The Philippines is the second largest exporter of bananas in the world, thanks to Davao del Norte, the country's top producer of the fruit.
But who would know these bananas would make its way to the iconic New York Fashion Week?
They were transformed into world-class fashion designs by Joy Soo, a certified public accountant who retired early to pursue her artistic passion.
She is the founder and designer of Musa Fabric. The uniqueness of the banana fabric makes it a standout in the fashion community -- but more than that, Soo believes it was her advocacy that allowed her creations to set foot on the NYFW.
Soo shared she got the idea two years ago, when looking for fabric to use for her graduation in fashion design.
A friend working at the Philippines' Department of Labor and Employment showed her a video of women inmates at the Davao del Norte's provincial jail where they were seen weaving the banana fiber.
It was through these women that Soo developed Musa Fabric into a sustainable enterprise that also helps those in need.
"Naging advocacy siya kasi every Friday, kinukuha ko yung wine-weave nila na fabric. Nakikita ko 'yung mga asawa nila naghihintay," Soo said. "Kasi 'yung mga asawa nila na nasa loob sa jail, nagbibigay sa kanila ng pera every Friday."
But much like the rest of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic brought a setback for Soo's dream. Still, she pursued her advocacy to help uplift women through Musa Fabric.
Through a collaboration with the Davao del Norte local government, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the private sector, Musa Fabric was able to reach out and train women in indigenous communities in the province.
Aside from these communities, the organization also provided livelihood to more women inside the Davao Prison and Penal Farm and the Correctional Institute for Women.
"Most of the Musa Fabric is woven by the prisoners. Sila talaga 'yung 90 percent of the labor force that makes the Musa Fabric," Soo added.
Since the social enterprise began in 2020, Soo said it has benefited over a hundred prisoners.
Soo said the women inmates are paid by DOLE. But realizing it is the families of these women who will benefit at the end of the day, she doubled their compensation.
"I realized that the prisoners found hope in this new endeavor," Soo said. "I believe it boomed because of the advocacy of helping and providing livelihood to the prisoners."
For Soo, banana fabric is a versatile one that can be used in various fashion pieces. She collaborated with different designers and artisans from the Davao region to create hats, bags, shoes and beaded accessories.
Musa’s brand ambassadors are not only from Davao but also from the US, London, Canada and New Zealand.
Among them is Shirley Christine Aala-Yuzon, a nurse at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
She said she was hesitant at first to become a model, already in her 50s, and considers herself too old to walk the runway.
"I told myself, we came from the same town, we came from Tagum," Aala-Yuzon said. "It is right for me to support the Musa advocacy. It is also promoting the powerful creations of our very talented designers."
Soo says Musa is a fashion brand that seeks to give hope and inspiration to the local community where it was built, and to the rest of the globe.