KAAYO: Modern Mindanao Clothing for the World

The universe has a funny way of bringing people together. Earlier last year, I stumbled upon a beautiful IG site that had an embroidered skirt that super called out to me. I soon discovered that it was owned by Marga Nograles who turned out to be my neighbour when I was a child in Davao! And one of my first child hood friends!  From then, I have been a loyal fan of the beautiful items of her brand Kaayo.

I love what Marga is doing so much that wanted to help her shine more light on Kaayo. Because every time you own a piece of Kaayo, you own a work of art that helps sustain lives and keep tribal customs and heritage alive in Mindanao.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am Maria Margarita Montemayor Nograles. The only child of Binggoy Garcia Montemayor and Baby Maceda Montemayor – and wife to Karlo Nograles, who is now Congressman of the 1st District of Davao City. … I have 3 kids – Mateo 10, Massimo 7, Nikka 6.

I was born and raised in Davao and studied there till high school. For college, I moved to Ateneo in Manila then moved to New York after college. In NY I worked for the Department of Tourism in the Philippine Consulate, we would do balik Philippines campaigns wherein we invite all Filipinos to come back and visit the Philippines. I remember setting up a Fashion show with philippine designers in the New York consulate to promote local weaves of the Philippines. It was jam packed! This was around 20 years ago!

After New York, I worked with L’Oréal Philippines and then Paul Smith Philippines. – on the side, I had a business making gift with purchase bags for different brands – again incorporating local weaves into the bag designs.

After Paul Smith, I decided to move back to Davao since I was awarded the local Sub Distributorship of Havaianas in South East Mindanao. I remember before this, I approached Havaianas for a project where we could maybe embellish the pairs with local shells, wood, beads and weaves, it was a long back and forth with Brazil but eventually they said – maybe try to be a distributor in your area first. I have had Havaianas for 13 years. It was always and will always be a gift. And I will always be forever grateful.

Kaayo my passion project started just early last year.

Marga with some of her Kaayo partners in Mindanao. Look at their beautiful jackets! 

Baby Montemayor, Marga’s mom and a driving force of Kaayo also. 

How did Kaayo begin? What exactly does it mean?

Kaayo means “Goodness” in Bisaya.

I have always dreamt of having my own brand. I love fashion and I love making my own clothes. My Lola Pat would always tell me – every year – “Margarita I really think you should make your own clothes already!!” I felt, and still feel that there is so much talent out there — and I don’t think I am able to compete with that. With Kaayo, more than making my own clothes, I am able to help communities, preserve and promote culture and weave that into fashion and lifestyle. really the best of both of my worlds!

So this year I decided to go for it. Kaayo is not just mine, but the weavers, the beaders, the tribes, the young designers and all the Mindanaoanas that help bring our stories to life.

Catriona Gray, Miss Universe Philippines for 2018!

What materials are often used in your designs?

For fabric I use chambray, cotton, neoprene, linen and any weave that the tribes can embroider, sew and bead on.

My focus is more on the handiwork of embellishing a piece. Like with the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe, we do a lot of natural dyeing plus we use a lot of beads and threads for pom-poms. With the Tboli tribe, we use tons of threads for embroidery and a whole lot of beads for hand beading.

We also work with weaves from the tribes.

Marga’s adorable daughter

Migs Nograles

What is your design process like? Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in everything.

Sometimes I think it’s too much. There is always something new i want to do and I easily get bored. So after one project I jump to another one – and then another one. There is always something happening in Kaayo.

For my design process, I find pegs, make my mood boards then I set meetings with my team, my collab partners (depending on what project it is) then we start making samples. While samples are being made, I meet with the tribes to show them what I want done with the samples that are about to be ready. After the samples are done, they are sent to Davao, then sent to the tribes  I wait for their samples to be done – then we do a back and forth before we start final production.

Stylist Meg Manzano rocking her Kaayo scarf

Kaayo’s slogan is modern Mindanao, can you share more about Mindanao and your roots?

I was born and raised in Davao. I always tell my friends that I am a “probinsiyana” and I have always been proud of that.

There is so much culture, talent and beauty in Davao. Our beaches, our mountains, our organic produce, fruits, cheese, vegetables and especially our indigenous tribes. There are 11 indigenous tribes in Mindanao. Each with its own charm and character. We are strong, talented and creative.

So with Kaayo, I am excited to create different stories and collaborations to bring together the best of Mindanao showcasing all facets of the island.

How does KAAYO promote livelihoods?

Kaayo is able to give sustainable livelihood to 3 women’s groups right now. One group from the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe and two groups from the Tboli tribe of Lake Sebu.

These women are my business partners. I collaborate with them, i ask them their inputs and they tweak many designs to fit their customs, traditions, and their dreams. – I give them money to produce, then I buy all their work, with their mark up.

This year I am also looking for training programs to bring to them and my dream is for Kaayo to also be able to send their children to school.

I want to empower these women and I want to let them know that with their talent, they can provide sustainable livelihood for their family and give their children a better future and I will always be here to support them.

Do you accept custom orders?

Right now I cannot. I am a very new brand and with the back and forth that is required, pieces don’t come out exactly the way it was supposed to be. – it somehow evolves as we go along. From colors, to beads, to weaves, to cuts. In the future hopefully, we will be able to take in custom orders.

Where do you hope for Kaayo to be in the next few years?

In the next few years I would like to see more collaborations, more products and more projects with the tribes and Mindanao. I constantly wants to bring the beauty of Mindanao to as many people as possible and inspiring Kaayo (“goodness”) to everyone we touch.

Where can people purchase Kaayo items?

The Park
4th Floor, Edsa Shangrila Mall (East Wing)

SM Makati


Villa Margarita Hotel
JP Laurel Ave. Bajada, Davao City

Kaayo Concierge +63 936 736 2442
We make some styles available on our Instagram account once in awhile. Please follow instagram.com/kaayo.ph

This year, we will finalize our online shopping site and our Greenhills showroom!