Philippine Abaca Bags

The Philippines is the leading grower of abaca – a close relative of the banana plant.  If you have never seen an abaca plant before, imagine a banana plant without the banana fruits – that’s how an abaca plant looks like.

The abaca fiber is said to be the toughest natural fiber in the world and for this reason alone, people have found many ways to use the abaca fiber as raw material for their products.

The Philippines yields approximately fifty thousand to seventy-five thousand tons of abaca fiber every year.  As a result, the country is also the largest exporter of abaca products ranging from bags to furniture, slippers to sandals, and even raw abaca fiber to several countries around the world.

Philippine Abaca Bags

Abaca bags from the Philippines are very popular abroad because of their unique designs and eco-friendly raw materials.  International models and famous celebrities abroad toting a native abaca bag from the Philippines is no longer a surprising sight; with the abaca bags’ increasing popularity in mainstream and high fashion; not to mention its occasional appearance in Hollywood movies.

Abaca bags can come in different styles, sizes, shapes and colors to make sure that women will have a variety of bags to choose from for whatever occasion – from casual chic to sophisticated elegance.

You may also choose to have an abaca bag personally designed for you so no one will have the same one as yours.  There are literally hundreds upon thousands of abaca bag designs that you will find in the Philippines and you are assured that each one is made only from the finest abaca fibers the country is well-known for.

What Makes Philippine Abaca Bags Special

Abaca bags from the Philippines may not always carry a designer label but they are nonetheless equally special – if not more so – in their own way.  The designs are creatively executed, each one aptly suitable for today’s fashionable women wherever in the world they are.

But perhaps the truly distinguishing factor of the abaca bag from the Philippines is that each piece is painstakingly put together by hand which means that a lot of hard work is personally put into each bag by the bag makers themselves.

This is why you will not find any Philippine abaca bag design that is manufactured in huge numbers.  At most, you will find several pieces of the exact same design but never in numbers equivalent to mass production; unlike some of the more popular ladies’ bags.

How Abaca Bags Are Made

For those who are not familiar with an abaca bag, it’s a type of bag made from a special kind of fiber usually found in tropical countries; the Philippines being one of the largest growers of the abaca plant worldwide.

The most challenging part about making an abaca bag is not so much as the actual process of putting together the bag itself but more of producing the raw material needed to make this type of bag unique to the Philippines.

Before making the bag, the abaca fiber has first to be made.

How the Abaca Fiber is Produced

Briefly, the abaca fiber is a by-product of the stems of the abaca plant.  The plant is basically left to grow from one to two years before the first harvest of the sheath and the stems take place.

After the maturation period, growers usually harvest every 3 months up to 8 months.  The stems are cut and stripped; and these strips are further processed by hand to eliminate any leftover pulps before drying them under the sun.

The 1st layer and the 2nd layer of strips are separated to differentiate the grades of the fibers.  The first layer is usually rougher and more sturdy – good material for ropes; the second strip is smoother and more refined, perfect for paper products.

As for the 3rd and 4th layers; these are the fibers used to make bags and other fashion items.

The Making of An Abaca Bag

Briefly, creating an abaca bag undergoes several processes.  After the raw fibers have been dried sufficiently, they are dyed different colors to give the bag-makers and designers more colors to mix and match.

The fibers are then again hung to dry.  After this, they are woven together or knotted to create bags of different shapes and sizes.  Sometimes, the fibers are threaded together with other materials such as metallic strings to create other types of designs for the abaca bag.

Zippers, buttons, shells, synthetic leather for handles; synthetic silk cloths for lining and other materials to funky-up the bags are then added.  Looms and other weaving equipment are used but everything is done manually.

Of course, the entire process is actually more tedious than it sounds but basically, these are the steps to create abaca bags.

So the next time you buy an abaca bag, remember the calloused hands that worked on it.  It is literally and physically a labor of love.

Abaca in the International Year of the Fiber 2009

The abaca fiber has long been part of the Philippines’ agricultural industry and in fact, a significant portion of the farmers in the country are abaca growers.  Abaca products that come from the Philippines range from fashion accessories likes bags and footwear; furniture; tablecloths and placemats; among a few.

2009 being tagged as the International Year of the Fiber has given abaca a long-overdue recognition for its many contributions not only in the fashion industry but more so in the livelihood of so many people, in the Philippines and other developing countries.

Abaca Takes Centerstage

For those who still don’t know, abaca has been used by major car manufacturers worldwide as fillings or linings for their car seats.  Mercedes Benz is one huge client for the abaca exporters – with the prestigious car company using the fiber for their car seats.

With the United Nations pushing the importance of fiber in micro-economics; other car manufacturers have followed suit, like German car-maker Daimler AG.

But the more visible products made from abaca are those found in the fashion and furniture industries.  Back in 2002, Hollywood hot property Jennifer Lopez did a film called Main in Manhattan; and in one scene from the movie, you can see her toting a dark brown woven native bag.  Yes, that was an abaca bag straight from the markets of Bicol.

This indicates that the abaca has finally been introduced to the high market after years of being in the shadows.

Locally, internationally-renowned fashion designer Patis Tesoro is famous for her native designs and intricate patterns on delicate Philippine fabrics such as piña and sinamay.  Sinamay is made from abaca fiber; and Ms. Tesoro’s designs have been showcased in fashion runways all over the world including New York, Toronto, Brussels, Bangkok and Beijing.

Abaca Furnitures Also Takes the Limelight

In recent years, Philippine-made abaca furniture has been increasing in popularity – with a lot more people finally appreciating the finer qualities of abaca furniture.  They are not only cheaper, they also add a kind of unique touch to any room as their look and design are entirely their own.

Famed Filipino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue uses abaca as his material for some of his beautiful furniture pieces.  Philippine abaca furniture has stepped into the limelight so much so that famous celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have pieces of Philippine-made abaca furniture in one of their homes.