Tboli turns to unique leaf outerwear designs during pandemic boredom

Rommel Rebollido

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Tboli turns to unique leaf outerwear designs during pandemic boredom

'DAHON' DESIGN. JM Ganuan wears leaves she designed out of her passion to make a mark for the Tboli tribe in Mindanao.

JM Ganuan FB Page

JM Ganuan finds herself with little to do in her home in the mountain village of Tuanadatu in Sarangani during the COVID-19 lockdown, allowing her to focus on her passion for designing unique outfits

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Jay Marc Ganuan, a 29-year-old Tboli teacher, is attempting to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a unique fashion designer by bringing the distinct culture of her tribe to the limelight.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2019, Ganuan found herself with little to do in her home in the mountain village of Tuanadatu in Maitum town, Sarangani province. This allowed her to focus on her passion for designing unique outfits, utilizing the resources abundant in her surroundings.

“We could not go out to roam as we used to and it gave me a chance to better see the many plants around – and so many leaves!” said Ganuan who holds a degree in elementary education.

Banana leaves

Banana leaves have become the key material for Ganuan’s unique fashion designs. With no formal training in fashion design, she turned to social media for inspiration and stumbled upon designs from Vietnam and Thailand that she believed she could improve upon.

“There were so many leaves around. What was lacking was my formal study on fashion design,” said Ganuan, a member of the LGBTQ community who prefers to be called JM and lives with her partner.

LEAF DESIGN. Tboli teacher Jay Marc Ganuan turns banana leaves into something she can wear. – JM Ganuan, Facebook page

Ganuan’s first design using banana leaves, which are abundant in her hometown, took two days to conceptualize and put together with the help of her cousin, photographer Rommy Usman, who also belongs to the Tboli tribe. 

The resulting images gained unexpected attention on social media, inspiring Ganuan and Usman to experiment with other types of leaves.

‘Dahon’ design

Functionality takes precedence over aesthetic value in Ganuan’s leaf designs. She believes that garments that cannot be worn have no aesthetic value.

“If you have something that cannot be worn, how can it have aesthetic value?” she pointed out.

To assemble her costumes, Ganuan uses traditional tools such as needles and thread, as well as wires and sticky tape to prevent the leaves from falling off.

ANOTHER DESIGN. JM Ganuan shows another leaf outfit design. – courtesy of JM Ganuan, Facebook page

Ganuan is mindful of the customs and traditions of her community, as well as legal restrictions. 

She avoids using leaves from endangered or prohibited plants and trees, such as cannabis.

“I cannot strut around during pictorials wearing marijuana. We might get arrested,” Ganuan quipped.

Tboli tribal leaders have urged Ganuan to be mindful of their customary practices, particularly concerning sacred leaves. They want to avoid any misinterpretation of her designs as promoting medicinal values.

Ganuan said creating leaf apparel requires a great deal of patience, creativity, and knowledge of plants and their leaves. 

She recalled wearing itchy leaves during a photo shoot in 2019 and jokingly said, “I want to scratch myself all over, but I cannot in front of the camera! Tiis ganda na lang.”

Gaining headway

Ganuan has been gaining more attention for her leaf-inspired garments, four years after first gaining exposure on social media.

She is thrilled to be promoting her tribe’s unique talents and abilities, as well as environmental consciousness and love for nature, rather than just the usual festival events.

Despite the increased attention, Ganuan’s lifestyle has remained largely unchanged. She isn’t interested in getting wealthy but rather in leaving a positive legacy and inspiring young Tboli to take pride in their culture and showcase their talents. –

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