NATURAL FIBRES indigenous to the Philippines, such as rattan, abaca and coconut, have long been used to fabricate simple home furnishings in the archipelago. But those pieces have been given a makeover by a new generation of Filipino design professionals. In 1999, Antonio 'Budji' Layug led a group of Filipino designers to create Movement 8, with the goal of promoting their traditional craftsmanship at home and internationally. The movement is also aimed at countering the stereotype that one avid collector of indigenous furniture, Manila television personality Coco Quisumbing, calls 'the Filipino inferiority complex'. Developed over four centuries of colonial rule, she says 'the definition of excellence was and still is anything made in the west, particularly France or the US. Filipinos long ago set out to duplicate western products. These days, finally, those skilful craftsmen are bringing our original, local designs to life.' Movement 8 has achieved considerable success, winning overseas competitions including the prestigious International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City. Its members have also been featured in the International Design Yearbook. One of the group, Ann Pamintuan, specialises in recasting wrought iron into wire ribbons by applying the weaving techniques she learned from the builders of thatched-roof houses on her native Mindanao. The industry attention the group has gained put Pamintuan's Davao-based furniture company Gilded Expressions on the global style map. Beneath the Mori Art Museum at Tokyo's Roppongi Hills, Pamintuan's surprisingly comfy Cocoon chairs look right at home among better-known Scandinavian and Japanese designs at luxury lifestyle emporium Estnation, and her large, loosely woven Lasso vases grace the sales floor at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. Another Movement 8 member, Kenneth Cobonpue has become a darling of the design press, appearing in glossy publications such as Wallpaper* and Elle Decor alongside signature pieces, including his boxy, open frame Yin & Yang chair wrapped in split rattan, and the hand-woven Croissant sofa of coconut leaf cores. Trained in industrial design at New York's Pratt Institute before working as an apprentise in Italy and Germany, Cobonpue nonetheless credits his success to the Cebu artisans back home. 'I'm inspired by things I grew up with in Asia,' he says. 'The rich culture, nature and crafts that surround me in Cebu never fail to arouse my senses.' He returned to the Philippines in 1996 to manage his family's furniture-manufacturing business, but quickly began shifting focus from western reproductions to his original sculptured mesh pieces in unusual natural fibres such as lampakanai sea grass and palm leaf spines. 'I like to bring nature inside and blur the distinction between living inside and outdoors,' Cobonpue says. 'Using natural fibres in organic shapes gives warmth to the sometimes cold and clinical definition surrounding modern western design.' Award-winning creations such as his fishing boat-inspired Voyage canopy bed, made from Manila hemp and steel, demonstrate the potential of Filipino design. Blazing the trail for all these artists has been Layug, who in the 1960s studied interior design in the US before spending seven years travelling the world soaking up foreign arts and culture. On his return to the Philippines in the mid-70s, Layug had planned to infuse domestic manufacturing with influences from his travels but instead the designer 'found inspiration on the beach watching two men build a traditional bamboo outrigger canoe'. Layug says he was stopped in his tracks by 'their skill and use of the abundant native materials'. 'I started to develop an aesthetic strongly rooted in the Philippines, building on that boat's sleek elegant lines,' he says. 'My work is an expression of this part of the world, but adapted to a global way of living rather than continuing to produce the post-colonial furniture that has kept us back.' By 1981, Layug won the distinction of being the first Filipino furniture maker with creations - the Giant Bamboo furniture line - stocked at Bloomingdales in New York. Three years later he became the first to open overseas showrooms, with one in Los Angeles followed soon after by one in San Francisco. With the same visionary thinking that took bamboo to Bloomingdales, Layug turned the talents of his Filipino design peers into Movement 8, naming the group after the infinity sign turned on its side. It's a symbol, he says, 'of our potential to produce sophisticated designs for the modern world'. 'Our only edge is innovative design for the high-end market,' he says. 'Although the Philippines offers neither high technology nor formal training to boost the furniture industry, with more global exposure and the movement's focused efforts, indigenous design-consciousness is being raised.'