Dubbed “Winter Escapade – It’s More Fun In The Philippines (WE-IMFITP) InvestFair 2014,” it was held at the Royal Garden Convention Hall in January last year where participants went around Western Visayas to look for business opportunities.
Yong also heads Symphony 8 which operates the Philippine-Canadian Inquirer, Canada’s first and only nationwide Filipino-Canadian newspaper.
But aside from falling in love with Iloilo, reason why he chose to open a business here, Yong also fell in love with Iloilo’s indigenous textile known as hablon and has since promoted it in Canada.
In November 2015, Yong invited Iloilo’s foremost fashion designer andhablon advocate Jaki Peñalosa to showcase her exceptional works at the PHILIPPINEfest held at the Aberdeen Centre and Symphony Hill in British Columbia.
In June 2016, Peñalosa will tour the cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa for a month to again showcase hablon in a series of shows that Yong and the Philippine Embassy there are organizing.
“This is rare opportunity for us to promote our local fabric that has already become part of our heritage,” says Peñalosa.
In her designs, Peñalosa uses hablon, a uniquely Iloilo fabric that was the chief import of the province during the pre-Hispanic period and in the early days of Spanish colonization.
In fact, Iloilo was once known as the “Textile Center of the Philippines” because it produces huge volumes of hablon, employing most of its women.
Peñalosa has become synonymous to hablon, spearheading a crusade to revive the industry that met its demise with the introduction of more affordable European textile in the Philippines and the shift to sugar production.
A scion of the culturally-inclined family in Iloilo, she has broughthablon out of obscurity by bringing it to international catwalks, like the U.S., Norway, and France.
The partnership between Peñalosa and Yong is one of the tangible results of the Investment Fair 2014 which was highlighted by an investment forum following a week-long economic tour of the region. It was during fashion show segment of the Fair that new foreign partners such as Alan Yong first noticed Peñalosa’s creations.
LGSP-LED, organizer of the Fair, is a program of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) with funding from the Government of Canada, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).
Peñalosa credits LGSP-LED “for facilitating not only inbound investments but also for opening doors for the international market,” paving the way for a local businesswoman.
“My dream is to put up a shop in every major city in the world,” she added, carrying hablon with her to be known to the world as the Philippine fiber. Hopefully, with the promotion of hablon by fashion designers like Jaki Peñalosa and by foreign investors like Alan Yong, a lot of women can be productive again and poverty in the Philippines can be alleviated.#
Local women weavers of hablon in Iloilo, Philippines.
During the Spanish period, the hablon industry was concentrated in the municipalities of Jaro, Molo, Arevalo and Mandurriao, and in the towns of Miag-ao, Tigbauan, Oton, Santa Barbara and Janiuay.
Gender advocates have been pushing for the revival of the hablon industry, which declined as a result of the rise of sugar production, because it offered employment to women.
“Hablon weaving is a women-led trade,” noted the report. “Weaving Progress for the Miag-ao Hablon Industry: Gender-Responsive Value Chain Analysis of Hablon Weavers in Miag-ao, Iloilo.”
“Skilled female labor is widely available in the locality since loom weaving skills are passed on through generations. Girls are usually brought to the production center, and taught by older weavers to do loom weaving,” it added.
The report was produced by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) with fund-assistance from the Global Affairs Canada (formerly Canadian International Development Agency).
Today, hablon products range from barongs, gowns and shawls, to bags, belts, pillow cases, lamp sheets, table runners, placemats, pencil cases, pouches, and similar accessories. They are marketed locally, and can be found in product outlets, boutiques and fashion shops, department stores, showrooms and flea markets or tiangge.
“Made-to-order hablon cloth is preferred by most corporate buyers such as airline companies, schools and government offices for their office uniforms,” the report said. Local customers, on the other hand, are frequent buyers of hablon table cloth and runners, pillows, bags, and pouches with unique designs.
In Miagao where there is a cooperative of hablon weavers, producers can now command higher market prices by they have attracted high-end customers such as local and international fashion designers and boutiques.
When sugar became Iloilo’s chief export in the 1880s after as result of the opening of Iloilo port to world trade, many women became jobless because the weaving industry lost its primary importance. During the early years of American colonization, local leaders have called for the “protection” of hablon by limiting importation of textile although concerns were also raised as to the local fabric’s inferior quality.
Echoing these sentiments, then Iloilo Governor Raymundo Melliza, in a report dated July 5, 1905, called for the abolition of taxes on raw materials used in weaving and promote their cultivation. The PCW report said that the net profit from hablon making for cooperatives is estimated at 35 percent since it only requires labor, materials and minimal overhead, and administrative and marketing costs.
“Usually, a loom weaver can finish three to five meters a day, working for four to five days a week. They are paid at an average of P 45/per meter for weaving and P3 per meter for warping,” it said. “Total cost of hablon cloth is P114.15 per meter, which can be sold commercially at P250 to P350 per meter, depending on the quality of materials used,” it added.