There certainly is a trend among many private individuals, fashion designers, and business establishments engaged in clothes and fashion to look for and use native materials.
This is particularly felicitous for our hand-woven industry which offers unique, varied and fine handwoven fabrics made in traditional looms following age-old practices of using and preparing material available in our environment.
Some business establishments who have pioneered in the sourcing and marketing of traditional handmade native products are Tesoro’s, established before World War II (and ever modernizing its wares) and the Divisoria/Quiapo outlets of native goods, who besides hand-woven fabrics, sell other hand-woven items like mats, baskets, and other crafts. Other entities have joined in a big way the direction toward native materials like the SM stores which have designated a division called Kultura, bringing in authentic craft-made goods from all over the country to sell in their malls. Furthermore, department stores are now engaging fashion designers to present clothes collections and shows using native materials as the piece de resistance.
We are all familiar with piña, made from the Spanish Red pineapple plant, grown, harvested and processed before weaving the fibers into one of the most unique fabrics in the world, the pineapple fiber cloth which is what piña stands for. Piña is used traditionally for ceremonial clothes where its sheerness and amazing durability make it a must item in a wardrobe. But in truth, mixed with cotton and silk, it can very well be used as elegant everyday wear like office ensembles, school and office uniforms and other non-clotheswear uses like ornamental decoration, tablecloths, bags, etc.
While it may be the queen of our fabrics, piña is not alone among our many examples of hand-woven fabrics. There is inabel from the Ilocos regions of Northern Luzon and the Highland fabrics from the mountain provinces. There are too the striking Mindanao fabrics of various kinds from silk to abaca made in ceremonial ways for the same uses but also available for conversion to household decorations. Hablon, the Panay Island fabric that was an established industry, until the 19th century diminished it with imported cloth, is still extant and in demand.
However, the reality of the recent past where very little interest and consciousness existed in the general public about our native fabrics (except for piña) has taken its toll. There are now less and less number of weavers, few young persons interested in learning to weave. There is a serious lack of adequate weaving threads that would translate into high-earning products.
Cotton thread is now scarce because cotton farming has been neglected mostly because the process of preparing it for weaving is being lost. Moreoever, the cotton thread in the market which is usually imported from China or India or the US is expensive and difficult to source for the ordinary weaver who lives in rural areas and who then turns to synthetic threads. Synthetic thread woven material may have a place in blankets and other mundane uses but for a better return on investment natural fiber is preferred by the more and more mechanically-run world. So, it commands a better price. For being scarcer.
Also, we have lost one important material of yesteryear, ramie, the fine linen fiber that used to be a plantation crop in Mindanao and was turned into fine clothes, table linen and other items, specially attractive when embroidered. China has grown ramie in a big way and undercut the price so badly, it was no longer economical for Philippine plantations to grow it. China has also imitated jusi which is silk-based so much so it is now just imported and not sourced from here due to price constraints.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are trying to manufacture piña using machines. So far, they have not quite succeeded but if they do, piña may go the way jusi.
These are some of the problems facing the hand-weaving industry here which are not insoluble if government could step in with a bit of assistance for promoting cotton farming, re-introducing ramie and reviving jusi. We do have silk farms after all.
The private sector has already made the first move and the public is riding along in this direction. One manufacturer working with Japanese technology has produced abaca denim which makes for really durable wear. Our government agencies involved in fiber research and natural dyes could be more user-friendly with their innovations and researches to share the technology with the private sector and let them be creative on how to produce a finished product. With the current climate of interest in hand-woven material for a variety of uses, there is a market that can surely be developed from local to export with the right incentives and assistance. Our Asean neighbors have started on this journey, let us join them in bringing to the world at large what is uniquely ours and profit from it.
This message comes from HABI: The Philippine Textile Council of whom I disclose I am the Chair. See what we mean by dropping by Likhang HABI, our annual market fair this weekend (Friday to Sunday, 10am to 10pm) at the Glorietta Activity Center. It is the fourth market fair of HABI which started with 20 booths on its first market fair and is now presenting over 50 booths of varied hand-woven, natural material, uniquely designed for most needs and tastes.