Why Native Products Make Us Cry

Since we posted about native bags, many of our lovely customers came to the shop to get a few. Some even got four in one go. Others got more. The handcrafted bags they bought are made from palm leaves and took three hours each to weave.

The Ilocano women who make them are proud of their products and for good reason. They are sturdy and can last a lifetime but to us, these aren’t just bags. Their simplicity speaks volumes about Ilocano culture and the values that Filipinos, in general, hold dear.

Ecobags and Native Bags

Our friends and customers know by now that we prefer using environmentally friendly products to pack groceries from Wilfred’s. However, we never really sold native ecobags before as we had quite a few that haven’t been used for years. They are now in different homes, possibly being used to carry vegetables or fruits. Now we have new ones and they are for sale.

We initially scrutinised the decision of having native bags for sale because of what ifs.  What if no one buys them? What if we run out of storage space? What if they suddenly forget that Wilfred’s sells imported groceries? These questions were more irrational than the next. The truth is, we were scared to see them sitting in the corner not being appreciated.

As Filipino As It Gets

At the risk of employing false positivity, we later drowned our what ifs with beautiful possibilities. As with any of our brands, Wilfred’s heart is as Filipino as it gets. We appreciate the good stuff coming from abroad and we appreciate those that come from our country, too.

We have been shelving this for so long because talking about native products makes us sad.

Let me tell you a bit about us. Salucop Group started Wilfred’s to give Basi del Diablo Wines a home, at a time when it was rejected by many. It is a Philippine brand and it is unknown. Wine shop owners have never tasted it and weren’t interested in tasting it. We were heartbroken but these things are inevitable in any industry. Despite the many repeats of such an experience, we chose to keep moving forward and Wilfred’s was built.

Wilfred’s is named after my dad. He used to manage large kitchens back in the day and whenever he was home, my sister and I would feast on random stuff from different parts of the world.

Although Wilfred, the foodie and cook/purveyor of the worst jokes/amazing father, appreciates the good stuff from Europe, North America, and Asia, he believes that Filipino products can still compete as long as brand owners do not get distracted with what other brands from other countries are doing. For Wilfred’s, the store, native handbags can compete and locals only need to learn the value of making things by hand and appreciate the value of tradition and culture for them to truly love these bags. We refuse to shun them just because they are local. We refuse to be like the people who drove the wines away.  

The Right Time Is Now

We have been in touch with a number of weavers from different parts of the country and many of their products were shelved for 2019. Unfortunately for us, one of the weavers, a woman who lived with the Manobo for years to understand their symbolism and culture, already passed.

Time goes by so fast and life is often too short. For the weavers of Ilocos Sur who spend their days dyeing palm leaves and weaving them into beautiful, colourful bags, money is a product of time and hard work. This is the same for the Manobos who spend over a week to finish a handmade bag. Their bags have intricate beadwork, the kind of beading that the old weaver learned from her elders.

We were told that beadwork is often done in groups but it is almost meditative as it requires concentration. The Manobos do not know when beading became a part of their culture. All they know is that it is important to their elders and to them, too.

Weaving, beading, even winemaking is intertwined with the stories of our grandparents and their grandparents. These are skills that tell us about ourselves and what the society that our elders belonged to was like.

A single woman from a Manobo clan, for example, can only wear two beadwork items. Once she is married, she can create as many for herself and wear them all at the same time. That in itself is interesting. It is a window to the past. It doesn’t even matter if the reasons were romantic or progressive or as plain as wanting to adorn oneself with beautiful jewelry. There is a story there that we know nothing about and it is our story.

These Bags Are Precious

There are now a number of products being sold in the southern part of the country and our friends often post them on social media. Some of the most sought after items are their woven handbags with beautiful beadwork.

As a friend in Mindanao said, “These bags are precious.” And they are. Every bag is not just a symbol of hard work but serves as a symbol for the Manobo’s existence. For Wilfred’s, it is a reminder of our indigenous traditions.

~ Sigrid Salucop with help from Candy Galero | Photos by Candy Galero

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