Arts & Culture
January 10, 2024
9 minute read time

Ma. Collecta’s Bianca Jimenez on piña and the magic that unfolds within creative partnerships

Zea Asis
Photos by
Illustrations by

The 19th century was the golden age of weaving piña when almost every Filipino family in Panay, Iloilo owned a loom for weaving. Reaching beyond the country’s borders, the unique Filipino fabric and intricate, masterful handiwork was recognized and held in high esteem by even the most royal and affluent. It became a luxury export worn by European aristocracy who considered it to be exotic and opulent.

Though the light and airy fabric saw a decline in the early 20th century as people sought less expensive textiles and fashion sensibilities shifted, it wasn’t going to be lost in history. Later in the 20th century, a modest revival of piña began.

Today, brands like Ma. Collecta keep that revival alive, living and creating by the idea of moving forward by looking back. Creating piña for everyday wear while incorporating storytelling into each piece, the brand upholds the fabric’s tradition. Bianca Jimenez, the founder of the brand, talks about the artistic and historical richness found in piña, how they weave the fabric into contemporary culture, and the collaborations that enrich Ma. Collecta’s pieces.

Hi Bianca! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began in the fashion industry.

My beginning in the fashion industry really started with my love for Philippine textiles.

As I learned more and more about how they were made, I became fascinated with how a piece of fabric could embody such rich culture and history. In fact, I learned that indigenous Philippine textiles were one of the most important artifacts local historians used to understand pre-colonial Philippine history. By analyzing the uses, materials, and processes used to make these textiles, the local archaeologists were able to piece together important practices and customs of many Filipino ancestral tribes. And what was more fascinating was that each tribe had a fabric that told a different story.

But what sustained this passion was the excitement of seeing more local brands start to embrace the use of local textiles in their collections and help them find a permanent place in Philippine modern society while sustaining the local textile industries. And this was something I knew I wanted to be a part of.

Portraits of founder Bianca Jimenez.

Gradually as I explored the different indigenous textiles still being produced, I learned that there are so many different cultural undertones that come with the creation of such delicate local cloths in different regions. I wanted to hone in on a particular traditional fabric that told a story I resonated with.

"I chose piña because it was worn as everyday attire in Manila until the early 1900s. Traditional piña apparel for local men and women was commonly used as daily wear in the city before foreign textiles were readily imported. I wanted to revive a part of a Manilenyo tradition that has long been forgotten. I wanted to disprove the impression of Piña clothes as itchy, expensive, and only worn on fancy occasions. I wanted to bring back “A life in Piña”.

How would you describe Ma. Collecta’s essence and creative philosophy?

At the heart of it, Ma. Collecta is dedicated to celebrating the story of the collective Filipina; to exploring the ways we can move forward by looking back. Aptly named Ma. to stand for Maria in order to hopefully resonate with the prefix that hides in many of our full names.

Each collection also aims to explore a different part of Filipina history and collaborate with a group of creatives to reimagine it each time to tell a new story.

From to left to right: Dalantal Apron in Black and the Apóy Top in Black

Your second collection, Pandanggo, drew inspiration from the Filipino folk dance of the same name. As part of the launch, you featured Filipina dancers such as Chloe Alcid and Marga Herbosa in a short film produced with Colin Dancel. How did elements of the Pandanggo dance translate into the pieces in this collection?

While there are many different variations of Pandanggo that exist across the Philippine archipelago, a common thread that seems to appear in the most popular versions is a contrast of light and darkness. In practice, this contrast comes about in the form of candles dancers use throughout their performance.

For the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, which originated from Lubang island, Mindoro, the locals would balance these candles on their palms and heads to symbolize fireflies emerging at dusk. Alternatively, for the Pandanggo Oasiwas, the fishermen would wrap them in scarves and sway with them to celebrate a good catch. The silhouette of the Apóy top is directly inspired by this dancing flame. On the other hand, the silhouette of the Sirena dress was in turn inspired by the fishermen out at sea.

In addition, the Pandanggo is one example of our unique Filipino identity as it blends our local ‘eastern’ values with western influence. While it is originally inspired by the Spanish dance called the Fandanggo, each province that adapted it imbued its own local symbolism and meaning to the dance.

This delicate balance of cultures and dance between opposites – east, west, darkness, and light is something I wanted to capture more symbolically by introducing both black and white piña into the collection.

Your third and most recent collection, Hardin, showcased the illustrations of Raxenne Maniquiz through the fine craft of burda. Tell us more about this partnership and what your specific considerations were around the interaction of design and textile?

My intention for Hardin was to further the celebration of our piña heritage by exploring ways the intricate callado and burda techniques could be reimagined. My vision was to present colorful endemic flora and fauna on simple silhouettes – and I knew in order to be able to truly achieve this in the most beautiful way, I would need to collaborate with the endemic flora and fauna queen herself, Raxenne.

“...we had to be extremely specific about the shapes and threads for each flower. This prompted me to create cute little kodigos (think paint by numbers) and hand trace every single flower on each individual piece.”

Raxenne and I actually started talking about this collection 2 years ago just as borders started to close during the onset of the pandemic. She recommended that we stick to orchids because “they have long been associated with desire, femininity, and strength.” And it is what she believed to be the essence of a Maria. After long and exhaustive research on local orchids, Raxenne recommended 12 varieties that highlight the wide range of flora we have on our islands. We then worked together to match the authentic colors to threads and set out to create some samples. The artisans I was working with never had any experience working with this type of design so we had to be extremely specific about the shapes and threads for each flower. This prompted me to create cute little kodigos (think paint by numbers) and hand trace every single flower on each individual piece. It became my go-to mindfulness activity during the lockdown.

While the artisans were initially hesitant about trying something new, they never ceased to amaze us with the level of craftsmanship they embedded into each stitch. Receiving a package from them was always the most delightful surprise! After endless variations of ECQ we were finally able to launch Hardin 2 years later.

“One of my favorite moments of launching a new collection is finally getting in a “room” with the creative team to see how we want to tell this story together; to be open to each other’s ideas and really let our collective magic unfold.”

How did these collaborations with different artists—for example, showcasing Alcid and Herbosa’s performance—enrich the pieces in each of your collections? Which piece/s is the most meaningful for you and why?

I think each of the unique collaborations with the various artists I had the privilege of working with really helped me explore and tell the whole story of each collection. For example, dancing alongside Marga and Chloe during the Pandanggo campaign allowed me to physically explore how we would re-imagine the dance together. While Cru Camara’s unique lighting in her photography created a whimsical world that served as a perfect introduction to the Life in Piña I wanted to introduce in my first collection.

“Each artist that I have had the pleasure of working with has added their own creative twist to the story that really helped push Ma.’s mission of moving forward by looking back.”

As for the most meaningful pieces so far, there are 2 that stand out.

The first is my signature Pañuelo Tube — it actually came about through a happy accident while I was playing around with some cut fabric that I was pining on my body. I just happened upon the silhouette, and it was kind of this magic moment while I was still forming the idea of Ma. in my head when I realized that perhaps I could really do this.

The other piece is the Dalantal Apron, another signature of the brand. It is special to me because it was born out of the countless doodles that have filled my notebooks for as long as I can remember. And it just makes me so happy that they have amounted to something so real, tangible, and unique.

From left to right: Pink Waling waling Panuelo Tube and Dalantal Apron in White

How have these creative partnerships, particularly your interaction with different art forms and disciplines, deepened your craft?

I think more than anything, these creative partnerships have inspired me to keep growing Ma. And they have instilled in me the true value of collaboration. Each of us has our own areas of expertise and we can really tell a much richer story if we combine them and work together.

How do you make sure that these collaborations remain fruitful and constructive?

I think the key to making sure that these collaborations remain fruitful and constructive is to really bring together creatives who are just as excited about the idea of promoting our local textiles and ultimately preserving a little bit of our history and heritage as well.

One of my favorite moments of launching a new collection is finally getting in a “room” with the creative team to see how we want to tell this story together; to be open to each other’s ideas and really let our collective magic unfold.