Life, amid COVID-19, is not all doom and gloom after all. Despite the fact that most people are shut away in their homes, many families and communities have never been closer. Take the handloom sector, for instance.
“I’m stuck in Baguio because of the lockdown,” shares Laida Lim, president of HABI: The Philippine Textile Council. “But I’m aware of the difficulties faced by our local weavers and the weaving sector in general.”
The biggest problem was logistics as deliveries of goods and raw materials were put on hold.
“They’ve also experienced a sudden stalling of orders as retailers themselves are closed due to the worldwide lockdown,” adds Philippine cotton advocate and HABI member Mike Claparols, who took a survey from several weaving groups in different provinces during the onset of the pandemic last March. “Also, many of the weaving communities have an overstock of fabrics, which they brilliantly fashioned into face masks.”
In Aklan, the pandemic forced local weavers to abandon their looms to seek new ways to bring food to the table.
“With no signs of immediate recovery as the crisis unfolds, my mom and I decided to hold a fundraising initiative online just to help the community,” shares Carlo Eliserio, a third-generation piña weaver from Aklan. “HABI reached out to us. With their help, we were able to raise more than P240,000, which helped some 600 piña weavers in our province.”
Likhang Habi Market fair goes virtual
Trade fair and retail events, through which artisans get cash sales, may also not happen in the next few months because of safety protocols.
So what did local textile advocates like Lim and Claparols have to do?
What else but create a virtual marketplace where local artisans and retailers can showcase and sell their wares?
Driven by its advocacy to preserve and promote the local textile industry, HABI: The Philippine Textile Council continues to provide platforms for local weavers even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This year, we’ve decided to take the annual Likhang HABI Market Fair online since we are not allowed to gather in large groups because of COVID-19,” enthuses Lim during the fair launch on Zoom.
She was joined by Claparols, HABI chairperson Maribel Ongpin, board members Ruby Roa and Rambie Lim and Charisse Tugade of The Manila Collectible Co.
The annual trade fair used to be held at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati.
“The Likhang HABI Market Fair is our way of helping to sustain the local weaving economy,” adds Lim, as she urges everyone to join them in this endeavor.
Slated from Oct. 21 to 27 at www.shophabifair.com, the pioneer in artisan fairs and local textile advocacy showcases sustainable and ethical fashion, homeware and other lifestyle products from over 30 merchants representing various weaving communities from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
“The modern world is realizing the beauty of hand-woven items, the beauty of natural fabric, and the beauty of tradition,” enthuses Ongpin. “I’m happy that our fashion designers are now paying attention to indigenous fabrics as well. They’ve come up with stylish pieces that appeal to the younger market. There’s a certain pride when you wear them.”
The Cotton Project
The Philippine weaving industry is estimated to have some 450-plus weaving groups, with a weaving population of about 5,000. Forty-five percent are from Luzon, 30 percent are from the Visayas, while the remaining 25 percent come from Mindanao.
“The estimated revenues being generated by all these communities amount to about P150 million annually, maybe more. Each weaver gets about P3,000 a month,” shares Claparols.
Eighty percent of the weavers use synthetic materials like polyester made in China, “ultimately lowering the quality of our textiles,” he adds. “Only 20 percent use cotton, piña and abaca.”
HABI also continues its long-term commitment and advocacy of reviving the use of pure Philippine cotton, a fiber that is very much part of the Filipino culture.
HABI has partnered with the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority to give local weavers organic cottonseeds and threads for its Cotton Adoption Project to boost its position in the handloom-weaving industry.
“HABI provides cotton and logistics to selected weavers,” shares Rambie Lim of the HABI Cotton Project. “We worked with weavers who could already use the thicker treads. We find ways to translate their weaving techniques into cotton.”
HABI provides these weavers, who hail from Dumaguete, Sulu, Palawan and Aklan, with cotton threads, the cost of logistics and helps them select the textiles based on their expertise.
The search is on for the best piña weavers
Aside from the online trade fair, there will also be a series of webinars and a four-day online summit.
The webinar series aims to bridge interdisciplinary voices and encourage dialogue to better understand how our varied experiences as Filipinos have shaped the way we think, move and learn.
Another highlight is the Lourdes Montinola Piña Weaving Competition. Now in its third year, the contest recognizes exceptional craftsmanship and mastery of the delicate process of turning pineapple threads into works of art.
“The competition has encouraged us greatly over the years because it brings out new talent and revives old techniques,” adds Lim.