Social enterprise brand to move products online

A CEBU-BASED social enterprise will soon be putting its products online to reach a wider audience now that consumers have switched heavily to online shopping.

Moving online, according to Debbie Palao, co-founder of HoliCOW (Holistic Coalition of the Willing), is a sensible business move now that everyone’s gone online. The shift will also help them manage the store’s operating costs.

“We are now transitioning online because we realized that having a brick-and-mortar store is no joke. We cannot sustain it financially with what we are going through right now,” said Palao.

“We cannot just easily raise prices because, to begin with, our products are already expensive. They are expensive because they carry all these advocacies. You must pay for something.”

HoliCOW is composed of a group of designers, manufacturers, and crafters, mostly based in the Visayas, who are passionate about sustainability. It collaborates with partner communities to develop, produce, and market sustainable, fair-trade products that responsibly tap a community’s skills and resources, and that supplement their livelihood.

It also partners with designers and manufacturers to explore more sustainable production practices and develop products from excess materials that usually get discarded.

Prior to the pandemic, HoliCOW opened a store at the Crossroads in Banilad. Now it occupies a space inside Magna CMGN Solutions in Streetscape Mall owned by Marilou Ngo-Ang, also a partner of HoliCOW. Magna is an interior/exterior finishing and fit-out specialist that collaborates with local designers and artists to showcase our local culture through decor and art.

Pop-up show

Recently, HoliCOW and Magna CMGN brought to Cebu the acclaimed designer trio Tatsulok, which is HoliCOW’s first pop-up since the lockdown.

The Tatsulok sa Cebu: A Lifestyle Pop-up showcased the designs of Balay Ni Atong by Al Valenciano, Filip+Inna by Lenora Luisa Cabili and Natalia Lagdameo. The trio brought their products to Cebu, highlighting their work with communities in Mindanao, Kalinga and Ilocos in light homeware, and accessories for everyday chic Filipiniana.

The Balay ni Atong by Al Valenciano featured the intricately woven, rich textiles of Ilocos called abel. Abel is an Ilocano word that refers to the traditional woven product of Ilocos region.

Valenciano’s designs include blankets, duvet covers, pillowcases and soft furnishings that transform the northern weaving traditions into designs using modern, contemporary palettes and patterns. He has gained recognition for his innovations in preserving traditions like sustainable silkworm culture to produce very fine, very beautiful silk fiber.

Valenciano works with 12 to 13 communities with each community having 10 to 15 workers doing embroidery, beading, sewing and weaving.

Besides serving the local market, Ang Balay ni Atong also caters to specialty and boutique shops abroad that handle one-of-a-kind items since its designs are handmade and slow art.

“More than making a business out of it, we make sure that tradition is kept alive and kept going,” he said.

Valenciano also served as an adviser to HoliCOW and its partner Argao Habloneras’ for various projects that aim to revitalize and document Cebu’s own unique weaving traditions. He is an advocate for the documentation and archiving of Filipino traditional arts and crafts.

Filip+Inna, on the other hand, specializes in ready-to-wear pieces in full or partial embroidery, hand-sewn from partner tribes in Lake Sebu, T’boli and Mangyan.

Its founder and designer Len Cabili, who hails from Iligan City, is inspired by traditions in the diverse Filipino culture, creating contemporary designs ranging from everyday smart casual to formal wear. She works with 18 to 21 indigenous people (IP), mostly in Mindanao, and traditional groups in the Philippines.

The IP and traditional groups include the Sama, Tausug, Yakan, Manobo, Bagobo, Maranao, T’boli, Manobos-Surigao and two groups of Bilaan in Mindanao; piňa weavers in the Visayas; Mangyan in Mindoro, embroiderers of Lemery and Taal in Batangas, Lumban in Laguna, the Gaddang in northern Luzon and the piňa weavers of Abra.

“We are targeting the tradition within the indigenous or traditional culture and trying to incorporate it into more contemporary clothing,” said Cabili.

She also stressed the need to preserve Filipino culture.

“Our culture is our fingerprint. It is what defines us as people. And if we are not aware of our traditions and what our culture is all about then we don’t preserve it and it’s a disservice to those who have gone before us,” she said.

Cabili, who has ties to Liloan, Cebu, supports the Filipino Soft Power movement. Soft power refers to the use of cultural or economic influence to promote economic growth. She believes that making Filipiniana central to the decisions of everyday consumers starts with embracing the soft power concept. She spearheaded the Ternocon movement, a fashion presentation and show that revolves around the terno, participated by world-renowned Filipino designers.

Tapping the younger market

Meanwhile, designer Natalia Lagdameo showcased her beautiful pieces from assorted metalwork including decadent brass and gold inspired by designs from antique and heirloom Filipino jewelry.

Inspired by designs from antique and heirloom Filipino jewelry, Lagdameo embellished her creations made from brass and gold. She also uses precious to semi-precious stones as well as smooth river stones picked from the shores of the upper Kalinga region where she connects with her tribal community as embellishments.

“I’ve been collecting the heirloom pieces (such as) colonials, tambourines and creollas... Those acquired in good condition, we restore them to their original format. While the pieces are no longer whole, I redesign them into new pieces of jewelry using antique components,” she said.

Her signature creation is the Giniling bangles. These are thin gold-brass bangles layered on the forearm, each one representing a significant date in a woman’s life. Lagdameo’s work has appeared on runways all over the world. She also does meticulous restoration of genuine antiques.

“I’m hoping to be able to keep the craft going so that the younger generations can learn,” she said.

Lagdameo said the market of her products now includes the younger generation. “If you tell them about the stories behind your products, they’ll begin to understand and appreciate what you are doing. Then a connection is formed,” she said.

Palao added that the revenues they book from selling go a long way—to the people at the grassroots so they could send their children to school and have better lives.

“We continue to educate people to appreciate what we have. As Filipinos, we should be proud of what we have. These products cost more but they help communities,” she said, comparing the value of artisan products with the commercial ones that are mostly mass-produced.

HoliCOW won the Good Design Award Philippines’ first Systems Design Award in 2019. It has been instrumental in contributing to the bid of Cebu to be declared as a Unesco Creative City of Design.