The ‘WE’ in Weaving
Sustainability and The Filipino Design Identity
Endemic to the progress of cultures are weaving traditions, and these are as varied and as special as the nations that practice them. A woven piece might as well be an open book, as it is a story in and of itself. It may tell a tale of function and economy, of trade patterns, even serve as a means of transmitting current events to history as some form of documentation. Everything from ritual, to material gathering, and dyeing processes, hints at the lives and priorities of the peoples that relied on them for living.
In the Philippines, our weaving histories are as numerous and lively as the islands that form our country. Recently, the rich traditions of weaving tribes are gaining momentum, especially since Filipino designers and entrepreneurs are finding ways to successfully intersect contemporary tastes with traditionally-made and sourced weaving. It does so because it’s unlocked a vital element that a world of fast fashion and trendy product output discards: community. Like the very act itself, firm connections and intersections are necessary to ensure sustainability, especially of livelihood and interest by the next generation, and growing of the materials used.
People, material: the living weft and warp of keeping weaving as contextually relevant as it had always been. A key element of Filipino design has always been the propensity of the designer to utilise elements from their immediate surrounding, which lends to the delightful diversity of what’s produced. Designers with experience and exposure lend their insights to the master artisans, resulting in modern products that have a very distinct signature; a successful tie-up between two different worlds.
If the ‘people’ aspect of the equation has been updated—function increases relevance, of course, along with evolving taste—then ‘material’ must have an update too; after all, it speaks about a community’s environment and context. Deep urbanity is as rich a site for weaving too. Upcycling emerged as a way to mitigate the growing problem of waste in large cities, and with trash generated en masse every day, a change of perspective means abundant materials to work with.
It also says something very interesting about the contemporary weaver, flash-freezing the story of this generation into new, beautiful, and enduring objects. Braungart and McDonough in The Upcycle argue that pollution as we know it is a result of lazy design; a failure to track the life cycle of products and their efficacy, so that they continue to fulfill a need. Bringing the art of weaving to the practice of upcycling is an elegant way of solving urban waste while uniting communities.
Several of the initiatives that the Holistic Coalition work with focus on this positive double-edged approach. Their successes are quantified in multiple layers, with their organisations seeing expansion, their product lines diversifying and avenues for artistic collaboration opening up. Community is strengthened on either end as well. There is genuine interest in the market for supporting these organisations, while recognising the potential for individuality and appreciating the calibre of problem-solving design thinking.
Given this, and the idea that ‘stressed’ is just ‘desserts’ spelled backwards (depending on perspective), wouldn’t you say that the Philippines is indeed a trove of design solutions just waiting to be discovered and harnessed? That is the essence of the emerging, yet-to-be-articulated Filipino identity after all: our stories are linked with kalibutan*.
The modern weaver’s tale is of rehabilitation: less concern about the uniformity of the strands, than with the eclectic symmetry that craftsmanship and collaboration can achieve. It’s resurrection. It’s deconstructing the worn box, and transforming it into something grander. It takes innumerable threads to construct a tapestry.
*Kalibutan – Cebuano, “environment”, “world”, literally, “what surrounds”
Photography by K. Batiquin, Sabine Stein