Can online shopping save a traditional Filipino fabric?
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2014 - 12:00am

Tweetie de Leon designs a travel collection for Ava using inabel.


Can e-commerce save a dying Philippine art form?

That’s the hope of the people behind Ava, an online fashion and lifestyle retailer that specializes in “beautiful things.”

In collaboration with celebrity designer Tweetie de Leon, Ava has launched a campaign on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter that aims to raise US$4,000 for a travel collection using hand-woven Ilocos fabric inabel.

Those who pledge money are, in effect, preordering products like weekender bags, iPad cases and passport holders at a discount. Funds raised will go towards purchasing inabel from Ilocos weavers and manufacturing the collection.

“I chose inabel because I want to be socially relevant as far as my designing is concerned,” Tweetie says. “This collection is different because it’s not fast fashion; it’s very different from the usual mass-produced goods that you find in your everyday store because it marries traditional and modern.”

Ava merchandising manager Ashley Flores says the campaign is also a way to test the international — specifically the US — market for Filipino products. “$4,000 in no way covers the costs of production,” she admits. “Tweetie wanted to do something with local materials, something iconic in terms of it being Filipino. By using an online platform to expand internationally, we’ll reach a much bigger audience to showcase Filipino design.”

Inabel is notable for its complex, colorful patterns and labor-intensiveness. It takes one to two weeks to set up a loom and a day’s labor yields only two yards of fabric. The number of women skilled in the art is also dwindling.

“Today there are less than 10 master weavers left,” notes Ingrid Roxas, Ava’s business development associate.

“There are pocket communities of weavers in Ilocos who work with Al Valenciano of Balay Ni Atong, one of largest inabel suppliers in country,” adds Flores. “Al has singlehandedly taken on the project of documenting the inabel process so it doesn’t die.”

De Leon, whom the pair describes as “incredibly hands-on, down to the button,” knew she wanted to work with something artisanal and local. She and Ava’s team looked at other indigenous fabrics like hablon, sinamay and piña before settling on inabel.

“Tweetie saw fabric and said, ‘Yes, I love it,” Flores says.

The travel collection is actually De Leon’s second collaboration with Ava. For the retailer’s first private-label collection she designed a full range of apparel, jewelry and minaudieres that launched in May 2013, to brisk sales.

“It was actually the first celebrity collaboration that was exclusively available online,” notes Roxas.

Ava, which CEO Oliver Segovia initially patterned after, a luxury retailer that pioneered flash sales of designer items, started out three years ago selling international brands, but has since evolved to championing more and more local talent.

“We wanted to work with local designers and SMEs,” Flores says. “We take care of producing the collection, marketing and distribution. Let the designers design. We tell them, ‘Design it, and we’ll help you produce and connect you with the audience and membership base we have.’ If a designer is fairly new to the industry, it’s difficult to get space in malls, but we have the budget for it, and it’s much more cost-effective.”

Like inabel, Ava is homegrown and 100-percent Filipino. Their team says the heart and soul of the site is curation. “It doesn’t make sense for customers to go through a thousand products before finding one or two they’re happy with,” Flores observes. “We only carry products that we ourselves love, and it works because people appreciate that it’s chosen well.”

Ava’s market is 95 percent women, who appreciate unique items like stainless-steel baby bottles that you’d be hard-pressed to find at your local mall. The site also enlists style influencers like Amina Aranaz and Katrina Holigores.

With only five days to go (as of press time) until the May 4 deadline, the Inabel project is only $350 shy of its target. On Kickstarter the project is funded only if the goal is reached. With a minimum pledge of $1, anybody can become a backer and help this Filipino art form flourish.

As Tweetie says in the video on the Kickstarter page that tells inabel’s story, “I really don’t want this craft to die.”

* * *

To participate in the project and preorder the Inabel travel collection by Tweetie de Leon for Ava, visit (Inabel: Modern Design from a Centuries-Old Tradition).

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