How do vulnerable communities survive COVID-19?
When the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed in many cities and provinces in the Philippines and people were obliged to work from home, vulnerable communities in urban and local areas were the most impacted as many of them were daily wage earnerson a “no work, no pay” basis
In the provinces, some of Lopez Group Foundation Inc.’s (LGFI) beneficiary communities were affected, including the weavers whose products LGFI was marketing.
After being apprised of their situation, LGFI president Mercedes “Cedie” Lopez-Vargas (MLV) sent seed money for a livelihood project aligned with the needs of an ECQ community. Ilonggo international lifestyle designer and LGFI partner PJ Arañador, together with Cirila Miranda of the Libon Bag Weavers Association, started making face masks by hand.
The following is an interview (by email) with Arañador, known as the “designer in the bushes” and for his philosophy of “serving the vulnerable communities around the world.”
HOW do you assist the Iloilo and Guimaras communities as the designer-partner of LGFI?
There are four major components. First is skills development, which is teaching the artisans to expand their basic skills into contemporary ways. For example, using tools to be able to make the products more easily in fiber stripping, while enhancing the high labor component through extensive pattern design. LGFI’s role is to make sure what we do is sustainable and environmentally correct.
The second is design and product development, which either starts from scratch or I give sketches with specs or scale models for the artisans to follow. This is my expertise because I go to the artisans and work with them side by side, hands-on, although during this pandemic we successfully worked digitally. I constantly collaborate with LGFI though MLV and [Operations head] Angela Lopez on new product ideas.
The third is financial literacy, as many of the women are rural with no idea how to run a business. I teach them costing and pricing and require them to attend trainings especially with the Department of Trade and Industry, where I have been a consultant for many years.
The fourth is values formation, which includes the sense of loving their work and valuing handicrafts as a source of income for their families. We instill in them a sense of commitment, to produce and deliver on time.
How do you train them?
I train them through the scope [planning] method which is understanding to whom we will market the products, then we reverse the process back to product development.
MLV feeds us with the market preferences and we interpret them to products. It is not the usual “photo to prototype” method in which we produce the products and look for the market. We custom-make our creations with the buyers in mind. MLV does a lot of product critiques until we produce what we want.
MLV’s platform is sustainable design-led crafts which is my advocacy, too. We initiated training in natural dyes on-site at the livelihood communities. MLV and Angela, along with other expert trainors, joined us.
Where do they source their materials?
We source our materials locally in Guimaras and Iloilo. Nothing is imported. We produce slow- fashion products. We follow the circular fashion trend where we reuse, reinvent and innovate what is mundane, local and biodegradable
For instance, Cirila Miranda and her group, the Libon Bag Weavers Association in Calaya, Guimaras, were only making low-value hand- woven pandan bags for freshwater crabs sold in wet markets. They have evolved to create well-designed modern storage bins for ArteFino in Rockwell. We cocreate products with the hablon and patadyong fabrics of weavers in Miag-ao, Iloilo.
How have your and LGFI’s help impacted their lives?
My modest role is mentorship. With LGFI, we leveled up community livelihood towards branding we call “Jordan and Calaya”—the two places in Guimaras where we started our work. The impact is the added value to Filipino crafts much like those in Italy or France. We do not seek to lower prices, but to elevate the market segment for the artisans to see the overall picture; with that, their perception of quality in what they create is refined.
The impact on the communities is rippling to the fiber farmers, gatherers, strippers, dyers, weavers, assemblers, sewers, embroiderers, detailers and marketers.
The impact is not only on their source of sustainable income but on their awareness of society as well. During this lockdown, MLV involved Cirila and their group as well as Anna Rodriguez in Sapal, Guimaras to make upcyled katsa (flour sack) face masks. Over 5,000 pieces were given free to indigents in Guimaras though the local government units and LGFI. I clearly remember MLV saying, “It will be a good learning experience for Cirila and her group.” It turned out to be correct. LGFI also helped us in producing personal protective equipment in Iloilo that was donated mostly to public hospitals.
We are now turning handwoven used clothing into sanitizing footbaths as suggested by Angela. Cirila has made a prototype and it is ready for production and marketing.
It is inspiring that Cirila and her group did everything by hand without the use of sewing machines. Perhaps it is her way of giving back to LGFI because it helps her with her daughter’s tuition fee. Perhaps it is her message to the outside world from their isolated rural community that we can overcome life challenges though simple, innovative ways. We can only overcome challenges by being resourceful, steadfast and industrious, thereby providing seeds of hope to these vulnerable communities.
(Story/Photos by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)