Weaving is an age-old tradition in the Philippines. Local cotton, pineapple, abaca, silk, and fibers were used as raw materials to create intricate textiles and fabrics. Handloom weaving was and is still considered a cultural and spiritual practice where the weavers believe that they could attract good health and protection.
The different patterns, symbols and colors used for the fabric were an artistic expression of beliefs. Indigenous weavers explored traditional patterns that represented customary dances during seasons of harvest and war, as well as signs for courtship and healing. Similarly, red color was associated with power, while the color brown and similar earthly tones signified death and mourning.
Aside from its aesthetic qualities, weaving was also considered a means to socialize in the early years since weavers would gather and create masterpieces while conversing with one another.
Iloilo was once considered the country’s textile capital since the mid-1800s, where textile and weaving crafts started even before the Spaniards arrived. After their arrival, the Spanish laid the foundation of the weaving industry, building it on the already well-established weaving expertise of the locals.
In the late 18th-century, a significant transformation was seen in the weaving industry: it strengthened its foundation for large-scale commercial weaving where fabric suppliers would supply their textiles all over the country. At this time, Iloilo emerged as the textile center of the Philippines.
The main textile trade products were sinamay, cotton, and silk fabrics which made their way to Manila from Iloilo and then exported abroad. Today, the central part of weaving groups is concentrated in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
With the different types of loom and weaving techniques used, the weaving industry in the Philippines has excellent potential for textile manufacturers to grow their business locally and internationally. As of 2021, local textile manufacturers brought in PH41.04 million in gross value, a significant increase from the previous year. While it is still lesser compared to pre-pandemic levels, the jump in value shows that the market is getting back up again after the economic effects of COVID-19.
Just as the pandemic affected all businesses worldwide, textile suppliers and the weaving industry also suffered severely. According to the Philippine Fiber Industries Development Authority (PhilFida), the Philippines’ abaca output from January to August 2020 was reduced by 27%. This decline in sales of weaved textiles and fabrics resulted in an income decline for both weavers and fabric suppliers. The strict implementation of restrictions did not make things easier for them. Textile companies were among the 58% of businesses affected by limited operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, constructive measures by the government, in the form of the Likhang HABI Market Fair going online, bridged the gap between the weavers and fabric vendors. As many shoppers were unable to visit physical stores, the rise in online shopping drastically increased. These online platforms also connected weavers and suppliers to the international market, worth US$993.6 billion in 2021 – it is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4% from 2022 to 2030.
The pandemic also increased the demand for PPEs and masks, where several brands and businesses have started making reusable masks with traditional weaving materials. Alongside government help through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), pinoy weavers were able to stay afloat.
Today, the Philippines is looking to join the top ten global players in the garment and textiles industry, anticipating a 45% growth upon implementation of recommendations. Some of these entail the use of more natural and synthetic textile fibers and reducing the use of used imported clothing (or ‘ukay-ukay’).
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