Keeping an age-old tradition alive

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It was while living in Spain that Kylie Misa’s interest in handloom weaving was sparked by a Turkish towel. “From there, I discovered more about our local weaving traditions through research,” Ms. Misa told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. She is the co-founder and co-owner of WVN (pronounced as “woven”) Home Textiles, a purveyor of products like towels and blankets.

A business idea took shape in her mind. “I presented my idea to Yvette Gaston, who has been a longtime friend of mine. She immediately loved it, not just for the product itself, but also because of the meaningful experience we had when we visited the weavers,” Ms. Misa said.

The weavers she was referring to are the weavers of Bangar, a third-class municipality of more than 30,000 people in La Union. Bangar has a longstanding handloom weaving industry, which is on the wane due to modernization and the dwindling number of weavers, almost all of whom are women.

To reach the remaining Bangar weavers, Ms. Misa and Ms. Gaston enlisted the Philippine Textile Research Institute, which seeks to promote the development of the local textile industry.

“What moved us when we met with the community in Bangar was their hard work, both physically and mentally, and the beauty of their products. We also encountered weavers with concerns that the craft was dying in their community because the younger generation is no longer interested in inheriting the tradition,” Ms. Misa recounted.

WVN began as a passion project, but because of the positive reception to its products, the founders decided to turn it into an online business. “It is our first time to start a textile business, but retail is not new to Yvette, whose day job has to do with sales,” Ms. Misa, who works as a consultant, said.

WVN releases new collections every year, and the design for each collection its owners think up is shared with the weavers. “That usually means having to take a few trips to the weavers to make sure that they are comfortable with the design and that we get the colors of the threads right,” Ms. Misa said. “The next step is to create prototypes, and once they get approved, we go into production.”

To promote their products, which can be ordered from a site called Things That Matter, where products by other local artisans are sold, Ms. Misa and Ms. Gaston make use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and reach out to influencers. They also participate in bazaars and pop-up retail events.

Enterprises like WVN give weavers a reason to not give up on their craft. “Economic circumstances drive weavers to abandon weaving as a livelihood, so we hope that by providing a steady demand, we can support them while they can still weave. We are able to drive a steady stream of business to them, translating to their ability to pay for their children’s education, put food on the table, and help their other family members,” Ms. Misa said.

It is the duo’s hope that they will be able to help support the continuation of the handloom weaving tradition. “To be able to achieve this,” she said, “we are trying to form institutional partnerships that will help older weavers pass the craft down to younger generations.”