Raffia: fiber from the Buri Palm

In the recent century, sustainable fibers have made a comeback.  Pressed by the urgency of addressing environmental impact, many countries have agreed to go green.  Natural fibers are prized for its sustainability and low carbon footprint.

The Buri Palm is the source of the humble fiber known as Raffia.

One such fiber that is changing the landscape of fashion and design comes from the stately Philippine palm, Buri.  This palm is endemically and abundantly distributed all over the islands of the country.  The Buri Palm is the source of the humble fiber known as Raffia.  It is changing the shoe industry of the African continent. Upcoming brands Proud Mary, Rafia Chic and fashion designer Tory Burch have utilized Raffia sourced from Madagascar and Morocco for their creations.  About 80-90% of the world’s Raffia is produced by the marshes of Madagascar.

Buri Palm fiber has also invaded Hollywood in the recent years in the form of celebrities’ straw tote bag staple to the beach.  Designs from Salvatore and Dolce & Gabana have taken straw bags beyond the beach.  A single straw bag can be priced ranging from below $100 up to $2000.  This fiber owes its success to its versatility in being twisted, knotted, knitted and combined with other fabrics.

In early 2016, Philippine Raffia loomwovens are valued as architectural wall finishes in Asia’s resorts and hotels.  International furniture designers from Made Goods, Oomph, Thibaut and Palecek have more recently unveiled Raffia wrapped furniture.  Or grasscloth lacquered texture as they call it.  This adds a rustic and distinctive feel to the lines of the sculptural furniture.  But the finish is difficult to perfect and requires a certain skill in the weaving and advancement in material treatment.

Loom weaving has been one of the heritages of the creative nature of our country.  However, our supply cannot meet the demands of the market.  The lack of palms grown and the need for the elevation of weaving to be regarded as a skilled professional career contribute to the underproduction of these raw materials.  There is presently much promise in the economic value of Buri Palm supply chain.


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