LIFESTYLE
Art and culture

Weaving new life into ‘hablon’ fabric

Evelyn Larida-Jiz, third-generation proprietor of Arevalo Handwoven Products. During her mother's time, their looms numbered a hundred. Now, only nine are left. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili, InterAksyon.com.

MAKATI CITY, Philippines—In the 1960s, during the heyday of their fabric business in Iloilo City, the family of Evelyn Larida-Jiz owned 100 looms that workers used to weave into hablon.

“We used to export to Japan,” said the sharp 70-year-old who is the third-generation proprietor of Arevalo Handwoven Products. When other weaving businesses began to use threads that bled and shrank, however, buyers stopped patronizing their fabrics.

Hablon fabric made of jusi, or silk cocoon material. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili for InterAksyon.com.

Her mother astutely turned to another venture. With the opening of a maritime school nearby, the looms were used to build double-deck beds for the boarding houses teeming with students.

Today, the looms are down to nine.

Jiz revived the business in 1994, using polyester as well as jusi, which is material made from silk cocoons, for her cloth products.

“The business is come and go,” said Jiz in an interview with InterAksyon. “It’s good if there are orders. It’s good if people will come to your house [to see the products]. But if there are no buyers, the weaves will just be your inventory. You just stock your products there.”

Jiz, a former professor of college chemistry at the West Visayas State University, is in Makati City for the 34th Likhang Kamay Arts and Crafts Exhibit at the Glorietta 5 Atrium, which opened Friday last week and ended yesterday.

The Makati Museum and Cultural Affairs Office and the Iloilo Chamber of Commerce and Industry partnered to showcase the Visayan hablon fabric and products made from these. Makati City and Iloilo City are sister cities.

“We believe that featuring the unique products of our sister localities is a good way to raise awareness among fellow Filipinos and foreign visitors about indigenous arts and crafts being produced by different local communities that can be at par with international products,” said Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay.

Hablon fish bag by Ana Cordova. "Manughabol" is "weaver" in Bisaya, while "hablon" is the finished product. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili for InterAksyon.com.

With him during the launch were former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay, Iloilo City Vice Mayor Jose Espinosa III, and Iloilo Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Joe Marie Agriam.

Bolts of cloth, hangers of dresses, and an assortment of bags were part of the bright, colorful exhibit, which was themed “Filipino Kaleidoscope in Hablon.”

Constancia Atijon, manager of Connie’s Handwoven Products. She put three of her children through college through weaving. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili for InterAksyon.com.

“We wanted to bring hablon to Manila so that the people here can see what we do,” said Constancia Atijon, manager of Connie’s Handwoven Products. “Manughabol” is “weaver” in Bisaya, she explained, while hablon is the finished product.

Like Jiz, the 59-year-old businesswoman used to export her textiles. “To Japan, Germany, and US, I think,” she said. She originally used abaca fabric from Aklan, but the difficulty in getting a steady supply eventually led Atijon to turn to polyester, instead.

“The production of abaca is seasonal,” said Atijon. “Since those in Aklan have to work at their farms during the rainy season, they can only create the fabric during the dry season.”

Because she no longer used indigenous fabrics, her business could no longer comply with the export standards of the Garments and Textile Export Board. She is thankful to have the patronage of the local government and colleges in Miagao, Iloilo. The two groups use hablon as their uniforms. She hopes for more success, but not because of monetary gain or recognition.

“So we can help many skilled workers. There are a lot of skilled workers back home, but the market is small. A lot of our weavers are working mothers, kawawa naman kung ‘di matutulungan (they need our help). They have to provide for their children’s education.”

Atijon herself was able to put three kids through college through weaving. Her fourth child is now in second year high school.

“I started small, by myself. Through hard work I was able to succeed. Maybe the reason for this is because I was helping those in the rural areas,” she said. She now employs 14 weavers as they manufacture hablon textile, barong, patadyong, shawls, and other products.

Jiz has a success story of her own. Her youngest son went to the University of the Philippines Diliman, where he took up BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Before graduating cum laude in 2001, he introduced hablon to his classmates and professors, hoping the sablay worn during the commencement ceremonies could be produced using hablon technology.

The graduating class of 2001 wore togas, however. As the 2002 graduation rites drew closer, “the dean” made a call to Jiz asking if she would like to enter the bidding for the handwoven manufacture of sablay, which is a sash with alibata figures and worn in lieu of the traditional toga.

“So we have been the official maker of the UP sablay since 2002,” said Jiz. She now employs nine weavers who work year-round. “I’m very proud to say that through their wages they were able to help their children get college degrees.”

Hablon barong by Virginia Macaya. Photo by Joseph Agcaoili for InterAksyon.com.

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