In 2008, Deogracias Victor Barbers – Savellano, then Governor of Ilocos Sur,
launched the search for the Living Treasures of Ilocos Sur. His aim was to document all arts and crafts of every town, and recognize the best artisans, to be able to encourage them to pass on their expertise and craftsmanship to the younger generation and continue
This was a successful project that brought about more talents and innovations, but fell short of bringing the products to market. Aside from the challenges of transporting the goods to town, the indigenous craftsmen who lived in the mountains and far flung areas of the province, had no means of communicating with their prospective customers, and therefore saw no hope, in the continuance of their cottage industry.
HOW WE STARTED
Hence, an advocacy was organized to assist the artisans to be able to find markets for their products. However, there was no one committed enough to carry on the challenges of the task. In 2013, shortly after their wedding, Mrs. Geraldyn Bonnevie- Savellano took on the baton of spearheading product development projects and marketing stints to put “inabel iloko” and other arts
and crafts of ilocos sur in the map of “beautifully crafted home and fashion accessories.”
With very scarce resources, she and her team put together an ensemble of Various rattan, bamboo, and stone craft and an array of wonderfully woven Inabel Iloko textiles and derivatives. They went to the American Women’s Bazaar, a monthly bazaar organized to aid small entrepreneurs to find international markets for their products.
To their surprise their booth was swarmed with eager clients and it was there that they met KULTURA, RUSTAN’S and CINDERELLA’S purchase officers. La BON VIE then, had to be created to professionalize transactions, taxes and operations.
HOW WE GREW
Bigger exhibits followed and more clients came to appreciate our weaves, and patronize our products. Tv guestings and news artcles even brought us more followers. Japanese clients liked our stone craft and rattan craft but we could not supply the demand for lack of artisans to do the orders.
We then , thought of making bed runners, sofa throws, throw pillow and floor pillow covers to complete the array of home accessories. A company in Indonesia took notice of our products and we started supplying them with textile. Kultura followed suit; from one store, we now supply 6 stores. Rustan’s made a couple of orders too, and we continue to supply Tesoro’s with our fabrics and Home accessories.
Eventually, we thought of making shoes and bags and that became a big hit at exhibits too. Cindrella brought our products to their stores and several other online stores. We thought of reviving other weaves in Ilocos and introduced various color palettes to the weavers, like pastels colors and earth shades. Hotels in palawan and Bohol liked our color combinations and eventually became part of our roster of clients. Soon we were doing custom made fabrics even for children’s clothing in the U.S.
However all these growth came with a lot of growing pains. We had to focus on just handloom woven fabrics and derivatives of the fabrics since selling stone craft, bamboo and rattan craft required a lot of storage space and shipping costs. Furthermore, our handloom woven fabrics were a stand out, since no other province or country does it like we do, despite many attempts of others to reproduce our weaves.
Unexpectedly, the problems of the weavers being old and weary came to us at a time we needed to meet deadlines for delivery dates. Since most of them are 60 years old and above, they cannot weave everyday. They complain of back pain and other ails, despite our efforts to hire them with a basic monthly salary, over and above labor cost for orders. Cotton threads became scarce and too expensive. Farming out orders had to be done to meet the demand of stores. However, this made us realize too, that no 2 weavers can weave the same design in exactly the same way, because the pattern is in their heads, no drawing, no template. To even make matters worse, there are only 2 designers in the province that can put the patterns in the loom; and it takes 5 days to prepare the loom.
at this point I wanted to quit. I was worried that lending my name to this cause might end up as a disgrace. The thought of seeing my vision of having enough food on the table for these familes and creating better lives for them, gave me the strength to carry on. I believed in the extrordinary skills of these artisans, so I took the risk of buying a good supply of threads, had more looms built and had younger weavers trained. I assigned a certain product to each weaver so they didn’t have to keep removing the design from the loom, and would just continue weaving and adding thread. each weaver’s products were put together for one client to create uniformity in the expression of the design. Finished products were sent and paid immediately to provide for their needs. being landed people,
planting rice and selling fish, was a break in between mass productions. I realized that to hurdle our challenges, someone had to bite the bullet and take the brunt. ME.
The young generation do not wish to weave, but have dreams to work in a call center, or abroad, since 90 percent of Ilocano families have OFW siblings and parents.
in hind sight, the reason for the weaving industry’s decline in ilocos, was due to lack of markets to sell their products to, lack of appreciation of their craft from the locals, and the western fever that “imported products are always better.” this must be why they refuse to continue the legacy.
In the past, Inabel iloko was used as sails or masts for the galleons during the galleon trade. It was also bartered in exchange for gold, since it was at par with the french brocade. however,the industry has evolved from using bright colors and pure cotton, to subtle and subdued colors, pastels, earth colors, and poly - cotton combinations to improve the fabric’s ability to retain it’s shape and not fade. It has become at par with international standards once again, with regard to design and product line.
the weavers went through change and accepted the change, they survived the hurdles that beset them and embraced the solutions to solve the challenges. Therefore, our success will depend on the weavers’ commitment to revive a dying industry and pass on a legacy we are proud of.
I believe that every filipino should be a part of that effort to preserve our culture and heritage.
Five years from now, I hope to have a weaving school in every weaving town, (6 of them) of ilocos sur, since they are various weaves and various loom designs. I hope to have my own young weavers, committed to their craft. I want to have an array of looms with all the designs preserved and ready for weaving. I would like to see tourists coming to Ilocos to see the weavers and with a lot of stock available for purchase. I would like to see people enjoying our handloomwoven products and keeping them in their homes like an heirloom.
With the advancement of science and technology, come people’s need to see instant results in a push of a button. We see it now, when people go around with their cellphones to be able to speak to someone instantaneously, in liposcution when people want to lose fat instantly, and drive throughs when people want food at once. Hence, people will become more and more impatient, and waiting for a beautiful handloomwoven piece, will not be as important to people. I pray and hope for the opposite
to happen, for people to value something made by hand and with excellent quality.
I hope that handloom weaving will not be a thing of the past but a new way to express art and culture. I hope to see my own brand in stores here and abroad. Lastly, I want to be able to live up to what my name means “ La Bonne Vie” means “ The Good Life!”