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Astrid Ao-wat and nephew Mario Amily during the 15th PartuattiKailokuan trade fair in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Fresh Kalinga coffee. Photograph by Leilanie G. Adriano

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Photograph by Leilanie G. Adriano


Weaving Her Dream Job

By Leilanie Adriano
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 16:37:00 02/12/2011

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure, Arts (general)

LUBUAGAN, Kalinga ? At an age when most children would answer ?doctor,? ?nurse,? ?lawyer? or ?soldier? when asked what they?d like to be when they grow up, Astrid Ao-wat only had one thing in mind about her future trade. In fact, she?d had ample practice in it.

She recalls waking up each morning to the sight of her mother engrossed in loom-weaving and watching, entranced, as her mother?s hands turned colorful threads into a richly patterned dazzling fabric.

?I would take my mother?s place at the loom every time she left home, and I?d continue what she was doing,? she recalls of her childhood days.

Now 54, she is doing just that. But no longer in a corner of the house where her mother used to spend hours at the loom; and definitely not alone.

Ao-wat has turned childhood wonderment and personal passion into a sustainable and viable livelihood for her townmates, and in the process has ensured the survival of this indigenous craft.

Currently the president of KinwaEtnika, an association of women weavers in Kalinga organized in 2006, Ao-wat recounts how the loom-weaving industry in the province almost died when the tribal community could no longer afford to buy raw materials. Then as now, she explains, raw materials such as cotton threads were all sourced from Metro Manila, and increasing transport costs made it almost impossible for the weavers to cope.

To deal with this problem, she and four other skilled women weavers in Lubuagan contributed P500 each as start-up capital to buy cotton threads in bulk, and simply started weaving.

The group found immediate support from the local government unit and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The agencies provided them free formal training and upgraded their designs to comply with marketing standards. They were also taught how to market their products through participation in trade fairs and exhibits in nearby provinces and Metro Manila.

As their woven products improved and their product line expanded to include such items as coin purses, cell phone holders, bags, neck ties, leis, and other wall decors accented with locally available shells, the group?s market niche grew bigger.

Ao-Wat says their products are especially in demand during town fiestas, when Kalinga natives wear their vibrant costumes during a weeklong celebration of their culture.

Today, KinwaEtnika is composed of 35 women weavers, and a man with a disability who has joined them to gain greater access for his basket products. The youth of Kalinga, aged 12 and above and mostly the weavers? children are already being taught embroidery and bead-making. They, too, have come up with unique designs for their crafts, even making use of recycled plastic for earrings, necklaces and other accessories.

Most of the designs are replicas of their ancestors? original ?accents,? which may be jewelry, a wall dcor, and so on. An original Kalinga accent may be equivalent to the cost of a cow or carabao, about P50, 000 or more. A replica, depending on how complicated the design, may cost from P100 to P250.

To avoid product competition, Ao-Wat says, each municipality in Kalinga is required to adhere to the ?one town-one product? principle being promoted by the DTI and the DOST. This makes it possible for the weavers to concentrate on product upgrading, packaging and marketing.

?We are very happy because our enhanced products from Kalinga have reached a bigger market with more buyers now patronizing our products,? says the president of KinwaEtnika, who participated in the ?PartuattiKailokoan? trade fair exhibit in Laoag City recently.

During trade fairs and exhibits, Ao-Wat gets help from her nephew Mario Amily, 18. The electrical graduate says he feels proud and excited every time a local or foreign customer buys their product display, which showcases Kalinga?s rich culture.

On several occasions, they also get bulk orders from migrant workers abroad as pasalubong or as indigenous wear for their cultural show presentations.

From a starting capital of P2,500, KinwaEtnika has sustained its growing business with a product inventory of about half a million now, reports Ao-Wat. Aside from their loom-woven products, they also carry other popular Kalinga products such as aromatic brewed coffee and soft brooms during trade fairs and exhibits. Women?s Feature Service

For orders of any KinwaEtnika handicrafts in Tabuk, Kalinga, Philippines, please contact Astrid Ao-wat, 0909-2773796.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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