2nd Quarter Issue


PTRI’s natural dyes add oomph to the baro

Much like a charm, the barong Tagalog veils a dignified look to many who wears it. This is why this very lightweight embroidered dress shirt, worn untucked, is the favored sartorial choice in weddings and formal occasions. The baro became popular as formal wear when Pres. Ramon Magsaysay wore it in many official and personal events, including his inauguration as president.

In 1975, President Marcos declared barong Tagalog as the country’s national costume and June 5-11 as Barong Tagalog Week. Since then, the baro has had makeovers and many looks--from the classy ecru and elegant white to whimsical, flamboyant styles and colors.

Now more shades for the baro are possible to go with the changing tastes and fashion, thanks to the natural dye technology developed by the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute.

Colors as varied as moods
Miguel's kaLIKAHAsan barong made of 100% naturally dyed barong materials

“The various colors reflect the range of moods and emotions of the cosmopolitan Filipino man,” says PTRI’s Julius Leaño Jr., lead researcher of PTRI's Natural Dyes R&D Program and project leader of the Natural Dye Common Service Facility project. 

A swarm of colors jazzed up the barong Tagalog as a result of  PTRI-developed natural dyes out of uncommon materials such as Philippine indigo (Indigofera tinctora), mahogany (Switennia macrophylla King) barks, yellow ginger (Curcuma longga) rhizomes, sampaloc (Tamarindus indica) barks, young coconut (Cocos nucifera) husks, and talisay (Terminalia catappa) leaves.

According to Leaño, PTRI initially developed basic colors such as muted red, blue, yellow, orange, green, violet, brown, and black. “But lately, designers were requesting new colors such as corral orange, bloody red, and others”. 

“It is really amusing because artists and technologists have different perspectives and appreciation of color. When designers request for a specific color, we really have to sit down together because we textile technologists have a different idea from what they are thinking of. Further, we have to consider a lot of factors in the preparation,” he chuckles. He admits that currently, PTRI responds to a demand-driven clientele from the textile, garments, and fashion industry who are closely in touch with color trends.

Marianna Fashion Apparel, makers of “Miguel” barong Tagalong brand, presently holds a showcase of its latest barong collection aptly named “kaLIKHAsan” from Filipino words kalikasan (nature) and likha (creation).  The collection comprises “100 percent naturally dyed barong materials” and bears PTRI’s official seal as proof of authenticity.

naturally dyed threads

Leaño expects more color and shade variations of the baro in the near future as PTRI embarks on extensive research and development activities to suit the fancy of an up-and-coming multicolored barong Tagalog market.

He clarifies though that PTRI-produced natural dyes are also suitable in other apparels, yarns, and home textiles.  “We are tapping the barong Tagalog market because its materials, piña, jusi and piña-jusi, are indigenous in our country and that’s where we want to make a niche,” he says.

Natural dyes more ecologically sound

But Leaño acknowledes that naturally dyed products cost about thrice compared with synthetic counterparts.  So why would PTRI embark on this kind of project?

Apparently, natural dyes are far more ecologically friendly than synthetic ones. According to Leaño, chemical dyes have been banned in Europe because these are found to be toxic or carcinogenic. Synthetic dyes, when produced in an industrial scale, cause serious environmental pollution.

Common service facilities

PTRI initially developed recipes for the use of natural dye crude extracts and then worked on the technology that turns the crude extracts into natural dye powder. Common service facilities (CSF) have been established in Abra and recently in Aklan.

Dr. Carlos Tomboc
PTRI Director Carlos Tomboc dons a naturally dyed barong tagalog

“The Abra facility for some reasons became non-operational. But now we are trying to reestablish it to meet the growing market demands. We have a plantation in Tayum, Abra that could supply materials for dye production,” says Leaño. He also said that the facility was envisioned to provide livelihood to Tingguian beneficiaries, in addition to providing a standardized and more cost effective dyeing technology.

Meanwhile, the three-year old Aklan CSF was established in collaboration with Aklan State University (ASU) and with funding assistance from DOST’s Technology Incubation and Commercialization Program (TECHNICOM). DOST’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development supervises the project and gives assistance in the establishment of nursery and plantation undertaken by ASU.

Backward integration through a nursery and small-scale plantation ensures the sustainability of raw materials supply for the CSF’s four natural dye sources such as sappan, indigo, achuete, and yellow ginger, Leaño explained.

PTRI and the Rural Development Administration (RDA) of Korea, through the Philippine RDA Alumni Association, are collaborating in a three-year project called Technology Demonstration Farm of Korean Natural Dyes Technology to improve the capabilities of the Aklan CSF,. The project aims to establish a small scale demonstration plantation of selected dye sources; improve manpower and natural dyeing facilities; and adopt, transfer and verify Korean natural dye technologies for local use.

The project runs through US$15,000 in funds from RDAK and US$2,500 DOST counterpart.

Go natural trend

Natural dyes are expected to splash premium value to the country’s export quality fiber-based products and handicrafts intended for the “go natural” market. “We are now into hand painting and silk screen using our very own developed natural dye powders,” Leaño disclosed.

The technology also brightens up the hues, looks, and quality of indigenous handicraft products like fashion accessories, Christmas decors, gift items, toys, and houseware, which are very popular worldwide and have helped take dollars home. STP

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