As a college student slash activist, Kat Estrella knew she wanted her undegraduate thesis as a clothing technology student in UP Diliman to be about women.
When the pandemic struck, derailing not just her academic research but also the lives of the Benguet women weavers Estrella had chosen as her subjects, she took it upon herself to help ensure their livelihood remained as sustainable as the fabrics they make.
This is the idea behind Hanap Habi, Estrella's very own clothing brand that employs women weavers in Benguet Province whose work lives were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The brand name is a mix of the words “hanap-buhay” (livelihood) and "habi" (the Filipino term for weaving).
The name doubles as representation for the materials used for their products, “mga nahanap at mga hinabi” (things found and things woven), as apart from reworking weaves in their designs, they also upcycle old clothes and fabric scraps to avoid as much waste in their production process via the zero waste patternmaking method.
As captain of an all-woman team, Estrella directly works with a community of home-based women weavers in Benguet and a home-based female sewer in Manila. Part of the profit earned from each collection goes back to the women workers.
"For a lot of women in Benguet, weaving talaga 'yung main source of income nila. Before the pandemic, they relied on tourists. Pero nu'ng nag hard lockdown and wala talagang travels at all, wala silang nabebentahan ng weaves," Estrella said.
The women weavers of Benguet would borrow money just to put food on their tables. They would also plant their own food, but given other expenses which cannot be grown out of mountain soil such as toiletries or their children's education, they of course needed a sustained source of income.
"Mas malaki yung burden sa women who weave from their homes kasi besides sa responsibilities nila as weavers, they’re also mothers or daughters. So, while doing economic labor, labor that would help them earn money, they also have labor that sustains their home at the same time," she said.
In the age of consumer activism, dressing up fashionably can be quite a daunting task given the continued dominance of fast fashion brands which when bought, may not hurt your wallet much but is definitely causing a dent somewhere—from their questionnable labor practices to the environment that ultimately pays for the excessive waste they generate.
In response to that and more, Hanap Habi makes sure their use of indigenous textiles is with respect to Cordillera culture. "Before we design each garment, we check with them ano ba pwedeng gamitin for a type of fabric... For example, may weaves used to wrap the dead. 'Yung mga ganon siyempre hindi siya pwede for commercial purposes," Estrella said.
According to Estrella, even as travel restrictions eased, orders coming from pre-pandemic clients of Cordillera weavers are still scarce. They are also faced with the challenge of navigating today's online selling landscape.
"When you buy a garment from Hanap Habi, you’re also able to support lives of women weaving communities. It’s not just buying to be able to style yourself, or add something local and sustainable to your closet--siyempre plus na 'yun. The idea is that when you buy a garment from us, you are supporting a life of a local weaver," she said.
This story originally appeared on Reportr.world.
* Minor edits have been made by the Candymag.com editors.
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