The pandemic has taken its toll on individuals, many of whom have had to rethink their careers in order to stay afloat. But it has also affected entire communities — for the residents of Namarabar, Abra, it meant the loss of their livelihood. The indigenous Abra weavers relied on the sale of their traditionally woven, dyed and embroidered textiles but lockdown totally cut off their source of income.
Luis Agaid Jr., the head of the Namarabar Indigo Natural Dye Producers Cooperative, had just returned to Abra from an international fashion event in Cebu back in March when lockdown hit. He felt disheartened as all the exhibits that they had lined up for the foreseeable future were effectively canceled. “Halos maiyak na nga ako noong bumalik ako dito dahil yung kapital namin, naipon doon sa mga damit. Hindi ko mabenta talaga,” he recalls. “Yung mga tao dito, syempre wala silang source of income, nagdedepende lang sa mga tinatahi, ine-embroider. Kaya palagi silang pumupunta dito nung naka-lockdown kami.”
With the constant flow of people asking for help, Luis issued a challenge — get to work embroidering, and the co-op pledges support: “Magdo-donate kaming co-op ng mga ayuda, huwag kayong mag-alala. Kahit wala tayong pera, iisip tayo ng paraan… Turuan niyo lang yung mga kasambahay niyo mag-embroidery, bawa’t household, bibigyan namin kayo ng ayuda.”
Luis initially saw it as a way to get more people interested in the traditional craft but the wheels in his head kept turning and he realized that they could produce face masks. The masks started as something they could use themselves but when he posted photos on social media, his friends in the fashion industry — particularly designers in Manila and Baguio — were quick to respond. He got orders for 50 pieces and the orders just kept coming. Today, the community produces 300 face masks a day and they’re always sold out!
“Yung mask namin, dala-dala namin ‘yung traditional
art identity namin sa kanya”
“Yung mask namin, dala-dala namin ‘yung traditional art identity namin sa kanya,” Luis proudly says. The eye-catching masks come in a range of colors and showcase traditional Abra motifs. Some even have matching headbands.
Luis is very thankful that some kindhearted people have donated sewing machines to the cooperative to help the community with production. Their main problem now is sourcing for materials like garters, as the ones in their area are too expensive and aren’t optimal for making masks. They have been able to obtain some online and from generous friends, but getting much-needed supplies continues to be a struggle.
Still, the community pushes on. Luis invites everyone to support them by purchasing their face masks. “Huwag [nating] hayaang walang trabaho yung mga tao,” he says. “Hindi po iisa yung tinutulungan niyo ngayon — buong community po.”