The Southeast coast of the island of Cebu was a thriving center for cotton weaving centuries ago, dating back to pre-Hispanic barter trade with Chinese merchants. This little-known part of Cebu history lives on in the hablon, or handloom weaving, of the heritage town of Argao. Located 73km south of Cebu City, Argao weavers produce towels, blankets and bedspreads made from now-imported pure cotton thread known locally as tingkal, using the kinarnero weaving style (literally “sheep style”, named for its resemblance to wool).
If not for the support of government agencies, academia, entrepreneurs and designers, the hablon industry in Argao would’ve faded away. Its revival began in 2016, when a government-funded weaving facility with 20 looms was launched at the Cebu Technological University‘s Argao campus. It’s since become a focal point for the industry.
“We need to preserve weaving, as it is an intergenerational craft passed down through families,” says Anya Lim, co-founder of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, who began a partnership with Argao-born master weaver Lauriana Olaguir three years ago.
ANTHILL’s support has helped Lauriana to expand her workshop and employ 15 other weavers. Now, they’re working together to convert discarded towels and linens from partner hotels and scrap fabric from designers into zero-waste handwoven Argao hinablon fabric.
In line with the company’s plans, Lauriana hopes that her weaving facility will also become a textile research and innovation center. She says in Cebuano,“The return of hablon has been a huge help to the women here. Many of them are the sole breadwinners of their families.”
Ask The Expert
What are the challenges of working with local weaves?
The biggest would be the market — not everyone is ready to embrace the fabric and what it’s all about. But the weaves are gradually getting more attention.
What’s the future of hinablon?
It’s a sunrise industry and things look promising. This growth will continue as long as designers focus on its uses and continue to develop it.
— Dexter Alazas, fashion designer and hablon advocate
Where To Shop
For hinablon textiles and products, check out Amano Craft Creations (fb.com/amanobyalazas), ANTHILL Fabric Gallery (anthillfabricgallery.com), Hablon sa Cebu (fb.com/hablonsacebu) and HoliCow (holicow.ph).
This story first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Smile magazine.