Rainforest Fringe Festival 2017: Fashioning an Identity

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Refreshed from a restful sleep, Day 2 of the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival kicked off with a Craft and Vintage Market held all day. With over 25 vendors hawking wares ranging from gorgeous accessories to tasty treats, we were spoilt for choice as we wandered through the Old Courthouse grounds.

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One of the shops that caught our eye was Barefoot Mercy. Barefoot Mercy is a charitable organization raising funds for rural communities in Sarawak, such as building pre-schools in Long Lamam and providing rural electrification for the communities. At their shop, they sold various traditional Sarawak produce, from palm sugar syrup, to uniquely flavoured Tucu salt, to the dangerously tasty Tuak (Borneo rice wine). We ended up buying some of their coconut nectar to add to literally any dessert or our daily coffee, as well as a freshly made bucket of salted egg tapioca chips (because which Singaporean can resist anything salted egg flavoured?). Besides foodstuffs, Barefoot Mercy also sold items such as traditional Penan rucksacks, a bag still used in places like Long Lamam. Of course, the profits go towards charity, and we were delighted to be able to both do some good while enjoying Sarawak’s produce.

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The food produce didn’t stop there of course. We stopped by Rosana’s Homemade Food and checked out her jars of Dry Sambal, which infused some unique Sarawak flavours into an anchovy based sambal, including bird’s eye chili, galangal and lemongrass, the perfect addition to any porridge or to spice up a snack. If you didn’t catch her this weekend, don’t worry, she’ll be travelling down to Penang for the Georgetown Festival later this month, and plans to have an all new flavour featuring the flavours of Penang!

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Besides Barefoot Mercy and Rosana’s Homemade Food, there were so many fascinating traditional craft products on sale too. Just to name a few, there were intricately carved beads from Florence Sujang, necklaces that really made a statement from Left & Right Jewellery and watercolour scarves from Idhani Art Scarves. In a sense, it was almost a preview to what we were about to see tonight at the Fashion Gala, where the designers brought Sarawak traditional designs and craft into the modern world with their handiwork. Architect-designer Edric Ong, whose collection would close the show later, even had his own stall set up, selling ready to wear clothes and accessories inspired by Sarawak motifs and using all-natural materials.

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As the sun descended over the Kuching skyline, the evening took a turn for the glamorous as guests showed up in their best dress at the Waterfront Hotel for the Fashion Gala. Featuring a total of nine sequences, the appropriately titled Sarawak: Theatre of Clothes acted as a platform to really put Sarawak tradition in the spotlight.

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The standout sequence for us was local designer Priscilla Shunmugam’s collection. The founder of Ong Shunmugam brought us an amazing show and blew us away with her modern, ready-to-wear collection utilising traditional ‘Pua Kumbu’ fabric. The patterns on the light fabric alone warranted a second look, and they were made even more vibrant through Shunmugam’s sleek and modern designs. Overall, the collection was thoughtful and respectful of tradition while delivering on the aesthetic front, and would easily find a place in just about any woman’s wardrobe. We couldn’t be prouder of her for representing Singapore.

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Besides Shunmugam, the Theatre of Clothes also featured designers such as Sarawak native Ramsay Ong’s ‘Oceania’ collection of beautiful scarves and accessories, the Tun Juga Foundation’s ‘Rainforest Collection’ inspired by the Iban tribe, Neng Kho Razali’s ‘Labong’ with a range of iconic headgear, the artisans of Tanoti’s ancient art of Songket weaving given new life in ‘Luxe Handwoven’, and even a showcase that featured accessories from the Craft and Vintage market nicely paired with clothes from Randy Goh. The Theatre of Clothes also featured a segment focusing on Iban tribe tattoos, with actual members of the Iban tribe walking down the runway.

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The show ended with two of Sarawak’s foremost designers. Dato’ Tom Abang Saufi presented her collection ‘Tradkacak’, influenced by iconic ethnic images from Borneo, which featured both wearable fashion and avant garde pieces that could well be works of art. Edric Ong’s collection ‘Hutanese’ ended off with a showstopping runway show featuring clothes made from handwoven materials. His show had plenty of memorable outfits, including two entire wedding looks that felt like they came straight out of a film set.

Pushing boundaries yet respecting their cultural significance, Sarawak culture was given the spotlight and a complete makeover through the designers’ innovative creations.

Tomorrow, we will be spending our final night in Sarawak with an entire concert extravaganza held in an outdoor amphitheatre featuring some of Sarawak’s very best musicians. Watch this space for our coverage of tomorrow’s events, and if you want to be even more kiasu and know exactly what we’re doing, remember to give us a follow on Instagram too!

 

The inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival takes place in Kuching, Sarawak from 7th to 16th July 2017. For more information and the full programme, check out their website here

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