Arts and Culture
ANTHILL Fabric Gallery: Weaving Dreams, Weaving Love
ANTHILL Fabric Gallery creates everyday essentials from byproducts of indigenous fabrics. They have ready to wear pieces that can easily be mixed and matched and they offer custom or made-to-measure services; all of which are statement pieces that stand for an advocacy. “It was fulfillment of a shared dream between my mother and I”, shares Anya Lim, Co-Founder and Managing Director (a.k.a. Princess Ant) when asked how their enterprise was born.
But really… What are dreams made of? In writing stories about different Filipino entrepreneurs, we’ve found that their dreams are made of lots of things. But for the most part, these dreams come with their passion for something bigger than themselves. These dreams are ultimately products of love. The month of February may be almost over, but we hope that these quotes and the story behind ANTHILL Fabric Gallery will inspire more of us to weave our dreams always, with love.
1. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” – Harriet Tubman
The Dreamer, The Princess Ant (During one of her visits to their partner community)
Lim recalls, “I grew up with bed time stories about the different indigenous communities. My mom (who has been in the fabric industry ever since) took us traveling to weaving communities where we witnessed first hand how our living traditions and culture die just because of the lure of instant cash and the growing gap in transmission from the old to the young.” Armed with her three-year experience in fundraising for an international non-profit organization, she was on a mission to give back to these communities with one thing in mind: sustainability. “It wasn’t entirely accidental, it was more providential; ANTHILL is a product of connecting the dots, retrospection and introspection”, she shares.
Lim with the Mang Abel Ti Abra community members
2. “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.” – John Lennon
Trivia: Did you know that sociability counts as one of the most distinguishing trait of the ant species? They behave depending on their roles in the colony. In the movie Antz (for example) there were ‘workers’ and there were ‘members’ of the army and they all worked together ‘for the colony’. Well, it may not be a realistic example but… you get the picture, right?
ANTHILL, also short for Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous/Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers, aims to grow and preserve different weaving traditions around the Philippines. They work with three direct partner communities representing the rural, indigenous and urban sector: 1) Mang Abel Ti Abra, comprised of about forty mother artisans and a growing number of younger weavers, who weave traditional patterns using scrap thread bought at a nearby town; 2) the Daraghuyan Bukidnon Tribe, around fifty households whose women weave Manila hemp; and 3) the Handcrafters of Mary Enterprise (HOME), a group of twenty mother crafters from Tisa and Gawad Kalinga Minglanilla, Cebu who make plush toys out of scrap and indigenous fabrics, and old clothes. All of them practice and promote zero waste production by using up-cycled thread in 90% of their fabrics. Here are some of their products:
They also collaborate with other brands and social enterprises, mostly acting as a materials source. Lim says: “We celebrate the growing number of players and brands using our weaves as this means there is more support to keeping the industry alive which is ultimately our mission and vision.”
3. “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell
Let’s face it. Achieving dreams doesn’t happen overnight. Most recently, we’ve curated stories on enterprises (all of which are fairly new) that aim to support our local weaving communities. The livelihood of indigenous communities face a problem of cultural degradation because of the following: undervaluation of products, issues concerning market access and demand, and the lack of awareness and interest by the majority and the threat of non-transmission to the younger generation.
Even as a social enterprise that has been here longer than its counterparts, ANTHILL has to still deal with challenges when it comes to running the business side of things. For example, upon marketing heavily, there was high demand for products but they had low capacity in coping with it. They focused on capacity building and working with their partner communities. “It’s a process of trial and error. A lot of it also had to do with presence- just journeying with the community partners and knowing that you are there to walk by their side motivates them. Their commitment and unity increased their capacity.”
One of their partner weavers: weaving dreams, weaving love
To add, limitations with resources (human and financial) were main drivers that led them to be more creative in diversifying and prioritizing. She lists crowd sourcing, outsourcing, and diversification as powerful strategies in overcoming these challenges. They hope that in addition to more investments that stir the growth of social enterprises, “there will be more enabling platforms for social enterprises to thrive: competitions, mentorship program, idea labs, etc.”
4. “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” – Les Brown
Aside from having partner communities, ANTHILL has an in-house sewing community in their production house in Cebu for made to measure or custom made orders and prototyping. They work with an ecosystem of partners (i.e. weaving cooperatives, non- profits and community-based subcontractors, etc.) in the ethical sourcing of fabrics and provide them support in textile color, design and innovation.
ANTHILL commits to providing sustainable livelihood (for their partners) through the implementation of their Community Enterprise Development Program. Lim proudly shares, “Recently, we shared the Annual Savings and Income Report of our community in Abra and the mothers were so delighted to know about how productive they have been.”
All smiles for the Mang Abel Ti Abra community
5. “In dreams and in love, there are no impossibilities.” – Jonas Arany
Gone are the days when traditions are seen from afar and not experienced first-hand. All thanks to ANTHILL Fabric Gallery and other enterprises engaged in the hand-weaving industries in the Philippines who see potential in impossibilities and work hard to turning these into realities.
ANTHILL’s Proud Weave-Wearers
Lim captured it best by saying: “We transform traditions into contemporary design for the everyday so it stays relevant to the here and the now; we envision every Filipino to wear their tribe with pride. Our movement of proud weave-wearing is the foundation of the ecosystem providing sustainable livelihood to our partner communities.”
As a vest or as a skirt, these ladies show us how to ‘wear your tribe with pride’
Walt Disney once said: “If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this thing was started with a dream and a mouse”. In this case, it started with a dream and a Princess Ant. Her advice: “Know who made your clothes, how they are made and what they are made of. Wear with intention. Honor the connection. Here, fabrics are more than just part of fashion, it is collective dreaming. It is a way of life.” ANTHILL is a true testament to what they stand for. Indeed, theirs is an inspiring story of weaving dreams and weaving love.
A peek inside the ANTHILL Fabric Gallery in Cebu
*All photos from ANTHILL Fabric Gallery
Their products are also available at Tesoro’s Handicrafts