With fabrics, “stories are told and skills celebrated.” They also impact the lives of 125,000 women around the country.
The great women in weaving
CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Shangri-La Makati presents ‘Tapestry’ in partnership with Great Women to highlight our heritage fabrics from Panay, once the center of weaving in the country.  

When French designer Christian Louboutin first saw t’nalak, the traditional fabric hand-woven by the T’boli people in South Cotabato, he was floored by its beauty and the uniqueness of its patterns. The result of his touring the weaving communities in the Philippines was a bag called “Manilacaba,” featuring the iconic jeepney in its design and released in limited editions last year. It was produced in partnership with Great Women led by Jeannie Javelosa, who also co-founded EchoStore.    

This year, Great Women — the platform that brings together traditional weavers, designers, businesses and the market — partnered with another premium brand name, Shangri-La Makati Hotel, for International Women’s Month.

For the whole month of March, Shangri-La Makati is mounting “Tapestry,” celebrating women with a textile exhibit in its lobby and a Filipino afternoon tea using ingredients from the women producers of EchoStore. The culminating event is a fashion show on March 30 at the Lobby Lounge showcasing a collection of contemporary womenswear made from hand-woven textiles by community weavers and a trunk show from March 29 to 31.

“Great Women is all about collaborating with the government and private sector,” says Jeannie Javelosa, visionary officer of Great Women. “We started as a project between the Philippine Commission on Women and ECOSI Foundation, we innovated the platform and brought the funds in from Canada and partnered with the EchoStore group. We haven’t had a real collection that was properly curated and launched in a space like Shangri-La Makati. The textiles we create, we move to the market either B2B, we sell it to designers; or B2C, straight to the consumers as finished products.” This collection — designed by big-name designers who’d rather be in the background for the moment, according to Jeannie — highlights the weavers of the Panay region.

“We looked at every single thing in the ecosystem — the weavers, the space, the looms, the technicalities, the design, the customers and presentation to the market, which admittedly is more specialized and niche. We cannot really come up with a huge volume because they’re all handmade.”  

Most of the time people think of local fabrics as abaca or hard fibers that are not very practical to wear every day and heritage fabrics cost as much as four times as commercial fabrics, which makes the finished products more expensive. Jeannie says the goal is to fuse them with other fibers and get them into mainstream retail to sustain the livelihood of the communities. “We want to have them worn every day, not just for Filipiniana day or SONA. So we taught the weavers to fuse with fibers like cotton and then we gave them new colors. We need to do this now because all the global brands are coming in, which naturally decreases the share of local products.”

Jeannie says it was important for Great Women to partner with a brand like Shangri-La Makati to bring all the activities in a space that is very much aligned with their values, such as their commitment to sustainability.

Shangri-La Makati general manager Greg Findlay and Great Women visionary officer Jeannie Javelosa open the textile exhibit at the lobby of Shangri-la Makati, on display for the whole month of March. The Great Women fashion show is on March 30 at the Lobby Lounge.

“We impact the lives of about 125,000 women. With the textiles that we made for the past two years we worked with 10 solid communities and a peripheral of around five to six communities. We worked with weavers in the Cordilleras, Camarines Sur, Bohol, Marawi, Davao, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. The indigenous areas are what we are focusing on.”

Jeannie makes special mention of the Panay weavers, whose tradition preceded the Spanish colonization, and Panay island was, in the 19th century, “the center of weaving in the country.”

“There’s a number of towns in Iloilo where we’re creating a full ecosystem. Our role is to make sure that all our indigenous fibers move into production. Cotton is imported most of the time, we have no silk, so we need to fuse together all the fibers that are ours. We’re looking at weaving facilities, the looms and how we can fix the technicalities — the whole supply chain all the way to the market.”  

Appointed last September to head Shangri-La Makati, general manager Greg Findlay wore a barong tagalog for the first time at the launch of Tapestry last week. His black piña barong, designed by Francis Libiran, was made in just two days.

Greg says, “We wanted to celebrate the month of women and strengthen our connection with the local community. Shangri-La has been doing business in the Philippines for 26 years and our hotel’s elegant space ties in nicely with the fabrics. There’s the food experience as well, where we offer authentic Filipino high tea. Filipinos coming from overseas really enjoy having tea and local food at the Lobby Lounge.”

The high tea features sweet and savory finger foods using ingredients from EchoStore such as bangus spring rolls and a cocktail called Great Women, which uses Destileria Limtuaco liqueurs.

“The brands that have worked with us, like Louboutin and Shangri-La, put us on a higher level. We want the small artisans and women to be at this level,” says Jeannie. “It’s possible to have responsible luxury — and we all want nice things.”

*   *   *

The textile display at the lobby of Shangri-La Makati and the Filipino afternoon tea at Lobby Lounge are ongoing for the whole month of March. The Great Women fashion show is on March 30, 3 p.m., at the Lobby Lounge; the trunk show is on March 29 to 31 at Makati B Function Room from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Visit the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @iamtanyalara.

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