Habi Moves to Reintroduce Cotton to Indigenous Weavers

THE Philippine Textile Council holds the eighth installment of the Likhang Habi Market Fair to preserve the indigenous textile industry and reintroduce cotton to local weavers. The three-day fair will open on October 12 at the Activity Center in Glorietta, Makati, and will be attended by more than 80 participating vendors.

Cotton production has weakened over the past few decades in the country—from a 38,000-hectare plantation in the 1990s to only 1,000 hectares today—which inevitably caused traditional weavers to turn to synthetic thread.

“It used to be a lively industry but somehow it lost its steam and the weavers started using polyester, which does not command a better price. Now that the world is looking for natural fibers, cotton has to be brought back.” said Habi Chairman Maribel Ongpin.

Ongpin said that the event will serve as an avenue for start-up enterprises to showcase their handwoven traditional textiles, as well as sustainable and ethical fashion and lifestyle products. “The fashion industry is taking an interest in cotton, and it’s very popular among young designers.”

Organic and ethically produced garments are in-demand due to the current slow fashion movement, commanding a need for textiles made from cotton and other natural fibers like abaca and piña. Past Habi tradeshows have opened opportunities for the weavers to supply materials to prominent fashion designers and bag manufacturers.

Among this year’s exhibitors are established brands and manufacturers such as Rurungan sa Tukod Foundation, Interweave, Yakang Yaka, Manila Collectible, Casa Mercedes, Filip+Inna, Gifts & Graces Foundation, Good Luck, Humans, La Herminia Piña, Liwayway Handicraft, Creative Definitions, Kalinga Weaving, Ayala Foundation Inc. and items by noted Filipina artist and designer Ditta Sandico.

For the first time since its inception, the show will also include textile exhibitors from the Asean region, namely, the weaving communities of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam. “We hold this annual fair to provide the exhibitors the push they need to tap Metro Manila’s consumer market by giving them free space in the show.” Habi President Adelaida Lim said.  She added that Habi also allows sellers to deal directly with wholesale buyers, foreign buyers and stores. This way, middlemen, or people who buy their products at lower rates but sell them at much higher prices, will be moved out of the equation.

When asked about the other programs that the Philippine Textile Council holds in support of cotton farmers, Lim said that they have been working with communities by purchasing cotton crops from farmers in Ilocos Norte and Iloilo.

The lint is spun into yarns by the Philippine Textile Research Institute. PTRI will also establish a spinning facility in Iloilo this year so that locally grown cotton can be spun by weavers.

The objective is to place micro spinning machineries in cotton farming communities to lower the cost of production. The cotton yarns will then be transformed into higher-quality textiles.

Furthermore, “we visit weaving communities and we encourage them to have new designs and to participate in our market fairs to tap potential clients. We also teach them how to price their products and manage their finances.” said Ongpin. “They have the skills to weave and to design; what they don’t have is the right material. But if they do, they’ll have plenty of potential to compete globally,” ended Lim.