And, why do you think they call it the "Manila envelope?"

I received a shipment from the Philippines last week. Three Stone Steps now has brand new colors and designs of messenger bags and other personal accessories. Very exciting. But what’s actually blogworthy is that these bags come in rarely seen in the U.S. fibers. So, in addition to mosquito netting, recycled metal, silk, and cotton, Three Stone Steps now boasts such fibers as recycled tetra pack (think those little juice boxes where you poke a hole with a straw) and used (but clean) junk food wrappers, bamboo (made into hip jewelry), seagrass, and abaca. Of all these wonderful fibers, I must admit to having somewhat of a mini-obsession with abaca. Plus “abaca” is just such a magical sounding word.

I’ve posted photos of my abaca products before on this blog–in the should Venus, the mannequin, be naked post–but it’s time to do it again so you can see just what I’m talking about:


Cute, huh?

Anyway, without getting all Latin plant name on you, abaca is the fiber from a tree that looks exactly like a banana tree, just without the fruit. The fiber is harvested from the outer sheaths of the trunk, a process done by hand that doesn’t harm the tree at all. In fact, in a couple of years, the same outer sheath grows back. And, while abaca is grown in various parts of the world, it’s said to be indigenous to the Philippines, and the Philippines leads the world in its production. Ok. End of botany lesson.

Abaca is generally considered to be the strongest natural fiber available. In fact, cordage, especially for ships’ ropes, is among its most notable use. And, not only is its strength legendary, abaca is incredibly lightweight. Talk about having it all.

But wait, there’s more. Abaca, this friendliest of eco-friendly fibers is, at least in the Philippines, grown by small farmers, working maybe five or ten hectares. So, we’re not talking some big multinational paying workers peanuts to harvest this fiber on plantations, this fiber comes from real small farmers. And, once it’s in fiber form, it’s taken to another small producer to dye and weave. All this is done by hand, too. And, then the producer I work with, on the big southern Philippine island of Mindanao, and I figure out how to design this woven fiber into bags you will love.

These bags have other special, eco-friendly features like lining made from recycled flour sacks, but I’ll leave the inside of the bag for another post.

Oh, and the Manila envelope trivia question thing? Abaca is sometimes called Manila hemp. And, envelopes used to be made out of it, hence the Manila envelope. And, now you know.

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Filed under abaca, messenger bags, mosquito net, Philippines, recycled, silk

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