Saying Yes to HABI
We joined HABI six years ago after the HABI team visited Aklan to check out the Aklan Piña and Fiber Festival and meet artisans in the province. As a family who supports empowering artisans and weaving communities in the Philippines, we became convinced that joining would be good after realizing that HABI’s platform and advocacy involved nurturing and guiding weavers like us.
At first, we were quite hesitant to participate in the HABI fair. As someone who lives in the province and who had never joined any national trade fairs, I obviously didn’t have any idea what kind of market was out there and thought we would be taking a risk. We had doubts on how we could compete on that level of a big, well-organized fair, and our concerns included the possible expenses (since we would be travelling with several pieces of luggage filled with piña products and display materials); the logistics for the exhibition; the level of demand for piña products; and our own capacity. Basically, we were feeling anxious about going out there full blast while still making the risk worth it.
Our Take on the Likhang HABI Fair
Our first Likhang HABI Fair was rather promising. The HABI team was welcoming when we arrived and generous enough to pay for our accommodations, since we were newbies to the fair, and made sure we were comfortable. The fair seemed intimidating at first as it was held in Glorietta, and a lot of people—clients, artists, designers, researchers, tourists, celebrities, and even media—came by. But on our first year, we met a lot of appreciative customers, who would later on become loyal clients. We also had the chance to collaborate with artists and experience media exposure that resulted in overwhelming sales, as well as orders that we had to work on when we got back to Aklan. This kind of extraordinary support was new to us then, but was—and is—so practical and necessary to make the weaving communities more active and proud of their cultural heritage.
Raquel's Piña Cloth, the Eliserio booth at the 2019 Likhang HABI Market Fair
I would describe the Likhang HABI fair as a perfect marketplace for us artisans. It is where I felt we were valued the most, where I felt our products were warmly received and appreciated. It was at our first HABI fair that I realized how special we are with our woven pieces and how relevant we are even outside of our community. That moment of realization helped me gain the confident voice to speak and tell people about our journey as the piña weavers of Aklan. I have found my platform—HABI—where I can spread awareness about the exquisite piña textiles from my province, because with HABI we are supported and well represented.
As we continued to participate in the annual Likhang HABI Fair, we became more comfortable and also more prepared as an ever-increasing number of clients began looking for us and requesting for more handwoven piña products, such as timeless barong Tagalog and Filipiniana, kimona, alampay, bags, and anything made out of piña fabric. Items made of piña are always a must in trade fairs.
Joining—and Winning—HABI’s Piña-Weaving Competition
HABI has even organized a competition for piña in partnership with Mrs. Lourdes Montinola, whom the competition is named after. This annual competition aims to pay tribute to the “Queen of Philippine Textiles” and to Philippine craftsmanship. It also encourages innovation in the piña-weaving industry as it motivates weavers to create and exhibit the most luxurious piña pieces ever made and to produce more.
Winners of the Lourdes Montinola Piña-Weaving Competition 2019 with sponsors Mrs. Maribel Ongpin, chairperson of HABI; Mrs. Dee Zobel; Mrs. Lourdes Montinola; and Mr. Alfonso "Boy" Ginoo. In photo (left to right) are Mrs. Ongpin, Mrs. Zobel, Raquel Eliserio (honorable mention), Mrs. Montinola, Ursulita de la Cruz (second prize) Arlyne Tumbocon (for La Herminia Weaving, first prize), and Mr. Ginoo.
Winning entry (honorable mention) of Raquel 's Piña Cloth to the Lourdes Montinola Piña-Weaving Competition 2019
We took on the challenge, wove our best of the best, and, luckily, won two of the four annual competitions. This gave us more confidence to showcase our products and, from invitations received through HABI, join other competitions here and abroad, for which HABI also guided us on how to better present ourselves. In the recently concluded Global Eco Artisans Award organized by AGAATI Foundation, we bagged the major prize as the most exquisite handwoven eco-textile out of more than five hundred entries from across the globe. Because of these achievements, we were recognized and commended by our provincial government for giving pride and honor to our province of Aklan.
Winning piece for the Global Eco-Artisan Award 2021
From Aklan to Indonesia with HABI
The HABI board also invited us to join them for the Asian Traditional Textile Symposium, which was held in Indonesia before the pandemic, where we showed off our handwoven piña. That trip was one for the books. It’s still fresh in my memory how, after Ms. Felice Sta. Maria gave her presentation about piña, we were recognized and applauded by the audience, even by the queen of Malaysia, who was present during the symposium. Our products were nearly sold out, and clients were even knocking on my hotel-room door, so eager to see and buy piña cloth. In Indonesia, we were also able to meet artisans and learn from them, as HABI had advised us to do, and one of the things that I brought back with me was knowledge on the batik technique, which I am still trying to apply to our piña. We also made a side trip to Bali as a reward to ourselves and to meet more weaving artisans and learn more weaving techniques.
Carlo at a batik workshop during the ASEAN Traditional Textile Symposium, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2019
Carlo trying out the back-strap loom during the post-conference tour in Bali, 2019
Beyond Weaving: Partnering with HABI During the Pandemic
As leaders of our community, we are committed to help our fellow weavers, more so during the most challenging times. This commitment has always been personal to us, in our aim of sustaining the piña-weaving industry of Aklan. During the pandemic, therefore, we decided to personally raise funds and ask for help from our clients and friends to provide our community with their basic needs while we were temporarily locked down. HABI was behind us all the way, offering huge financial assistance and even helping us raise more funds. Through this initiative, we were able to raise more than P240,000, an amount that assisted over six hundred families of piña farmers, fiber producers, knotters, warpers, weavers, embroiderers, and dyers from twenty-five weaving communities of Aklan. We were very happy to serve as the light of our community during these darkest of times.
Some of the beneficiaries of the fundraising event organized by Carlo, with help from HABI, during the COVID-19 pandemic
Opportunities Made Possible by HABI
Even the pandemic, however, could not stop us from pursuing our passions in the piña-weaving industry. HABI’s support has always been about pushing us beyond our limits, and I will never forget how HABI made it possible for me to work as an executive producer of a documentary film. Threaded Traditions, Textiles of Panay Island, which premiered during the Kaagi Conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London, is one of the projects I am so proud of. Who would have thought that a weaver like me could produce a documentary film?
Admittedly, I felt so much pressure that time, but I had to do well since I was the only one on the ground with my videographers. And, of course, I couldn’t afford to disappoint SOAS, who had commissioned the project, and the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, who had funded HABI to produce the film. It was really a challenge working on it in the middle of a pandemic, where our resource persons were scattered all over the place. With the limited time given for the film production and Panay Island experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, necessitating lockdowns in every municipality, it felt like I was met with a dead end everywhere. The only motivation I had to keep going was my small production team and the dream of presenting my community in an international platform. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, with my production team having to work remotely, the film turned out to be a success. Our brilliant director, Luna Mendoza, consistently directed us during the production through video call and chat, even with the bad internet connection on the ground. Ma’am Adelaida Lim, who was encouragingly supervising the production from Baguio, was the push I needed the most during that very challenging time.
My videographer, RD Auto, and I travelled to Aklan, Antique, and Iloilo to document different weaving communities. We were able to feature the varieties of handwoven textiles in Panay, such as the piña of Aklan, hinabol of Iloilo, patadyong of Antique, and panubok of the Indigenous people of Panay Bukidnon. Being able to present the artistry of weaving communities of Panay in one film to promote and create awareness is personally liberating. This project fulfills me as a member of the younger generation of my community, as it made me feel that I am living my purpose of giving justice to our ancestors who have handed down their indigenous knowledge.
Carlo creating a design
Aside from these empowering opportunities, I will also be working as a research assistant for the upcoming book on piña authored by Prof. Randy Madrid. At the same time, I am writing another piece for the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of World Textiles, where piña fiber is my topic.
Looking Back on Our Journey Thus Far
Looking back, I never really thought I would be doing these things that I had been keeping at the back of my mind—pursuing my passion in textile arts, running exhibitions, producing a film, writing for books, and, most important, advocating for my own community. I have learned a lot from my HABI journey: first, keep learning new things and be open to criticism so as to be able to grow; second, keep pursuing your dreams no matter how big and unique they are; and, lastly, be more passionate about, and innovative with, your craft. Of course, these would not be possible if I were not surrounded by exceptionally inspiring and supportive people, whom I consider my life mentors.
HABI, just like our community, is family. As we share the same hopes for weaving and the weaving communities, our dreams are like threads that bind us.
Links to features
2019 Lourdes Montinola Piña Weaving Competition Champion
Champion (Personal Blog)
Honorable (Personal Blog)
Global Eco Artisan Awards (Agaati Foundation Announcement)
Global Eco Artisan Awards (Manila Times)
Global Eco Artisan Awards (Metro.Style)
Global Eco Artisan Awards (Business World)
Global Eco Artisan Awards (Personal Blog)
HABI on Raquel’s Piña Cloth Winning The Global Eco Artisan Awards
2021 Lourdes Montinola Piña Weaving Competition Champion (HABI)
2021 Lourdes Montinola Piña Weaving Competition Champion (Personal Blog)
Provincial Government Commendation (Aklan Provincial Government)
Provincial Government Commendation (Personal Blog)
Documentary Film of Threaded Traditions (Inquirer)