By JOHN LEGASPI
“We win if we let her in,” says Jeannie Javelosa, the chief visionary officer of the Gender Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women, or simply called GREAT Women.
It is at the core of GREAT Women to put the spotlight on local textiles. Traveling to different rural places in the country and speaking to communities, they bridge the gaps between the traditional weavers and the enterprises, creating an economic platform and a sustainable means of livelihood for the weavers.
Apart from discovering the heritage of weaving in different sides of the Philippines, they also hear out the dilemmas each community faces—from seeking resources, resolving familial issues to finding that niche through which the local textile industry can shine in the market globally.
Starting from just a project in 2006, it has now branched out beyond the boundaries of the Philippines, with a mission to improve the textile system of the country and making it economically viable.
TRACING THE ROOTS
Going back to the foundation of weaving is the first move the GREAT Women took. Traveling to the earthy terraces of the Ifugaos, then to Antique, and to the southern parts of the archipelago, they have successfully created master books compiling swatches of local textiles.
Under their development program, they visited villages and assessed them. They looked for authentic traditional textiles, asked for its name and what techniques are used to make them, and documented everything.
From there they realized that, though these products are culturally special, they cannot compete yet with the rest of the world in terms of design, feel, and functionality—with the mega-production of cotton in China and India to the flow of silk in Thailand and Myanmar.
GREAT Woman sought for a niche in the market that will be solely Filipino. And they found it in what they call “Philippine fusion.” This simply meant using materials that are uniquely manufactured in the country—piña-jusi (pineapple organza), abaca fibers, etc.—and combine them with cotton, playing with different colors to produce beautiful, culture-imbued fabrics that can be easily be put into production.
GREAT Women saw that handling business enterprises plays a key role in creating a sustainable livelihood, which, unfortunately, small communities of local weavers around the country lack. “They are truly empowered when they are part of an inclusive business,” says Javelosa. “They learn business ethics, they became knowledgeable of the quality that comes with every purchase.” With that, the GREAT Women initiative becomes beneficial to every stakeholder—weavers, merchants, and buyers of the textiles.
Because it is handmade, each textile produced by a weaver is unique, and even if the patterns can be replicated, it cannot be duplicated, giving weavers a one-of-a-kind item.
Fast fashion is not helping the earth, as it leads to what is called a linear business format—from sourcing of materials, production and operation, marketing and selling, to disposal—where products ultimately end up on a landfill. It has long been the practice in the world of business. But because the world today needs sustainability, the question now is about how valid fast fashion is today.
“We are making a stand in opposition to it,” explains Javelosa. “We need to be sustainable. These textiles provide another dimension when turned into clothes. Its durability lasts years—you know you wove it, you know where it grew. That’s what you get with these textiles.”
Because it is handmade, each textile produced by a weaver is unique and even if the patterns can be replicated, it cannot be duplicated, giving weavers a one-of-a-kind item. GREAT Women identify a version of ready-to-wear that is “heritage slow fashion,” honoring the spirit and passion of quality handmade work and innovations that revitalize traditions.
“It’s all Filipino-made, it’s revitalizing our culture,” says Javelosa. “It doesn’t have to look ethnic, it just has to be made here, grown from here, and manufactured here.”
“Globally, period,” is where Javelosa sees the GREAT Women brand is going. “I saw it ever since, GREAT Women is a global brand. I don’t know how I get that but I have always seen it.”
Last May 2018, designer Christian Louboutin took notice of the wonderful textiles of the Philippines and brought a Pinoy twist on his Treasure Cabas collection with Manilacaba, and GREAT Women helped out in sourcing the textiles.
Before that, in May 2015, women entrepreneurs from eight ASEAN member countries collaborated to launch the first GREAT Women In ASEAN Initiative Trade Booth in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia, during the ASEAN SME Summit. Supporting this project was the Malaysian government and USAID-ACTI project. USAID also enabled the beginning of friendships and business networking that would eventually drive women entrepreneurs into business alignments with the GREAT Women Brand as reported in Women Beyond Borders.
And in celebration of Women’s Month this 2019, GREAT Women partnered with Makati Shangri-La for “Tapestry: Celebrating the Great in Woman,” which featured a gallery of Filipino weaves, a trunk show full of lifestyle brands that celebrated local textiles. It culminated with a fashion show featuring Panay hablon and patadyong, habi of Camarines Sur, and backstrap looms textiles from the Bagobo, Tagabawa, and Maranaw peoples now transformed to contemporary prints and styles.
WEARING YOUR CULTURE
“Women’s voices cannot be heard alone,” Javelosa says. “It needs a platform, a space where many small ones can come together and become strong.”
Mixing advocacy, lifestyle, and heritage, GREAT Women isn’t a charity house. It’s an institution that is organically thriving and that small-time weavers, farmers, and communities can be proud of. “I wouldn’t do anything otherwise,” she says. “In the end, it’s what we can give.”