Introducing our new series, 'Weaver of the Month.' Take a look behind the looms as we feature the stories of artisans who made your weaves.
From Looms to Leadership
Elsie Balidiong is currently the Manager of Salngan Livelihood Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SLMPC), a partner artisan enterprise of Panublix. Her journey with Salngan began in the year 2009. However, the roots of her craft reach back to the days of her youth, when she first learned how to weave by observing her mother work on the loom.
Hablon is woven into their family history and served as their main source of livelihood. From one generation to the next, Elsie along with her mother and grandmother carry on the handloom tradition said to have been passed down from their ancestors.
Elsie recalls that they once used 'Bunag', a cotton-like material they bought in the city. But as time passed, 'Bunag' became scarce in the market. This shifted their family endeavors from weaving to peddling vegetables and food.
Many weavers share the same story as Elsie —Iloilo’s hablon industry (along with handwoven fabrics in general) declined in the latter half of the 20th century. The region’s output of woven products dwindled, and materials became scarce. Faced with these hurdles, weavers like Elsie and her family turned to alternative sources of income like farming and peddling goods, while some even left the country to work overseas.
In the early 2000s, a beacon of hope emerged for hablon weavers. The mayor at that time recognized the importance of weaving in supporting the livelihood of women in the community and allowing them to take better care of their children. This vision gave rise to SLMPC in Brgy. Salngan, Oton, Iloilo which was established in 2003 as part of the revitalization of the hablon weaving industry.
Hablon products by SLMPC
Elsie’s role in the community
Though she is a weaver herself, Elsie specializes in managing the cooperative. She plays a key role in the community as the person handling relationships with customers, maintaining partnerships with clients, and delegating tasks to members of the coop.
As a novice, Elsie admitted that she wasn’t well versed in dealing with people and customers back then. Thankfully, she developed these skills through the training programs conducted by the GREAT Women Project and government agencies including Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Over time, she learned how to communicate with clients and promote the cooperative’s handwoven products. Looking back, she feels proud of her growth and acquired skills that she continues to apply day-to-day in her work at SLMPC.
Facing new challenges
As the looms of Salngan continue to weave for over two decades, a new set of obstacles has emerged for traditional weavers in modern times.
One such challenge is sourcing raw materials for their woven products. Traditional hablon is made with natural fiber yarns like cotton but they find it uneconomical and difficult to access. They turned to polyester yarn instead which resulted in decreased demand for their products among buyers who prefer natural fibers.
Another challenge is marketing and finding new customers. While they have access to laptops and mobile phones in their homes, their weaving center itself lacks a reliable internet connection for business processing and digital marketing.
Despite these challenges, the weavers at Salngan continue to show resilience and determination to grow even further. Elsie shared that the cooperative hopes to find additional members and that they are in the process of requesting a grant from the local government to renovate SLMPC’s weaving center.
A vision for the future of handloom weaving
Elsie aspires for the younger generations to become more involved in handloom weaving, noting that not many are interested in doing manual labor especially if they have had formal education. She wants to instill perseverance and patience in the youth, mentioning that these two are required skills in weaving.
Perseverance and patience are essential skills when it comes to weaving.
Through the dedication of Elsie and her fellow weavers, the art of handloom weaving continues to flourish and be passed on to future generations.
Weaving digital bridges with Panublix
Elsie's journey exemplifies the adaptability of weavers and the multifaceted nature of their work. Recognizing the crucial role of weaving artisans in heritage preservation and economic empowerment, the Panublix platform serves as a bridge between artisans like Elsie and a world eager for their unique creations.
Panublix is an impact-driven digital sourcing platform that connects weavers and designers with eco-fibers, yarns, and textiles. Driven by the vision of a regenerative future, we provide weaving communities like SLMPC with digital economy support, connect them with training programs, and help them access materials made from natural fibers like cotton, abaca, and pineapple.
We are happy to work with dedicated individuals like Elsie to bring handloom fabrics to a wider audience and share stories of their cultural heritage. We invite you to join us on this journey by supporting local weaving communities like Salngan.
Explore our curated selection of handloom fabrics woven by SLMPC
Stay tuned for monthly features about our partner artisans! Up next, we’ll feature Ma’am Amalia Toledo, weaver of the Barong Cotton Hablon, who is also a member of Salngan Livelihood Multi-Purpose Cooperative.