JM Ganuan: the “dahon” queen of Maitum 

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 19 March) – Since childhood, this 29-year old Tboli teacher dreamt of someday becoming a unique fashion designer to put the limelight on the Tboli  as having a distinct culture that they can be proud of.

The COVID-19 pandemic and online technology helped Jay Marc Ganuan realize that dream. 

Left at home with nothing much to do during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 in the mountain village of Tuanadatu in Maitum town, Sarangani province, Ganuan, a member of the LGBTQ who lives with a partner, found time for her passion of designing unique outfits, making use of what is abundant in their surroundings.

“We cannot go out to roam as we used to and it gave me a chance to better see the many plants around and so many leaves!” said Ganuan who holds a degree in elementary education.

Banana first

How she can make use of the leaves for her passion for fashion, Ganuan scoured the social media for some inspiring ideas until she saw designs from Vietnam and Thailand “that I know I can improve on.”

Ganuan has had no formal studies or training in fashion design. “So many leaves around, only what is lacking is my formal study on fashion design,” said Ganuan, who prefers to be called JM. 

JM models one of her creations. Photo by ROMMY USMAN

For her first design, she used banana leaves.

It took her two days to conceptualize the design and put together the dried banana leaves which they gathered. She then sought the help of her photographer cousin Rommy Usman, also a Tboli, to take pictures which they posted on Facebook.

“Never did we think that the images would gain so much attention on social media and we again did it using other leaves,” Usman said.

Value and design

In her “dahon” (leaf) designs, Ganuan considers functionality before aesthetic value “because if you have a costume or garment that cannot be worn, how can it have aesthetic value?”

JM models a creation using coconut leaves. Photo by ROMMY USMAN

In assembling what she designed, Ganuan uses the usual needle and thread, along with wires and sticky tapes to prevent the leaves from falling off.

Ganuan also bears in mind what the elders in the community said of her intention to promote their culture using leaves like banana, papaya, coconut and anahaw, which are common in their place. She said they do not use leaves of plants or trees that are considered endangered and prohibited by law, like cannabis.

“You cannot strut around during pictorials wearing marijuana, we might get arrested,” she said, laughing. 

“Our tribal leaders said that I must be conscious of our customary practices, especially with leaves of plants and trees that are considered sacred among the Tboli. This is to avoid interpreting my designs and images as promoting herbal medicinal values,” she said.

The former child development worker pointed out that putting together a leaf apparel needs a lot of patience and creativity, not to mention the need to be knowledgeable about plants and leaves.

She narrated that since they started in 2019, she had worn leaves in a photoshoot that turned out to be the itchy kind. “I want to scratch myself all over, but I cannot in front of the camera! Tiis ganda na lang,” she recalled. 

Not for money

Four years after first coming into the open and getting exposure on social media with her leaf-inspired apparels, Ganuan has drawn the attention of some media outfits, featuring her works in their respective media outlets.

Another creation by JM. Photo courtesy of ROMMY USMAN

Ganuan says she is happy “because our tribe will be known not for the usual festival things, but for unique abilities and talents in promoting consciousness on environment and love of nature.”

Although she has not been commissioned to design for others, Ganuan has been promoting the use of leaves during weddings and other events where she serves as event coordinator. Instead of  using cloth, cardboard or paper for decorations, she opts for leaves. 

Her use of leaves to express her passion for fashion has fulfilled her childhood wish to be a “unique fashion designer.” 

“My intention is not to get rich but to leave an inspiration to young Tboli in telling people who we are and what we are good and proud at,” she said. (Rommel G. Rebollido / MindaNews)