Reviving Hablon

The Hablon weaving commerce is making a comeback in the town of Miagao, as this indigenous fabric is emerging into a versatile textile. Usually used for multi-colored, checkered patadyong skirt, bandanas, and household items (mosquito nets, blankets, table runners, etc.), it is now currently making waves in the Philippine and international fashion world.

One of the entrepreneurs who help breathe life into the Hablon industry of Miagao is Ma. Girlie Salazar Flores, owner of Miagao Hablon Center. “By being in the Hablon business, I am doing my part in helping show the great potentials of local indigenous fibers not only in the local market but globally as well. Making product innovations out of Hablon fabric revived the industry and reawakened the interest of many in this century-old local heritage. By penetrating the big textile market, the demand in Hablon increased impressively, benefiting more weaving families.”

Flores’ entrepreneurial skills started during her college days at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas, when she designed university t-shirts and sold them to her friends. When she graduated in 1994, she worked as a researcher in the same university until 2003. “At the end of my contract at UPV, I became a full time businesswoman. I rented a small shop and started designing Miagao Church shirts and wallets.

“I started to join several trade fairs in Miagao where I was able to meet different weavers in the municipality. I came up with an idea of incorporating the Hablon fabric in my products. At first, I just ordered few pieces of Hablon and made additional products like key chains, seminar/corporate bags and lamps.”

She is one of the very dynamic members of the Miagao Producers Association, even serving as president for two years. During this time, she attended various workshops and trade fairs in the different parts of the country that further enhanced her knowledge and skills in weaving. “I was able to meet several designers and businessmen who are very interested in Hablon. A big opportunity came when a weaver from Brgy. Dawog, Miagao approached me to finance the threads for the Hablon. That was the start of my weaving center. I purchased additional three looms in Brgy. Baraclayan, Miagao, and hired several weavers with looms located at their own houses.

“At present I have a total of 10 weavers located in the different barangays namely, Dawog, Durog, Maricolcol and Baraclayan. Fortunately, I was able to meet a very generous entrepreneur in one of the biggest textile business in Iloilo in the person of Mr. Rocky Go, the owner/manager of Hualon Marketing. He gave me the opportunity to introduce Hablon in the textile industry in the region. From then on, we have a continuous production in our center, thus, providing a better livelihood to the Miagaowanon weavers. “

It is common knowledge that the Hablon industry has suffered a decline in 1980s due to the predominance of machine-woven textiles. Due to this, there was a turn down in the number of weavers, as they searched for better livelihood opportunities. Also, the younger generation has no interest at all in the trade.

In 2001, Retired General Gerardo Flores became the mayor of the municipality of Miagao, and the revival of the Hablon industry is one of his utmost priorities. In 2003, with the help of renowned fashion designer Nono Palmos, he staged a Hablon fashion show during the town’s foundation day, which was followed by an exhibit in WOW Philippines Fair in Intramuros, Manila, an undertaking of the Department of Tourism. These events provided the much needed exposure in order to breathe life back to the slowly dying trade.

“Gen. Gerardo Flores is the inspiration of all the Miagao weavers and entrepreneurs like me. His continuous efforts to provide livelihood to the women in Miagao made me realize that I can do my share to revive the industry and uplift the lives of the weavers and their families. Our senior citizen weavers who have been in the fiber trade for several decades now are also my mentors and inspirations.

“Hablon in now back in the limelight. All the cultural competitions in the region require patadyong as their costumes. Every year, there is an increase in the demand at the start of the second quarter. Various efforts have been exerted to promote Hablon products in the province such as conducting trade fairs and fashion shows. The textile industry paved way to the introduction of Hablon in the entire region.

“Our products include hand-woven textile, Barong Tagalog, shawl, patadyong, bandana, wallets, shirts, frames, slippers, and seminar/corporate bags. We have a shop at the back of Miagao Cultural Hall, near the Miagao Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Church. We also have a product display at the Iloilo International Airport and at Hualon Marketing in Iloilo City. I also participate in various trade fairs and seminars held at the different malls and hotels in the country.

“My clients also include Central Philippine University, West Visayas State University and the University of the Philippines in the Visayas. I also provide textile for fashion designers Hector Gellangarin (House of Fashion) and Sydney Eculla.

Being an artist, Flores designs all her Hablon products with a little help from her very conscientious staff. “My ‘manug-sab-ong’, or the one who sets up the threads, Merlyn Murallon, is the one who designs the patadyong and shawls.”

Girlie supervises Merlyn Murallon

Running the business is quite a challenge for Flores. Like any product manufacturer, she has to deal with sporadic price increase of raw materials. “There was a time that the prices of threads increased which led us to a lot of adjustments, including the prices of our products and the increase in the capital. The availability of the parts of the loom was also a challenge because some parts are manufactured in Luzon area. With the increase in the demand of Hablon, we also need to increase our production especially during peak months to accommodate our clients.” Faced with these circumstances, Flores maintains to show grace under pressure, as she meets the challenges head on.

If she is beset by a few difficulties, however, she also experiences a huge sense of achievement. “I find fulfillment in the fact that I am able to help provide livelihood to my fellow Miagaowanons. I can do what I love to do, which is to design different Hablon products and promote the Hablon industry. I am also able to meet different people and continue to learn a lot of things regarding the business.”

Better yet, having her own business gives her a more flexible time. As a doting wife and mother of two, she is able to meet her obligations to her family, yet grow as a career woman as well. Flores has plans of expanding her business as soon as the product development of Hablon is accomplished such as RTWs, school bags and accessories. “We are now ready to enter the big malls in the city. We will be having a bigger market which is what every entrepreneur wants.”

She knows that she owes her success to God, hence, she is sharing her blessings and God-given talent to her fellow Miagaowanons by training the women to be weavers. “As of now I have two looms at my residence in Brgy. Dingle which I am using for the training of the women in our barangay. One woman has already finished her training last month which was sponsored by the Miagao Agriculture Office, so she is now ready to take part in another forthcoming training in our barangay. I will continue to encourage the younger generations, especially the out-of-school youths to learn weaving so that they will have a means of livelihood and be able to support their families. All the trainings sponsored by the local government of Miag-ao are free of charge.  This move aims to renew or enhance the interest of the community in the weaving industry.”

Flores is proud to be a part of the growing Hablon commerce. For her, the trade is not only a lucrative business, nor simply a way of providing a livelihood to other people, but "a commitment to preserve this century-old local heritage that is the pride of every Filipino".