Bags of hope

THERE’S a movement being spawned by graduates of the Philippine Women’s College of Davao Helena Z. Benitez School of Fine Arts and Design that is bringing Mindanao crafts into the forefront of fashion and the upscale market while benefitting rural women of different socio-demographic characteristics.

The Mandaya embroidery-embellished clothes worn by Miss Universe Catriona Gray sealed the popularity and demand for the designs of Davao City fashion designer Wilson Ninofranco Limon, making the fashion world look south.

There’s another one creating waves of her own, this time through upscale bags woven by women prisoners (or the more politically-correct persons deprived of liberty), stay-at-home moms, and women of an indigenous cultural community of Davao de Oro all designed by Cheri-Lou Rabanoz Aranjuez, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Major in Fashion Design in 2016 as her second degree at PWC.

With her first partners – the stay-at-home mothers and women inmates – she launched a collection of shawls, scarves, bags, slippers and hats as a featured designer at the House of Ikons, London Fashion Week held at the Millenium Gloucester Hotel in London last February 2019.

She is now rolling out a new collection of woven bags embellished with beads that is uniquely Mindanao as she found new partners among the indigenous peoples in New Bataan.

The inspiration to tap locals, underscore indigenous crafts, and spread the benefit to the community came from the “heritage-inspired thesis-to-business platform of the Fine Arts and Design Program and on-going product design and development mentoring through the recently established PWC Artisanal Heritage Studies and Creative Enterprise Center, a CHED Institutional Development and Innovation grantee and recipient of British Council Creative Innovators Program Fellowship,” Aranjuez said.

This is a thrust introduced by Emi Englis, the PWC Program chair for Fashion Design and Industrial Design.

It's been nearly three years of checking out the communities, specifically the womenfolk, and partnering with them since she opened her shop in Montevista in 2016. She first tapped stay-at-home mothers to be her sewers. She sought them out, trained them, and hired them. The comprise the backbone of her business sewing uniforms for both private and government offices. Aside from the sewers, she tapped the Cooperative Handicrafts Industry in Nabunturan (Chain) for handwoven fabric of both abaca and fabric.

She was able to link up with Chain through the Department of Trade and Industry of Compostela Valley (Davao de Oro), which sought her out to explore the products of the weavers from Chain.

In 2018, she saw the crocheted products made by female inmates displayed at the Municipal Hall of Montevista, but noticed that while the craftsmanship was excellent, there was no bag on display. She went to the jail to present 12 straw bag designs that she asked the women to produce. These, too, she brought to the London Fashion Week.

Now she is set to launch a new line of crocheted bags that not only harnesses her sewers and the weavers, but also include embellishments from the beadworks of the indigenous peoples in Barangay Andap, New Bataan also in Davao de Oro.

It was through an initiative of the provincial Council of Women headed by Sholai Lim, the wife of Gov. Tyron Uy, that she learned of the indigenous women belonging to the Mandaya tribe in Barangay Andap, New Bataan.

“I was tapped by the Council of Women to mentor the IP Women on product development without sacrificing their cultures and traditions. Emi Englis will also be the consultant on the entire 15-day training,” she told Sun.Star Davao.

Aranjuez admits that working with womenfolk in different marginalized situations come with unique challenges that further concretize her resolve to share the benefits of her art with them.

“For the stay-at-home moms, you cannot impose a corporate kind of management,” she said. Instead, her shop is more like a second home. This means she gets involved with her workers’ personal problems, as well. They also have to work at home since their husbands expect them to attend to their children and do household chores.

“During harvest time of their produce like rice and copra, they oversee the harvesting and so they do not go to work,” she added.

For the inmates, she has to follow the jail rules and she has to go there personally to see the finished products.

“But the good thing is they are the most focused group. They are the most productive also,” she added.

But these are situations she has to face and adjust to as she sees great potential in working with these women.

“I envision this project as the start of many opportunities to the different women communities. The recent bag collection is a fusion of two women communities. The straw bags are handcrafted by the female inmates. The embellishments of the bags are from the IP Women-Mandaya in Brgy. Andap, New Bataan,” she said.

Based on the reactions generated by her posts of her new line, this collection has all the potential of making it big as well, and she is sharing this initial success to her women partners.


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