PTRI hosts First ASEAN Textile Conference in the Philippines, Puts Sustainability and Science and Technology in Spotlight


The Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) recently hosted TELA ASEAN Textile Conference, which brought together key persons from the textile industry and ASEAN-member countries to discuss the state of the region’s textile industry and to find ways to address its challenges. Featuring presentations from the delegates – including an ASEAN textile exhibit and mini-trade fair of Filipino textile MSMEs – the first TELA ASEAN Textile Conference in the Philippines coincided with the 50th founding anniversary of both PTRI and the ASEAN.

“For PTRI, the Filipino word ‘TELA’ is not just the literal translation of ‘fabric’. Instead it is a concept – Textiles Empowering Lives Anew – which emphasizes that textiles, particularly the handloom weaving industry, is a viable opportunity to provide economic empowerment and give dignity to people,” said PTRI Director Celia B. Elumba.

Joining her were DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, ASEAN Foundation Executive Director Elaine Tan, and former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Delia Domingo-Albert in setting the tone for the event with the theme “Weaves of Change: Fostering Ties that Bind”.

A paradigm shift in design thinking

In the Southeast Asian region, numerous weaving communities thrive on making traditional textiles. However, they are in danger of losing their craft due to exploitation and lack of interest from the younger generation – common concerns expressed by delegates from Lao PDR, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

Without a doubt, these challenges face all ASEAN weavers, like the Lao women who work with Dr. Nanci Takeyama of Nanyang Technological University-Singapore. Apart from encouraging weavers to produce original cultural motifs, she guides them in using intellectual property as a leverage in business because some enterprising designers tend to dilute the textiles’ cultural significance. With renewed global interest in textiles and textile-focused fashion, she emphasized, “I believe that a paradigm shift from a mere ‘design of things’ to ‘design of systems’ (that surround the things themselves) is required. Only then will designers be able to have a real valuable contribution to society.”

Scientific interventions for sustainable economic growth

Presenting recent trade data from the World Bank, Director Elumba shared that the Philippines has trade-positive exports in natural textile fibers, such as abaca, pineapple, and banana. This is an under-recognized opportunity for ASEAN countries to provide value to global markets, and to promote as sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic textiles.

Dr. Kinor Jiang of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Mr. Kamin Pongsarojanavit of Thailand Textile Institute each presented their work on textiles employing science and technology. Dr. Jiang advocates green technology in textile dyeing to combat environmental pollution and to contribute to a sustainable future in textiles; while Mr. Pongsarojanavit detailed their Institute’s Textile Research and Development Roadmap model, which involves technical textiles, eco-textiles, and nanotechnology – all science-backed approaches to textile design applied with sustainability in mind.

Environmental concerns, economic empowerment, support to MSMEs, and promotion of cultures were key issues aimed to be addressed in the conference. It became imperative to shift the perspective on traditional textile practices and scientific approaches from a superficial standpoint, and put them under the lens of sustainability.

By the end of the conference, the delegates had mapped out ideas of forging partnerships between countries that would utilize and complement each of their strengths. TELA ASEAN opened up a much-needed discussion for the times, and paved the way to strengthening the ASEAN’s diverse and prolific textile industries.

Natural Dyeing and Itajime Shibori Workshops at PTRI

Following the TELA ASEAN Textile Conference, a third day was dedicated for a two-part workshop on dyeing with botanical dyes and itajime shibori, the Japanese art of manual resist-dyeing by folding fabrics. Participants from various organizations, including fashion students, designers, and entrepreneurs, joined the intimate afternoon session held at the Philippine Textile Research Institute.

2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ms. Kommaly Chanthavong (left), with help from Ms. Phoukham Xaypanya of Lao Sericulture Company, facilitated the natural dyeing workshop. They brought in natural dyestuffs from Laos, such as mead leaves, marigold petals, indigo (broadleaf), and lac and cochineal insects. Assisted by the Research and Development Division of PTRI, Ms. Chanthavong prepared dye vats by boiling the raw materials in water, then proceeded to dye Lao silk using the extracted dyes, as guests eagerly waited for their turns to rinse and hang the fibers for display. The colors produced were beige, orange-gold/yellow-gold, green/blue, and red and crimson, with varying tones owing to the silk’s natural colors (cream and yellow).

Filipino artist and graphic designer Yana Ofrasio was once a student of PTRI’s tie-dyeing course, and has since developed her own patterns using itajiime dyeing, making her an engaging facilitator for this workshop.

Yana taught her students the basics of folding before letting them dip their fabrics into indigo vats professionally prepared by PTRI using Philippine indigo. The result is an entire class proud of their creative output.

Among the participants were designer Twinkle Ferraren, members of HABI: The Philippine Textile Council, and fashion students from iAcademy.