise our environmental impact throughout our production and packaging phases. We limit the use of plastics and try to ship our products in reusable dust bags. We continue to look for ways to do our small part in reducing wastage in the retail industry.
We source materials locally as much as possible and we are careful to only produce pieces that meet demand in small and meaningful quantities.
We recently introduced the Sia Key Holders, our first product that has been created from up-cycled materials. These were a solution to our previous dilemma involving scrap materials from the production of our Sia bags. Having kept all leftover materials to keep our wastage to a minimum, we thought of utilising the excess leather and solihiya weave rattan to create the key holders since the scraps were already too small to be made into bags.
What natural materials are INNÉ products made from?
INNÉ utilises a number of natural materials such as abaca, rattan, raffia, buntal, pandan, and wood.
Abaca is the strongest of natural fibres. Native to the Philippines, it is highly durable, flexible and resistant to salt water damage. These are extracted from the stalks of the abaca plant. The fibres are then washed, dried, and welded into rope, which are often made into various woven pieces. Rattan, on the other hand, is a climbing vine-like palm typically used in making baskets and furniture. It’s a lightweight material that is flexible and durable, making it suitable for outdoor utility.
Raffia fibres are obtained from the raffia palm. It is an extremely durable yet soft and pliable biodegradable material. Buntal is similarly a fine white fibre obtained from the stalks of unopened leaves of the talipot palm tree. The fibres are then knitted together using a hand-looming machine. This is typically used for making straw hats. Given the Philippines tropical climate, pandan is known to withstand heat, humidity, and water exposure. We use strips of dried pandan leaves and weave it by hand to create a pattern.
Wood is also a material prevalent in INNÉ pieces. Our wooden block heals are mostly made from mango wood. Mango wood is a strong and sustainable by-product of the mango tree. These trees typically lose all fruit-bearing capacities after 15 to 20 years; after which wood can then be harvested for other uses. The richly grained mango wood with its small knots, cracks, and colour variations render each piece unique.
What traditional techniques does the brand utilise?
Techniques that have been passed down from previous generations transform these natural materials from their raw states to finished products. One such technique that I find very special and alluring is the solihiya weave.
The solihiya involves weaving thin strands of rattan into sunburst patterns or a six-way weave. Most, if not all Filipinos are familiar with this, having seen woven furniture at a childhood or ancestral home.
The pattern evokes a warm sense of nostalgia among Filipinos and Southeast Asians. Incorporating this pattern and technique into INNÉ pieces is a way for our customers to carry a part of childhood or home wherever they may go.
How has INNÉ been received by customers so far?
We are very fortunate to have a wide mix of customers embrace the concept of INNÉ who appreciate the beauty and meaning behind the brand and its products. These range from college students, and young professionals to moms, foreigners, and balikbayans (Filipinos based abroad). It’s very heart-warming to hear people feeling nostalgic about their childhood when they encounter or wear our products.
We value our like-minded customers. Since we produce our pieces in limited quantities, when a product is out of stock or a request is made for a custom pair of shoes, our customers understand that it takes some time for our products to be finished since everything is handmade. They are willing to wait for their order to be completed.
What’s the future of INNÉ?
We are continuously on the lookout for natural and sustainable materials to utilise. We will continue to be a part of local pop-up’s such as Katutubo and The Good Trade, whose values align with ours and whose support we cherish. We also hope to expand our international reach.
At this point, I still want to focus on footwear and bags while churning out a few pieces for the home. In terms of what might be the next addition to the brand’s portfolio, anticipate a play around silhouettes and materials, while still remaining just as functional. I’m currently looking into new applications for the strongest natural fibre, abaca.