This Homegrown Brand Celebrates Local Heritage With Gorgeous Statement Bags

Vela Manila's new collection is inspired by seasonal fruits and trees.

PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila

(SPOT.ph) A few years ago, local indie bag brand Vela Manila came out with their contemporary totes incorporating indigenous textiles, as well as pretty satchels embroidered with blooms from our childhood like gumamela, santan, and makahiya!). Amid a sea of generic fast-fashion offerings, Vela Manila's bags and thoughtful brand stories appeal to one's sense of local pride, nostalgia, and even whimsy. Fast forward to today: Just when we thought we could no longer be surprised by contemporary pieces featuring local weaves, Vela Manila offers a fresh crop of retail distraction with their new Luntian collection.

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“Vela Manila is a cultural, creative, and advocacy brand that celebrates tradition, modernity and Filipino ingenuity,” shares Maura Alvero, Vela Manila's founder and creative director. “We do that through designing bags that are made of Filipino textiles, and partnering and creating a platform for crafters in Marikina as well as weaving communities across the Philippines.”  

Designed for students and young professionals who are into artisanal, local, and novelty products, Vela Manila's bags are reasonably priced from P950 to P3,200. “As a brand, we value creating well-thought-of, functional, and timeless products,” shares Alvero. “Each piece is crafted for stylish, everyday use, such as the Luna wallets that could easily be elevated as a pouch—and the Habi Binder with multiple pockets and compartments.”

The Mini Satchels come in dreamy fruit hues of Macopa, Calamansi, and Lanzones and feature abaca Pinagabol woven by the Daraghuyan tribe of Dalwangan, Bukidnon. 
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila
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The Gumamela, Makahiya, and Santan Satchels are personal favorites of Alvero. 
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila
The Dalisay Bayong Bag is perfect for daily use. 
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila
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Alvero's all-time personal favorites? The bestseller Dalisay Bayong Bag, the Gumamela Satchel, and the Box Backpack, which is a design collaboration with their crafter, Jess Rellama. “We’ve always been intentional and mindful about every collection we release each year—each Vela Manila piece is a celebration of stories, people, culture, the materials that we use, and our advocacy for sustainable, ethical, and local manufacturing.” 

Into the Lush Life

The Box Satchels come in hues inspired by trees.
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila
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This season, Vela Manila introduces Luntian. “Luntian—[meaning] green, life, vitality—is an introspection of rootedness and growth; staples and stories weaved through colors, shapes, [and] textures. It’s an abstraction and deconstruction of elements and themes into an ecosystem,” Alvero muses. 

The bag designs take inspiration from the mountains and the Philippine landscapes, according to Alvero, as well as elements like seasonal fruits, trees, and even the shape of a mountain. "We also used indigenous textiles such as abaca Pinangabol by the Daraghuyan Tribe of Bukidnon, T’nalak fabric by the T’boli Tribe of South Cotabato, Kantarines by Mang Abel Ti Abra community of Benguet, Abra, and fabric from the Cordilleras," she adds.

The new Luntian Bayong Bags are inspired by slopes and shapes of nature, highlighting T'nalak fabric handwoven by the T'boli of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. 
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila
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The Luntian Collection features four designs. When you want a cool new way to tote your everyday essentials, reach for the Box Satchels. These roomy satchels are made of vegan leather, feature Kantarines and Cordillera weave accents on the straps handwoven by the Mang Abel Ti Abra community of Benguet, Abra, and come in three earthy hues inspired by trees like Mangga (green), Malabulak (maroon), and Narra (yellow).

The adorable Mini Satchels in dreamy hues like Macopa (pink), Lanzones (beige), and Calamansi (mint green) can be your bag from day to night. These lovely satchels feature detachable adjustable straps, brass push-lock closures, and flaps in abaca Pinangabol handwoven by the Daraghuyan Tribe of Dalwangan, Bukidnon.

Meanwhile, Vela Manila's staple Bayong Bags get a fresh update for the Luntian collection. With its scuplted minimalism inspired by the natural slopes and shapes of nature, these crowd-favorite totes highlight T'nalak fabric handwoven by the “dreamweavers”—the T'boli of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, and are available in Alon and Sunglow. Made of vegan leather, this modern bayong has an interior and exterior pocket for your essentials and is handy yet large enough to fit a 13-inch laptop and other gadgets.

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The lovely Luna half-moon shaped wallets in cream, sand, or tan vegan leather lined with Kantarines fabrics in vibrant hues. 
PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila

Rounding out the collection are the Luna Wallets, which are reminiscent of half-moons. Made of supple vegan leather in cream, sand, or tan, these feature full-lined interiors surrounded by Kantarines fabric in vibrant hues. With compartments for not only currency but essentials like lipbalm and a mobile phone, these pretty purses can double as clutches and make lovely gift ideas for a loved one (or yourself!).

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The Design Process

PHOTO Courtesy of Vela Manila

Originally a project for Alvero's entrepreneurship course in college, Vela Manila has grown into a full-time venture with a strong identity and purpose—the celebration of tradition and modernity, purposeful design, creating a platform for artisans and crafters, and creative storytelling. Alvero shares, “We hope to be a house for designers and creatives—in fact, our current collection features the artisans and creatives that collaborated in the making of Luntian.”

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Instead of seeing other local labels as competition, Vela Manila is proud to be part of the growing community of homegrown brands reconnecting us with our roots. For her, the “vision, poetry, and intentionality that goes behind the creative and design process of Vela Manila" is what differentiates them from other brands. "Every detail of the brand and every piece tells a story, and is inspired by a personal anecdote, stories from the community, the beauty of the provinces in the Philippines, or a Filipino tradition,” she continues.

A Vela Manila bag aims not just to be a compliment-magnet, but a meaningful style choice for its wearer. And as each product is woven by stories and the collaboration between artisans and creatives, Alvero finds that it allows their customers to carry that journey with them in their lives.

For more information, visit Vela Manila or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

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Pierra Calasanz-Labrador is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer, stylist, and author of two poetry books (The Heartbreak Diaries and Dear Universe). A staunch advocate of pretty, Filipino finds, follow her local treasure hunt on Instagram.

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