indigenous peoples

Tradition meets fashion: Spotlight on the Yakan tennun

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Tradition meets fashion: Spotlight on the Yakan tennun

Basilan PIO

Find out what's so special about this native fabric, which was recently highlighted at the 'Tennun Palaradjaan Designers Competition' in Okada Manila

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is home to a rich landscape of indigenous weaving traditions. Communities in different regions produce native textiles that embody their unique cultural identity and distinct artistic expression.

One such remarkable fabric that has recently gained wide acclaim is the vibrant tennun from the Yakan people of Basilan.

A recent Mindanao Tapestry fashion show put a well-deserved spotlight on tennun, with models donning contemporary designs crafted from the vibrant fabric by Filipino fashion designers. 

So, what is this native textile that’s all the craze in the fashion world, and where did it come from?

Weaving its origins

Tennun weaving is a centuries-old tradition among the Yakan, an indigenous group from Basilan. According to local brand Anthill Fabrics, Yakan tennun is known for intricate geometric patterns and bold, symmetrical designs inspired by Islamic sacred geometry.

To make tennun, weavers start by using a back-strap loom. This loom is anchored to the weaver’s body, which allows for a portable setup and more intricate control over the weaving process.

In recent years, artisanal brands like Anthill Fabrics and Sky Weavers have been championing the use of tennun and other indigenous Filipino weaves in modern, wearable designs.

Anthill Fabrics, a social enterprise, collaborates directly with Yakan weavers to create a range of clothing, accessories, and home goods using authentic tennun fabric. Similarly, Sky Weavers, an Ifugao-owned textile startup, employs traditional “ikat” weaving techniques akin to tennun to craft contemporary fashion pieces.

These bright, intricate textiles have long been an integral part of Yakan identity. According to Anthill Fabrics, the craft has become a sustainable source of income for many families, especially now that more artists partake in this multi-generational practice.

“Most of our weaves are made from upcycled cotton and polyester blend threads,” the Anthill Fabrics website reads. “We also have natural fibers like abaca that are naturally or synthetically dyed. We also have zero waste weaves made from remnant fabrics and end cuts from commercial production.”

Sky Weavers, which debuted during Tennun Fashion Week in 2021, describes itself as “a cultural enterprise that works with indigenous weavers from Ifugao, Philippines, to create clothing pieces and accessories that are wearable in the modern age.”

‘‘Their weavers use the backstrap loom to create ikat textiles with traditional patterns and techniques. They seek to bring Ifugao culture and textiles to the world stage, and to uplift the lives of weavers in Ifugao,” the post continues. 

By incorporating these traditional weaving methods into their designs, brands like Anthill Fabrics and Sky Weavers preserve indigenous Filipino weaving traditions and adapt them for bigger audiences, seamlessly blending age-old artistry with modern aesthetics.

Modernized tradition

The recent Mindanao Tapestry fashion show was a visual testament to the modern versatility of tennun fabric.

Held in the Grand Ballroom of Okada Manila in May, the Tennun Palaradjaan Designers Competition featured 37 Filipino designers whose design entries were made entirely from tennun fabric.

Highlights include Contestant # 14’s standout dress with bold oversized sleeves, an asymmetrical short-front/long-back hemline, and a striking geometric pattern across the bodice.


Another was Contestant # 1’s ankle-length dress paired with a cropped jacket, both featuring an equally unique geometric Tennun print.


The competition serves as a blueprint for how this ancient craft can be seamlessly woven into contemporary fashion, empowering local artists while captivating large audiences. – Patty Bufi/

Patty Bufi is a Rappler intern.

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