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Ko Llab: Vocal for local

Lememut beads formed into a hood meticulously sewn by the T’boli.

IN 2015, Jared Servano placed second in Project Runway Philippines Season 4. With this huge triumph, fashionistas expected him to set his sights on a lucrative career in the Metro. Instead, he chose to practice in his native Koronadal City, South Cotabato.

“My life in fashion changed a lot. But penetrating the mainstream was not easy for me especially as I come from a far-flung area of the country. Good thing that many people in the industry accepted me as I am,” Servano says of his modern ethnic-tribal philosophy, which is greatly influenced by the culture and art of his hometown’s indigenous people (IP).

“My design focus is with the T’bolis and the Blaans. I always adore their patterns, their way of making artworks, and the richness of their colors. They are exceptional artisans. I am so blessed that in my entire career as a designer, I was always with them. And I always incorporate their stories into my creations,” Servano shares.

Inspired from the fruits of bugnay, this accessory is made of pure plastic residues individually handmade by the T’bolis of South Cotabato. PHOTOGRAPHY: Russel Porras; MODEL: Sofia Jude Subaldo Palmejar

South Cotabato is known as the “Land of the Dreamweavers.” So for his latest creative output for his label Ko Llab, Servano calls his collection of accessories “K’na,” or dream in T’boli: “I was born in Koronadal City surrounded by the rich culture, art and traditions of this community. I may not have a single drop of their blood but I was raised, educated and cultured the same way they were.”

The accessories are traditionally made, modern in approach and output, but still with the strong participation of IP communities. All crafted by hand, Servano makes sure that every single piece of the artworks are authentically made using their traditional technology of adornment-making.

“People nowadays are more appreciative of traditional things, and the IP community can share the beauty of their craft without compromising their culture,” he says. “Identity is more important. Modern technology will fade but their beliefs, culture and traditions will remain.”

T’boli handmade earrings and necklace made of bosok seeds.

Servano, 50, has no formal fashion education but has been interested in fashion at a young age.

I always immersed myself with the IPs. I served as the spokesman of their artworks and their culture. It has been my monthly duty to do community work with them, helping and teaching them on how to develop their artworks without compromising the traditional ways of making them,” he says. “I always love to work with nature-supplied materials such as seeds, barks and dyes, which hold a significance for the IPs.”

Like all enterprises, Covid-19 disrupted Servano’s operations. “But as an optimistic person, I never consider this pandemic as a hindrance to do my work. In fact, this has been a way for me to give more time to my community collaborators. I got more time to help and teach them to elevate or develop the products.”

“As long as I live, helping indigenous people create beautiful things will always be my advocacy. This is not all about business and recognition,” stresses Servano, “but the preservation of culture as well as my love for these people. As long as I live, I will always be with them no matter what. What we have is a never-ending relationship.”

Fashion designer and cultural advocate Jared Servano of Ko Llab
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