From Bolinao to the Maldives: Buri bags, mats go global


ECOLOGICAL | Precious Cayaon, the founder of Kawayan Nature PH, showcases some of the buri bag designs available for the local and international markets. (Photo by YOLANDA SOTEL/Inquirer Northern Luzon)

BOLINAO, Pangasinan, Philippines — Every day, Betty Carolino, 54, would weave strips of buri into different shapes for bags, planters and mats. Her husband helped her by stripping the buri and dyeing them with bright colors, while their two sons helped her with the actual weaving.

Carolino is one of 20 women from the seven villages on Santiago Island who weave baskets or mats for local markets. The island is part of this coastal city of Pangasinan which juts out into the Western Philippine Sea.

The island is where buri (Corypha elata Roxb) or common palms grow, and villagers strip, color and weave their leaves into different products.

For years, women on the island have been weaving sacks and mats to supplement their income from farming or fishing, their main means of subsistence.

But this industry, which has helped them put food on the table, has started to penetrate the international market, increasing the demand they can hardly meet.

Precious Cayaon her husband Jeffry and son Jeious Thaddeus Olly

Precious Cayaon her husband Jeffry and her son Jeious Thaddeus Olly with some of the products from Kawayan Nature Ph. (Photo courtesy of Kawayan Nature Ph)

Breakthrough

It was a local resident who worked in the Maldives as a travel consultant who introduced buri bags to resort owners in this country which has a high-end tourism industry.

“I was supplying buri bags to different resorts in the Maldives and started the company which I named Kawayan Nature Ph,” Precious Cayaon, 32, told the Inquirer in a July 15 interview.

She added, “The Maldives promotes sustainable and eco-friendly products in the tourism industry, so I decided to introduce buri products to resort owners.”

The bags come in different designs and sizes depending on their use – as a coin purse, wine bottle holder, gift box, beach or office bag – and are hand painted with exclusive designs by young artists in the city. .

Floor mats (banig) have also been marketed in the Maldives as “beach mats”, becoming best sellers there, Cayaon said.

Besides the Maldives, Kawayan Nature Ph also exports to Dubai and was contacted by a Filipino winery owner in Switzerland to provide him with wine bags.

STORY: Betty Carolino, 54, is one of the Santiago Islanders who weave bags from buri leaves

LIVELIHOODS | Betty Carolino, 54, is one of the Santiago Islanders who weave bags from buri leaves that are abundant in their community. Weaving gives villagers on the island a chance to earn extra and express their creativity. (Photo courtesy of Kawayan Nature PH)

Women weavers

It was Cayaon’s husband who hired a group of women to weave the bags to his specifications, which she said would appeal to high-end customers and tourists.

Sales volume was increasing, but the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020. Cayaon said there were no flights at that time, so it could not import buri products from the Philippines .

The Maldives also halted tourism-related operations, although some resorts continued to sell buri products, she said.

Cayaon eventually managed to return to the Philippines, but she still could not ship the buri bags to the Maldives due to quarantine restrictions, which caused the weavers to lose their source of income.

But, when the garden and ornamental plant industry flourished during the pandemic, it quickly benefited weavers who ventured into a new business opportunity that catered to the needs of “plantitos” and “plantitas” (plant lovers ).

“The Bolinao government asked me to help the weavers, and we came up with ‘planters’ or containers for flower or plant pots, which turned out to be a popular product. So even during the pandemic, the weavers were able to earn a living,” Cayaon said.

Even when restrictions on international flights began to ease, Cayaon did not return to the Maldives, preferring to continue working online as a travel consultant so she could oversee the fledgling business.

PROUDLY PINOY Buri bags made in the Philippines and in bright colors are a hit with tourists in the Maldives. (Photo by YOLANDA SOTELO/Inquirer Northern Luzon)

digital marketing

She admits that digital marketing is a big help for the industry, revealing that although islanders have been weaving all their lives, their market was limited.

But thanks to social media, the products were advertised and she was able to get orders from everywhere.

According to her, it is also through social networks that some “sneaky” people have tried to copy the designs, and have even gone directly to ask weavers and painters to work for them.

“Fortunately, the weavers refused to work for them. Even the painters refused to paint for other businessmen, saying the designs were exclusive to Kawayan Nature Ph,” Cayaon said.

She said the buri products were named after the Santiago Island villages of Salud, Pilar and Victory as a sort of tribute to the weavers.

However, due to the high demand for environmentally friendly products, the industry faces some challenges, such as the loss of materials such as buri and the lack of interest in weaving among young people.

“Buri leaves have many uses, and other towns source the materials for their crafts and even ‘patopat’ (a native delicacy) from Santiago Island. There might be a time when there would be no raw materials left for the local industry, so we hope there might be a decision to manufacture buri sheets on the island exclusively for local weavers,” said Cayaon.

She added, “Another challenge is that weavers are getting older and we hope to spark young people’s interest in weaving by showing them that they can make money from the industry.”

After all, buri leaves can be versatile, and the products that can be woven from them are only limited by the imagination, Cayaon said.

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