Soft and cozy shawls and ponchos with modern patterns, body-conscious activewear with a lightweight but warm feel, trendy bags and totes—these knitted fashion pieces by Nooks Manufacturing look like they are made out of European wool, but these are all made from fiber sourced from farms across the Philippines.
Rebirth of a garment industry
The story of Nooks began with the closure of Emi Daniel’s erstwhile export company. “Nooks was formed out of a desire to find employment for displaced knitters of an export company which I ran until 2008,” Daniel shares. “My employer asked me to move our operations to Vietnam. I did not pursue that, and instead opened Nooks Manufacturing with Elizabeth Lee and Martyn Standen, my brother-in-law.”
Daniel goes on to explain that the local garment industry collapsed because of three factors: The Word Trade Organization scrapped the quota system, there was a lack of domestic sources for raw material, and the high cost of labor. Comparatively, labor costs in Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan were only one third or less than in the Philippines.
Philippine fiber to the rescue
In spite of this, Nooks soldiered on. “We focused on finding solutions to raw materials, and pineapple fiber being endemic to the country meant that we had the possibility of ample supply. We came up with the first Pineapple Leaf Fiber Yarn…we worked with farmers in Balete, Aklan, and developed a fiber scraping center in Zambales.”
This piña yarn is made of a mix of hand-scraped pineapple fiber and hand-picked cotton. Other local fiber blends that Nooks uses include abaca, wool, and cashmere, depending on the customers’ specs.
“Along with HABI [the Philippine Textile Council], we introduced Philippine cotton to the local weavers, and they initially did not take to it,” Daniel continues. “After many long months, cotton has now replaced most of the synthetic yarn that they have been using, making their products more marketable and have a broader reach. We farmed in Bayawan, Negros Oriental, supporting small scale cotton growers.”
Elizabeth Lee eventually passed away, and Daniel’s sister Elsie Standen became her business partner and the company’s creative director in 2011. They made different yarn experiments, and this gave rise to Chill by Nooks, which was eventually rebranded as Allena.
Allena currently produces fine knitwear, activewear, shawls, boleros, jackets, dresses, and bags in modern designs, all with friendly prices. The materials used are soft and warm, but breathable. Nooks continues to make experiments with this line, and produced Philippine-inspired pieces for Manila FAME’s Design Commune in 2019.
“As dyed-to-the-core knitters, we have made textile innovations such as spacer fabric. We have jackets and coats made out of this three-dimensional textile. We had a collaboration with FAME care of André Chang for our Maria and Jose Spacer Terno and Barong; these styles have been doing well in the market.”
Other Nooks material creations include SKOON, which is a sustainable bamboo fiber innovation that hopefully, with a spinning facility in the future, they could reproduce. Meanwhile, Daniel and her group will continue focusing on their work with Allena. “As the only fully knitwear brand in the Philippines and one of the few remaining knitting companies in the country, we feel that it is also our obligation to ensure this skill is passed on and cared for through our brand.”