Sugarcane's first magazine feature!
Southern Living reached out to me in March. They wanted to include Sugarcane in their May 2014 issue, which would showcase traditional Filipino crafts. I couldn't believe it. I was thrilled!!! I had to read that email 6 times over to make sure I understood it correctly. Then it was a scramble to arrange the interview and send images before my 3-week trip to Japan. I've been anxiously waiting for the article ever since, and now I get to share with you. What a thrill!
Read the full interview here:
Please tell us how the concept of Sugarcane came about.
I was in Silahis in Old Manila when I first saw pieces of hand loomed, indigenous textiles. It was an exciting discovery! The part that struck me was that the weavers are mothers supporting their families. Unfortunately, handloom weaving is a dwindling craft for a few reasons. First, hand loomed fabric takes longer to make than machine-made ones. Therefore, they are more expensive to produce. Second, the fabric application has been limited to table runners and placemats. As lifestyles get less formal, those items are not as high in demand. Third, the weaving houses are typically located in remote villages with no infrastructure for distribution.
That's where Sugarcane comes in. The backstory of the textiles connected with me being a new mom and my desire to be creative. My initial idea for the fabric was making clothes for my daughter, because they would be different from anything found in stores. The patterns have a tribal aesthetic that isn’t normally associated with children. I love that dichotomy. My intention with Sugarcane is to help create demand for hand loomed products, so that the mother weavers can continue to support their children and preserve their craft. With children's clothes, Sugarcane brings it full circle with mothers creating for their babies. When I got my MBA a few years ago I wondered what my legacy would be. I hope Sugarcane would be it, the legacy I can leave to my daughter.
When I got back to San Francisco in June 2013 I came up with a name, started the business, got samples made, created the website, and started the blog. It’s been one thing after another with the usual grind of startup.
Where in the Philippines do you source the fabrics? Please tell us about your use of traditional, indigenous, hand loomed textiles. The culture, the stories behind it.
Finding fabrics is an adventure to say the least. I wanted to source the fabrics from the weavers themselves, because I feel the direct connection is important. For the fall/winter 2014 line, I needed to find fabrics to make my samples. When I did an online search for hand loomed fabrics, Vigan came up several times but it never got more specific than that. That meant the only way to find out was to go there myself. With no destination address, no map, no GPS, no Internet, my husband and I drove north from Manila until we reached Vigan 9 hours later. Once there, we asked tricycle drivers if they knew where the weavers are. The replies we got were ranged from "dire-diretsiyohan" (straight ahead) to "doon lang," (over there) and from "malapit na" (close) to "malayo pa" (far) After asking about 100 strangers, we finally found a weaving house. It was a great relief because we were not going back to Manila empty-handed. Haha. After that adventure, I felt like a true local.
Men had to farm the fields, that's why weaving became a woman's trade. Their knowledge and looms have been passed down generations of women, most typically from mothers to daughters-in-law. When a daughter gets married, she moves in with her husband's family. When a son gets married, his wife would move in with his family and learn weaving from her mother-in-law. Some looms are over 100 years old. The local carpenter would be called in if there were repairs needed on the frame.
What is the reason why you chose to work with local textiles?
With increasing consciousness about where our food comes and how they're grown, I thought, why would we not care about our clothes the same way? Knowing where our clothes are made is an extension of that awareness. When I learned that artisans in the Philippines were still hand looming fabrics, I had to find out more. By using local textiles, I can help stimulate demand for their product; which in turn helps the weavers support their families; which in turn helps preserve a traditional craft. The result is a positive spiral.
What are your inspirations for your designs?
For my first designs I took inspiration from the Ati, whom I thought was only appropriate since they're believed to be one of the aboriginal Filipinos. I enjoyed the challenge of translating the wild, colorful Ati-atihan costumes into wearable, modern clothes for kids. The bib on the dress, tank, and tunic take their shape from Ati-atihan costumes, as well as the pompoms and tassels. The shorts are my favorite. It's my translation of the bahag, which wraps around the sides and goes down the front.
Do you work with Filipino locals? Tell us about the clothes being woven by moms. Is it a community? How would you describe them?
I work with the head mother weaver and buy directly from her. The head mother's office is just next to the looms, so I also meet the other moms while I'm there. The moms go to the weaving center, which could be a large room like in Abra or thatched-roof hut like in Vigan with multiple wooden looms.
Some of the moms have looms at home so they can work around their families' schedules. It allows them to weave in the afternoon while their babies are napping or at night after the family has gone to bed. That absolutely resonated with me and I appreciated it so much because I understood that need for balance. When I first had my daughter, I left my career as a Senior Marketing Manager to be a part-time Marketing consultant. As a consultant, I worked whenever I could, often late at night after the baby went to sleep.
The mothers are kind-hearted, strong, talented craftswomen. They are proud of their skills and what they're creating. They're amazing! Weaving empowers them because it's a source of livelihood and an outlet for creativity. When I went to Abra, I showed pictures of my samples and they could identify who wove the fabrics in my samples.
Where do you manufacture the clothes?
San Francisco. It has a small, growing manufacturing industry. I want Sugarcane to be part of that growth and combine local with global to support my communities.
How hands on are you in the business? With you being in San Francisco, how do you manage everything? How often do you travel?
I could not be more hands on if I tried. Haha. I wear all the hats. I design the clothes, source the fabrics, interface the pattern maker and sample maker, and work with the factory. I update the website, write the blog, and make sales calls.
All the operations are in San Francisco that's why I want to focus in the city for the first sales cycle. I want to be nearby to handle any situation. Textile sourcing is what requires me to travel. With 2 seasons, I travel to the Philippines twice a year to get fabrics for the current season's production and for the next season's samples. Everything is managed with an old-fashioned, paper-and-pen calendar.
Please tell us about your family. What are the things do you like doing together?
I have a husband and a 2-year-old daughter. We love to travel. I figure now is the best time to take my daughter because she's not in school yet. Last year we went to Manila, Boracay, La Union, Baguio, Palawan, Bali, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. Travel is always inspiring. When we're not traveling we keep it pretty simple with toddler-friendly activities. We hit up the park playgrounds, swim in the indoor pool, attend family yoga class, go to museums, hang out with my sister Ricci and brother-in-law Tom, or get together with friends who have toddlers too.
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A big thank you to Dianne Pineda and Southern Living Magazine for highlighting traditional Filipino crafts and local artisans.