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Handwoven hope

Published Oct 30, 2020 10:00 pm

Before COVID-19 hit the country, indigenous tribes had been lobbying for equity, seeking to better their lives as they worry about poor access to health, livelihood and other basic services. Now, their condition just worsened.

Amid this challenging time, an Itneg community in Abra and some weavers from Ilocos saw a silver lining. From creating neo-traditional apparel made of indigenous fabrics before the pandemic, they have ventured into making standout functional fashion pieces fit for the new normal.

Through Abra Indigo Manila, 22-year-old Tourism graduate Ysabelle Sarayba has bridged three communities — weavers in Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, and an Itneg group in Abra — to consumers in and around Metro Manila. In the process, the company has also helped dressmakers in Novaliches, Quezon City.

The young founder and COO of the garment enterprise met an Itneg couple in a school bazaar back in 2019, where she fell in love with the beauty and uniqueness of their fabrics and products.

Weaving is very special to the Itneg tribe as they use it to tell their stories, according to Sarayba.

“I believe in the products. Every pattern, design, and symbol has a story and history behind it. So imagine being able to wear a piece of their culture. That’s priceless… Livelihood talaga nila 'yung paggawa ng damit. However, wala silang maayos na market. They keep on creating and creating kahit walang benta kasi yun lang naman ang ginagawa nila,” she shares. 

Each Itneg woven fabric is unique because of the symbols embedded in it.

Aside from sharing the traditional garb and fabrics of the Itneg tribe, Sarayba was able to raise awareness about the tribe and their culture. The Itneg products were a hit with the consumers that the company achieved high sales in just a couple of months.

But then the pandemic happened, and Sarayba and her team had to stop operations for a while.

“The Itnegs had to stop production, too, dahil pati sila na-lockdown for a time. Hindi kami puwedeng mag-give up kasi this was the Itnegs’ only source of income,” she explains.

When the strict quarantine measures were lifted, Abra Indigo and the partner communities continued operations and refashioned their fabrics into face masks, which was in demand.

“Yung mga products namin ay naibebenta ni Ysabelle hanggang sa nagkaroon ng pandemic,” says Luis Agaid, Jr., president of the Namarabar Indigo Natural Dye Producers Cooperative. “Napakalaking tulong po dahil kahit may kagipitan na, nandiyan pa rin siya. Nagbebenta pa rin para sa amin.”

Little did the Itneg tribe know that their discipline, commitment and love for their craft also inspired Abra Indigo to help more indigenous communities which, in turn, expanded its product variety and customer reach.

“So, in the midst of the pandemic, we increased our production. Kumuha na rin kami ng fabric galing sa Ilocos to help another indigenous community. Dito sa Manila tinatahi para gawing masks so nakatulong din ang Abra Indigo na magbigay ng trabaho sa mga mananahi. Five sila and they’re located in Novaliches,” shares Sarayba.

A face mask made from Pinilian fabric from Ilocos

Eventually, both Sarayba and the partner communities became each other’s strength. Both now radiate hope and inspire other entrepreneurs and groups to challenge themselves and pursue what they believe in.

Itong mga challenges na dala ng pandemic, they’re only one part of a design. Someday, we will look back and see that we have weaved this into a beautiful life masterpiece,” says Sarayba.  

Like the fabrics weaved by the Itneg, each of us has a story to tell. The struggles brought by the COVID pandemic are just one of them.

Seeing the Itneg tribe’s fabrics in a bazaar prompted Ysabelle Sarayba to start Abra Indigo Manila.

In partnership with The Philippine STAR, Globe and its Facebook community Hope Bank bring you #KwentoNgTagumpay  inspiring stories from people who chose to hope and believe. Watch Ysabelle Sarayba and her partner communities’ #KwentoNgTagumpay on

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