Tribe Dreamweavers: Why Local is the New Premium

January 3, 2017 7:00 pm by Eunice Guzon
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Tribe Dreamweavers: Why Local is the New Premium

By integrating a global perspective and modern motifs into cultural fashion products that are sourced and created locally, an emerging Filipino lifestyle brand shows us exactly how and why in today’s fashion scene, local is the new premium.

“Located in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, in the province of South Cotabato you can find the Tbolis — an ancient tribe who are known for their vibrant beadwork accessories, cultural adornments and the distinct art of T’nalak weaving — the province’s ultimate cultural emblem. The Tbolis believe that through their dreams, the spirit of the abaca inspires the geometric patterns of T’nalak, hence the mystic term dreamweavers.” (Photos and caption courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

Tribe Dreamweavers started as an advocacy for promoting Southern Cotabato and T’boli culture. Its founder and chief enabler, Zhaun Barry Agabe, calls it a struggling and impassioned dream that he began from a personal rock-bottom, built up slowly, piece by piece, accessory by accessory. I had a rare opportunity to sit with him during his short visit to Manila a few months ago. I sat there, listening in awe, as he openly shared with me the heart and inspiration behind the movement and the narrative of the people of South Cotabato, also known as the Land of the Dreamweavers.trends-tribaldreamweaver19

This cascading Lyia necklace (left) and the Minia necklace (right) in red, white and black hues are reminiscent of the classic Tboli patterns and colors. These pieces are a must-have for every Proud Pinay. (Photo courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

Agabe may not have had the formal training for it, but his passion for fashion and his background in cultural preservation have, in hindsight, prepared him for this. Having been born and raised in South Cotabato, he’s been exposed to the rich culture and traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, particularly that of T’nalak weaving and the beaded craftsmanship of Tboli artisans. In Zhaun’s words, “Tribe Dreamweavers seeks to be part of the movement that invites fashion innovation into heritage, and in doing so, bridge the chasm between cultural products that in the past may have been delegated to museums or utilized as components of basic souvenir products, and elevate these into something that is coveted as a statement fashion piece and sought after by the stylish and discerning women of the world.”trends-tribaldreamweaver1

Fall in love with the patterns and intricate designs of Tribe Dreamweavers’ neck pieces and have one made for yourself. You may contact Tribe Dreamweavers through Instagram for more information. (Photo courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

What was once a made-to-order transaction with one of the lady beaders in Lake Sebu has now evolved into an enterprise that provides equitable livelihood for the T’boli women, their cooperatives and their family members who are weavers, beaders, designers, craftsmen and all-around artisans. For the longest time, they have been dependent on the trade of souvenirs and other items that were mass-produced and sold at a much lower price. This is where Zhaun’s vision came in handy. He tries hard to stay away from the limelight and recognition, but it is through his vision that these communities are now gaining the benefits of a creative movement that is slowly transforming their lives.

The Nava Necklace. It takes weeks of handcrafted artistry for this intricate design to come to life. (Photos courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

He says: “One of the highlights of working in this culturally driven enterprise is working with, and creating simple yet meaningful change in the lives of the women and artisans whose craftsmanship make the products we design truly unique. Spending time with the artisans who make our pieces, some of whom cannot read or write, and having the opportunity to talk to them about their everyday lives can give one’s outlook in life a very grounding perspective.”

With each piece of accessory that you source from Tribe Dreamweavers, whether it’s their Nava necklace or Abaniko clutch, you can trust that you are supporting ‘an advocacy that seeks to elevate, protect and sustain the livelihood of the indigenous T’boli artisans in Lake Sebu’. (Photos courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

These interactions continue to inspire Agabe to strive to reach more supporters of the Tribe. By securing access to mainstream markets and spearheading business creativity in the South with intended outcomes such as poverty reduction and equitable and sustainable development, Tribe Dreamweavers makes steady steps so that the heart and core of the dreamweavers are preserved.

One-of-a-kind bags in classic and edgy colors made from T’nalak are just some of the things you can expect from the Tribe Dreamweavers product line. (Photo courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

The challenges they face are many. Capital and business development, among other things, are needed for them to support and accommodate the demand and supply side of their enterprise. He adds, in order to make sure that the beaders are paid before they work on the pieces, he would sometimes make personal advances from his own pocket. He recalls that it was in meeting different people along the way that has always helped him in regaining faith in the brand.
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Tribe Dreamweavers’ minutes of fame at the runway for Randy Ortiz’s ‘Asia Now’ collection for the Manila Fashion Festival S/S ‘17(Photo Courtesy of @tnalakdreams and @megastyleph)

He attributes the encouragement of globally-award winning Brand Architect Amor Maclang, who serves as a driving force in promoting their shared advocacy. He fondly recalls one of their shining moments in the Philippine fashion scene when show wherein their pieces were featured for Randy Ortiz’s Asia Now collection at the Manila Fashion Festival S/S 2017. Their statement pieces were included at the PIOPIO (brainchild of Paloma Urquijo Zobel) pop-up at the recently concluded Designers Holiday Bazaar and their accessories have made its way to Zurich, Switzerland for the VERA Trunk Show.

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“For some, cultural advocacy, modern style and edgy sophistication is reserved for extraordinary occasions. But for Tribe Dreamweavers, it’s a daily routine. Simply put, it’s a lifestyle.” — Zhaun Barry Agabe, Founder (Photo courtesy of Tribe Dreamweavers)

Surely, we can expect to see more of the Tribe Dreamweavers in the coming months, taking lead in promoting Philippine fashion with culturally inspired products, redefining how preserving the narrative of our local artisans and showing the world how and why putting a premium into their craftsmanship will preserve cultures, improve lives, and transform communities.

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