“It all started after Super Typhoon Yolanda,” said surfer Rafu Nepomuceno.
It was good to hear such stories — that some good have spawned from such an event.
Their Batangas farm was one of the many places affected by the world-famous typhoon- that-must-not-be-named. While it was indeed a tragedy, those with positive, hopeful, and creative minds like Rafu, saw it as an opportunity to rebuild with creativity.
Countless trees were uprooted in their farm. Most of them massive, hardy ones. Rebuilding was definitely in everyone’s minds after the typhoon. It was all about starting over. And like a true creative, Rafu took the imaginative route to turn the tragedy around. He enrolled in a 2-year furniture design course and from there began his passion project.
A surfer and a frequent traveller, Rafu takes most of his design inspiration from his trips and mostly, nature.
One of his first few works, which was exhibited at the annual MANILA FAME is the Banyan Lounge Chair. Inspired by the famous Balete tree in Baler, Aurora (where Rafu also frequently surfs) the tree, also popularly knows as the Millennium Tree, is estimated to be roughly 600 years old.
The two-seater lounge chair recalls the tree’s hanging roots with the intertwining of abaca and Piñatex, a piña fabric sourced from by products or harvesting pineapple. Piñatex was also used for the chair’s cushion lining.
From then, Rafu has ventured entirely not only into furniture design, but also in finding revolutionary ways to use sustainable materials.
When asked — what stamps “Rafu Nepomuceno” on a piece?
He replies, “My pieces use 100% organic materials and I make sure the wood is sustainable.”
A creative with an advocacy in mind, the Banyan tree isn’t the only piece he’s created using sustainable and/or upcycled wood.
If his last names rings a bell, that’s because he’s dad is champion bowler Paeng Nepomuceno. Rafu’s resourceful mind made him look at bowling not as inspiration to one of his works–but as actual source for materials. Yup, bowling lanes. Old wooden alleys were the source for these boxy planters.
“Here in the Philippines, talent is undoubtedly everywhere.” Rafu says. “What we need is to find out revolutionary ways to utilize our resources.”
Recalling one his surf trips in Australia, he was amazed by surf shacks that lined the beach. Although exposed to harsh elements, the wood did not seem to rot. Upon asking around, he learned that they use a certain wood oil that protects the material from the inside — making wood look great for long. Rafu then began distributing the product locally. While Rafu would bring innovative ideas from abroad to home, he would also champion the local development of materials. He’s been heavily involved in championing the use of Piñatex fabric. Today, pineapple fibers sourced from leaves of the plant that are usually just left by farmers to decompose post-harvest, is widely used in furniture upholstery, car seats, bags, shoes, and most notably, Puma shoes. As support, Rafu continues to develop pieces using this sustainable fabric as cushioning.
Today, the Department of Agriculture sees future in being the biggest producer of the vegan leather made out of pineapple leaves.
A lover of local with a global mind-set, Rafu is sure to take not only his furniture places, but the stamp of Filipino creativity and ingenuity as well. This is why he deserves a spot in our series of Summer Spotlights. Yup! We’re adding more fire into your summer bucket lists as we feature creatives that are totally living #summergoals. Who’s next? Keep checking back in here to find out!