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Hanap Habi Preserves Benguet’s Weaving Tradition With RTW Pieces

Hanap Habi blends traditional weaves with chic separates.

Kat Estrella’s Hanap Habi may be a “rookie brand” in the world of ready-to-wear (RTW) fashion, but at this early stage, the label is already impacting lives and helping preserve a centuries-old indigenous craft. A contraction of the words hanap-buhay (livelihood) and habi (a method of weaving), Hanap Habi incorporates the intricate, colorful, hand-woven weaves by the women of Benguet Province on such chic separates as sleeveless apron-style tops, above-the-knee shorts, and four-pocket cropped jackets.

Originally the subjects of Kat’s undergraduate thesis on the working conditions and quality of life of home-based women weavers in Benguet, the women weavers became her creative partners when the pandemic and its ensuing lockdowns and travel bans affected their livelihood, forcing them to find non-weaving ways to earn. (Read: These Rural Women Are Making a Difference in Their Communities)

But the women and their weaves have a profound effect on Kat and her design sensibilities too. My Pope Philippines chats with the designer about her creative process and what these women bring to her brand. 

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“We really envision Hanap Habi to become a social enterprise that can provide livelihood programs, women-focused workshops, and gender and development training for them.” Kat Estrella of Hanap Habi

What were your designs like pre-Hanap Habi?

Before we launched Hanap Habi, my design aesthetic was very different from the designs we make for Hanap Habi. My designs were very avant-garde and maximalist. I never imagined myself designing RTW pieces with local weaves. It was really the pandemic that pushed me to “solve problems” by shifting my design aesthetic.

How did you meet these women?

During the data collection phase of my thesis, I conducted face-to-face interviews in Benguet. I was able to find them with the help of a basket weaver based in Baguio City, who was referred to me by a friend from college. He helped me go from door to door, stall to stall, and establishment to establishment to find leads as to where I may find home-based women weavers in Benguet. (Read: Catriona Gray Is the New Ambassador for Indigenous Handicrafts)

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Photo from Hanap Habi Facebook

I guess it helped that before even working with the women weavers for Hanap Habi, I already got to know them and they already got to know me. There was a level of trust established since they shared and discussed their working conditions and quality of life with me. Having this established sense of trust prior to partnering up for Hanap Habi made everything flow smoothly.

Are you involved in the creation of a weave?

I leave the creation of weaves to the women weavers. I’d like to think that this is their chance to express their own creativity and showcase their skills. It is also a way to preserve tradition and culture woven into these Cordillera textiles. The products we craft are based on the weaves the women weavers can produce. We adjust our design based on the availability and limitations of the Cordillera textiles.

How long it takes to produce the weaves really depends on the pattern and size of the weave and the number of yards needed. For the lang-git weaves we use on our Olive Sets and Chiny Zero Waste Jacket in Asul, a skilled weaver can make up to 10 yards in less than a day.

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(Left) Olive Top in Puti (Right) Chiny Zero Waste Jacket in Asul (Photos from Hanap Habi)

Please share stories about the women weavers.

We work with about nine weavers coming from the same barangay. All of them are very warm and welcoming! It was not difficult to get along and converse with them. When it comes to their working arrangements, the women weavers we work with have been working from home even before the pandemic. Most days are cyclical for them since they alternate household responsibilities and economic responsibilities throughout the day. 

What are these women able to do now because of Hanap Habi?

I believe that Hanap Habi has allowed them to continue weaving as an economic activity amidst the pandemic. Admittedly, we are still a rookie brand, so the income they get from weaving for Hanap Habi is not yet as substantial as we hope it could one day become. Hopefully, we get to grow Hanap Habi and achieve the goal of providing substantial and sustained income for the weavers. We really envision it to become a social enterprise that can provide livelihood programs, women-focused workshops, and gender and development training for them. (Read: TESDA offers 68 free training courses amid extended Luzon lockdown)

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Photo from Hanap Habi Facebook

What do these women’s creations bring to your designs?

As we always say, the women weavers and their weaves are the core of Hanap Habi. Without them, the brand would not exist. The weavers and their weaves are the heart of each design we make.

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