Ma. Isabel Ongpin
Ma. Isabel Ongpin

The past weekend saw the Third Habi Bazaar, Likhang Habi, take place for three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Glorietta 2 Activity Center of the Ayala Malls.

Thirty-three booths of indigenous textiles from all over the archipelago were on exhibit and sale. Textiles woven in traditional looms from north Luzon to Mindanao presented a spectrum of materials, designs, colors. Also fibers woven into mats, table runners, lampshades, baskets and other ingenious products were on show. This country has a rich and varied number of handwoven textiles and fibers that the public must be made aware of. Weaving in any culture is part and parcel of national identity, a symbol of the soul and art, belief system, outlook and perspective of a people. The Philippines has a multi-faceted weaving industry that is endangered by modernity, ignorance and a different value system competing for public awareness and acceptance.

Happily the Likhang Habi Bazaar was very well received judging from the crowds of interested browsers, serious buyers and foreign guests making for a substantial group of bazaar attendees at all hours.

Curiously, it was almost a secret from the way the broadsheets except for one ignored our attempts at publicity. And that includes television. Granted there are many happenings in the large and varied territory of Metro Manila, this is not a criticism but a statement of fact with full understanding of the circumstances. No hard feelings at all. It made us scramble to be seen and heard. Now we know that we must allocate a lead time of some length from how busy the media is announcing the numerous events in this metropolis during one weekend.

Habi: The Philippine Textile Council was founded in 2009 (disclosure: I am a founder and at present the Chair) after the Second Asean Traditional Textile Symposium at the National Museum hosted by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines. The symposium took place in Manila at the request of the Indonesian textile society (Himpunan Wastraprema) which had hosted the first one with a grant from the Asean Foundation which did the same for the second symposium. Symposiums have since taken place in Malaysia and Vietnam and Thailand will host the next one in 2014.

The Second Asean Traditional Textile Symposium attracted the Asean traditional textile community consisting of Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Timor Leste, Malaysia including a delegate from Iran, to Manila. They came to Manila with their textiles for lectures, demonstrations, discussions and eventual sale. All of the participants from Asean were members of textile societies representing their countries. Mysteriously, this country did not have a living breathing textile society despite the valiant efforts of Ming Ramos, former first lady, with the assistance of Patis Tesoro and David Baradas to research, develop and propagate Filipino textiles during the Ramos Administration. So, the plunge was taken by Museum Foundation members to start one with the mission/vision that propelled Ming Ramos and her group to work on Filipino textiles. Textile aficionados, weavers, experts, newbies, and other interested parties banded together and formed Habi: The Philippine Textile Council.

After visiting weaving communities from Luzon to Mindanao, meeting the weavers who are mostly women, journeying through rural areas and marginalized communities, Habi got to know the problems facing the struggling weaving industry. Lack of materials, need for contemporary designs along with the traditional or a takeoff from old to modern designs, marketability, loss of interest in weaving as only older women were doing it with the younger ones not encouraged or specially rewarded for weaving.

So, a bazaar was designed as a first step to bring them together, the accomplished and the not-so-expert, the astute tastemakers and the struggling quotidian weavers. The first bazaar had about 12 participants, the second about 20 and this year the bazaar had 33 booths. Some booths were shared so there were about 40 vendors.

Inabel from the Ilocos region and La Union, Cordillera weaves from Banaue and Padcal in Benguet, tnalak (an abaca weave) from Lake Sebu in Mindanao, piña from Aklan and Palawan, hablon and patadyong from Iloilo, Mangyan textiles and baskets from Mindoro, Yakan weave from Basilan, mats from Samar and Bukidnon, as well as innovative styles for young and old from young designers like Len Cabili, La Herminia in Aklan and the Lim sisters. Also, barong tagalog material and ready to wear barongs in different textiles like hablon, tnalak, abaca, piña-silk, piña-cotton. Tesoro’s had a booth with stunning tnalak long gown outfits in bold colors and pleasing styles. There were also handwoven materials like patadyong cloth used for placemats and furniture upholstery from the Visayas. Other booths had vintage woven stuff that was interesting and attractive for collectors and cognoscenti, particularly for comparison with today’s products.

Some vendors came for the first time and they may have seemed slightly behind in matters of displaying their goods, choosing the styles that would sell and the colors and materials that would be marketable. But Habi tutors them right there and other vendors who adapt the Habi mission/vision interact and connect with them for advice and future transactions. That is the point of the bazaar – to make connections between weavers, suppliers, designers, market experts as well as the buying public. By the time, the newbies come back the next year, they have a better grounding of what attracts and sells, and how to present it. The exposure and competition has visibly raised the level of Habi bazaars higher and higher as the years of bazaars accumulates.

Mats and baskets, home décor such as abaca lampshades and table runners, even shoes using tnalak, as well as meticulously beaded colorful evening bags (by the Mangyan community assisted by the Ayala Foundation) were appreciated and bought up by the discerning and charmed public.

One of the main problems of weaving in the Philippines today is the absence of a cotton supply source which was not the case in the distant past when Ilocos grew cotton to export as well as weave into the sails for the Manila Galleon. Despite a Philippine Cotton Authority there is no concerted government presence that encourages cotton growing. But there are still small individual plots of cotton from Luzon to Mindanao. One vendor, Nooks Manufacturing International Corporation, actually sells locally grown and spun cotton thread ready for weaving. This was the highlight of the bazaar, in a way, for the appearance of a supplier for cotton thread grown and spun locally. Already, other vendors and weavers were arranging orders from them. The cotton is sourced from small farmers cultivating little plots of land in the Dumaguete area which means there is an opportunity taken by them to produce a product in demand. Cotton is a natural fiber that makes for high end products as against polyester thread and its ilk. It is the traditional material for weaving of the past. It can now be mixed with silk or even polyester to make a more attractive and sturdy textile.

Through the use of Facebook, word-of-mouth, email and texts, and the strong support of the Ayala Malls with their contribution of large banners in the area, we managed to publicize the Habi Bazaar so as to attract enough of a buying crowd of aficionados, interested parties and even students willing to learn more about our Filipino textiles. The Fourth Likhang Habi Bazaar will be coming your way at this time next year.

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