Weaving heritage with Gwen Vetuz from Little Islanders

Weaving heritage with Gwen Vetuz from Little Islanders

Over the past year, I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with Gwen Vetuz from Little Islanders for Dear Samfu’s first ever adult-kids capsule collection, Nowadays, At A Garden Party. Little Islanders is a Hong Kong-based kidswear brand that works with artisan weavers in the Philippines to create modern hand-loomed clothing which honor traditional craft and celebrate the joy of childhood. 

Gwen and I hit it off really well, as our brands were both driven by our love for heritage. We preferred to call our businesses passion projects, placing our commitment to people over profit at the heart of our processes. 

For this capsule, we worked with fabric made by Matter Prints for Little Islanders in the Philippines design- inspired by the Philippines' namesake as the Sunshine Nation where the rays on the sun in the national flag and carvings on a local gong called Kulintang were interpreted into a geometrical, angular rhythm. 

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This International Women’s Day, I speak with Gwen about her passion and aspirations for Little Islanders.

How did Little Islanders begin?

I was inspired to start Little Islanders after my elder daughter was born, as a way for both myself and her to connect with our Filipino heritage. At the time, there was a growing advocacy within the Philippines to support and champion the dying art and craftsmanship of filipino handloom weaving, and when I discovered these beautiful weaves, I decided that it would be a good idea to support this traditional craft and the artisans by making contemporary kids’ clothing with the handwoven fabric. Growing up in Singapore, I had always felt distant from the Filipino part of my heritage so when my daughter was born, I really wanted her to have a connection with that identity and what better way to do this than to wear it.

Tell us more about your fabrics.

We work primarily with fabric handwoven by artisans in the Philippines, and this includes different types of weaves which originate from different parts of the country - from the Kantarines and Binakul weaves from the North to Hablon from the Visayas and Ikat from Palawan made with 100% Philippine cotton. The only non-filipino handwoven fabric we work with is the block print fabric custom made for us in India by Matter prints, but this fabric has a Filipino connection too. The Philippines block print motif was designed in 2015 for Matter prints by Anya Lim of Anthill Fabric, a social enterprise based in Cebu engaged in the work of championing Filipino weaves and providing enabling environments for artisan weavers that would support sustainable livelihoods.

You are a mum with a day job and Little Islanders - how do you do it all? 

It’s hard work! Little Islanders started as (and still is) a passion project and it’s a good thing we are all about slow fashion as that is the only way I am able to do it - slowly. I work on Little Islanders after work and after the kids go to bed, so it definitely takes more time than usual to get things done but it is also my creative outlet and it balances me out. It is tiring at times but when I see the final products, when I see kids loving the clothes and when I receive messages from people who love the clothes and what they represent, it makes it all worth it.

What was the inspiration behind the Garden Party dress?

The Garden Party dress is one of three dresses from Little Islanders’ very first collection. It’s called the Garden Party dress as I designed it with a garden party in mind - something a little girl could wear that looked elegant and would be comfortable enough to take her from the playground to a sit-down meal. When I envisioned the environment the dress would be worn in, I had in mind the Singapore Botanic Gardens with its lush landscaping and black & white buildings… minus the Singapore heat. 

What are your dreams for Little Islanders? 

My dream is for Little Islanders to become a conduit for meaningful connections and conversation beyond clothing, so that when people wear Little Islanders, they feel that it is not just clothing but a part of their identity and a representation of who they are, whether as part filipino, a third culture kid or a person of excellent taste who is a supporter of slow, sustainable fashion and artisanal craft.

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