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For handmade paper company, greeting cards never grow old

MANILA, Philippines — A handmade paper company in Salay, Misamis Oriental is in a brave fight to prove that sending old fashioned greeting cards never goes out of style in these times of e-mail and internet messaging.

The Salay Handmade Products Industries Inc. (SHAPII) is getting help from people in developed countries who still cling to tradition and old school courtesies despite having high-speed internet. 

Neil Francis Rafisura, general manager of SHAPII, said the mostly foreign-based clients appreciate handmade paper “with a soul” as well as the quaint story of the company that started in Salay in 1993 when the town was still a hotbed of insurgency in Northern Mindanao.

“Our market is 90 percent foreign,” Rafisura told The STAR

Rafisura said European and Japanese customers have learned of the beginnings of SHAPII, which was set up by his mother Loreta, a balikayan nurse from the US, as a livelihood project initially for the womenfolk of Salay.

“Our first export customers were Japanese who saw us in a fair organized by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry),” Rafisura said.

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“They liked our postcards. They also liked the mission of our project,” he said.

Before the declaration of martial law earlier this year, Rafisura said that the coastal community enjoyed a steady stream of tourists from among their customers in Japan, the US, Europe, Canada and Australia.

“Salay in those days was known for being NPA territory. There were a lot of killings happening,” Rafisura said, referring to the communist New People’s Army.

SHAPII’s handcrafted paper products are made from abaca pulp from nearby Agusan del Norte province. Rafisura said that the pressed flowers and leaves that serve as decorations in the postcards are freshly harvested by their artisans and workers.

About five years ago, SHAPII added other materials to decorate the postcards and other products like greeting cards, desk and stationery sets, boxes, calendars, picture frames, photo albums and lampshades. The new materials include capiz shells, patches, sequins, glitter, thread and cutouts.

Rafisura said his mother saw that the insurgency was rooted in the problem of poverty, and that by starting a livelihood project in the town she could show the people a more productive way of spending one’s life in Salay.

He said that until now, the SHAPII workforce was still dominated by women.

Of the 80 artisans who handcraft their greeting cards and other paper products, he said only three are male. Of the 77 women, three are deaf-mute.

Despite the help provided by their customers, Rafisura said the market is still shrinking as more people turn to electronic mail and internet messaging to send holiday cheers.

“It’s really shrinking. That’s what we’re up against. So we’re trying to develop new products,” Rafisura said.

He said they were also expanding their foreign market by pursuing a niche in Europe and North America that patronizes products of companies that practice fair trade.

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