A guiding principle in my professional life has always been…how can I help make culture relevant in everyday life? How can I help bring culture to mainstream – integrating this into industries and the other work I do in development, retail, communications, advocacy, etc. So at the tail end of women’s month this March, women came together to culture-chat over coffee in an event called “Women Weaving Change”. Culture was focused on textiles as we sat on stools with cushions of woven fabrics. Why textiles–well because majority of our local weavers are women. Chatting was sharing our best experiences on how to further women’s empowerment on the value chain of the weaving plus share what we knew about the textile industry, and lastly, coffee–Philippine coffee wonderfully brewed. Jen Horn of Muni.ph and Bo’s Coffee hosted the event bringing together a younger set of women for conversation so I jumped at the chance! Present were Rambie Lim of Rurungan Foundation, and Len Cabili of the Filip+Inna fashion line that finds inspiration from our traditions, and myself as the trio asked to be part of the group. Rambie Lim, who has advocated and helps developmental work in the textile industry shared her own community stories while working with Palawan women, the state of the fiber industry and the need for local cotton to be first planted so we can use these fibers for weaving. Rambie continues her commitment to the textile advocacy by giving market access to weavers through the Habi group’s pop-up mall events. Her dream: to have the younger generation of weavers in the communities develop their own designs and start their own innovations, and not just follow the work of their elders. Now this would really revitalize traditions from the roots!
Designer Len Cabili shared her own personal challenges as she trekked alone in far flung cultural indigenous groups in Mindanao just to have the tribal women embroider her pieces, to her own entrepreneurial challenges of finding capital, finding a market (East Coast trunk shows in the US and a BAYO retail partnership) and now, happily, is over her head with work orders both locally and internationally. But Len’s dream is starting to be fulfilled: to build weaving centers in these southern community tribes. She had already put up a longhouse for weaving with the T’boli group and looks forward to putting up the next.
Len and Rambie have been with me, part of the ECHOsi Foundation’s Great Women Program where we had, for a whole year with other designers (like Lulu Tan Gan, Tes Pasola, Ann Pamintuan, and product developers Reena Francisco, Dannie Alvarez and Zarah Juan) go through product development and teaching workshops that prepared micro-entrepreneurial weaving women (and also those that produce food and handicrafts) for market access. Happily the GREAT Women Program has now been elevated as a Platform, and is the gender platform of the country that will now be institutionalized. It is also being studied for replication in several APEC countries. I am doubly elated in that the Canadian government has approved the second phase of the program, which will now run for the next five years, and ECHOsi Foundation-ECHostore is the lead private sector partner alongside the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine Commission for Women (PCW). Perhaps in this second phase, through the collaborative efforts of all, we can actually bring the local textile and weaving industry a notch higher.
The weaving of our traditional (woven by lowland Christian groups) and indigenous textiles (woven by our cultural indigenous communities that have not been influenced by foreign forces) can only be developed and helped if we look at the full supply and value chain. From our experiences together, women weavers in the ground need to be taught to look at their product capacities aside from their weaving skills. We all need to understand that there are certain textiles that have cultural meaning and are part of sacred ritual and must be preserved. So a designer will create a boo-boo if they use a ritual cloth for a bedcover or shoes! On the other hand, there are certain designs that are for mere functional wear so these can begin to be commercialized just to sustain livelihood for the community. Issues include that the poor women need to learn how to cost correctly, to understand that market access mean knowing business such as having a cellphone and a bank account and preparing market sample catalogues where designers can choose from. Its about connecting with groups that can help sell their textiles to fashion designers also and to other institutional groups such as interior designers.
So how can we help our local textiles? As consumers, buy a fashion accessory or item that makes use of our textiles. As designers, explore the beauty and possibilities of our local weaving patters, understand their meaning so we can design accordingly and not just appropriate this. At the Yuchengco Museum, commitment to continue the “Habiness” Trading Circle to offer more market access to support design exhibitions on local textiles will continue a couple times a year. And yes, join us in more culture coffee chats too!