Vivencia Mamites is one of only five women that was handed down the knowledge and techniques of making inabal, a traditional cloth of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe. She learned inabal weaving from Salinta Monon, a national folk master craftswoman identified by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, awarded for her legendary weaves. Inabal was traditionally used as the garment weave for ancestral royalty. Vivencia recreates the eleven inabal woven designs handed down to her by her grandmother Lingnan Manuel, whose designs were usually interpretations of the skyscape. For years, Vivencia’s textiles did not reach new buyers and her only hope was to find some buyers in trade shows.
I love telling Vivencia’s story because its a story of empowerment of one of our microentrepreneurs, and an indigenous one at that. We first met her when we began GREAT Women Project 1 almost four years ago. Today, we do steady business together under the GREAT Women Brand. I remember how, barely a year into the GREAT Women 1 program, from a shy tribeswoman, Vivencia’s growth was remarkable. She blossomed into an empowered and confident microentrepreneur, rising to the challenged of managing and organizing the Bagobo weavers who live scattered around the foothills of Mount Apo in Davao del Sur.
She bridged the Bagobo weavers, helping them obtain and fulfill orders for traditional textiles with passion and creativity. From 20 individual weavers who weave, sell on their own, and have sporadic sales, the GREAT Women Project‘s Intensive Design Clinic helped them come together as a group where they received capacity training. They got help on how to become a cooperative, with legal papers and receipts. Vivencia works the bank account, facebook pages and mobile phone for product development and order taking. Today they are 25 weavers whose wish is for a centralized weaving center where they could work together to keep quality and standards for their weaving and abaca dying. They have expanded production output managing orders of 20 rolls every two month with regular monthly income coming in.
Last 2014, Chit and I as ECHOstore joined the New York Artisan Resource trade fair to showcase four tribes from Southern Mindanao under the brand GREAT Women. This was the first time the Bagobo group’s textiles were out in an international fair. International buyers were amazed at the skill, talent and cultural stories. There was so much interest!
Aside from orders Vivencia receives from us from the GW Brand, one main line is in partnership with exporter Yolanda Sevilla of The Leather Collection, Inc (TLC). TLC was already transitioning from being a traditional to a social enterprise when I met up with Yoling to discuss how their combined strengths could help move the GREAT Women Brand forward. Two collections of bags and accessories were designed and promoted under the GREAT Women brand: the “Babogo Legacy Collection” showcasing the Bagobo tribeswomen’s inabal and the “Sibaltan Woven Leather Collection” featuring woven leather components made by traditional weavers of banig (mats) and bayong (market baskets) from another Palawan community that TLC was working with. These collections are being positioned for private label branding and own design manufacturing in the export market. Both collections were well received and initial orders have already been booked.