Zarena Hermogeno

Published: May 17, 2024

BUHI, Camarines Sur — Aside from being home to the world’s smallest commercial fish, the town of Buhi in Camarines Sur has another story to tell: it boasts a sustainable weaving tradition dating back to the 1970s, passed down through generations.

The Buhinon hinabol is a handloom-woven textile that uses upcycled collar threads from t-shirt overruns as raw materials. 

Upcycling is a form of recycling that repurposes items no longer in use into something more practical and functional, according to Dr. Abeer Hassan of the University of the West of Scotland. This eliminates the need to produce new or raw materials, cutting down air and water pollution, landfill use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the European Parliament, the fashion industry accounts for as much as 10% of global emissions. As such, the Buhinon hinabol weavers consider upcycling as one of its approaches to lessen its carbon footprint and sustainably continue its tradition. 

Sustainability is considered as crucial in transforming the current landscape of traditional textiles in the Philippines. Now, local weavers and government agencies are developing initiatives to revitalize traditional textiles, generate work opportunities, and shift towards a greener fashion economy. 

Weaving through tomorrow 

Jonathan Paniterce of Hataw Handwoven Products poses for a photo. (Zarena Hermogeno)

Prior to using upcycled shirt collar threads, Buhinons used abaca fiber in weaving hinabol fabric. The Bicol region, where Buhi is located, is among the country’s top abaca-producing areas. The industry boomed prior to the 1970s and became a staple handicraft for the municipality. 

However, as consumers in the 1990s grew fond of products made from modernized cotton fabrics, local weavers sought alternatives.

Weavers from the Buhi One Town, One Product Association, collectively known as BOKPA, said the initiative of using upcycled cotton collar threads as hinabol raw materials was an idea from Soccoro Atutubo. 

Luzvemenda Sabinorio, a 46-year-old weaver from BOKPA, said that Atutubo was one of the pioneering weavers in Buhi who still used abaca. 

Little is known about how exactly the use of upcycled cotton started, but Sabinorio recalled Atutubo trying to crochet a cotton thread from the collar of a used shirt. Atutubo discovered that this thread could be used as a warp or tindig, a basic component used in weaving that combines the threads into a flowing fabric. 

Since this discovery five decades ago, more than 200 weavers across Buhi use upcycled collars from overrun shirts as raw materials for the hinabol fabric.

Jonathan Paniterce, owner of the 15-year-old hinabol weaving enterprise Hataw Handwoven Products mentioned that these upcycled collar threads make the hinabol fabric of better quality. 

“Hinabol fabric made from upcycled collar threads are cheaper compared to the cotton threads in cones,” he said, referring to the cotton threads swirled on triangular containers. “The colors [of the upcycled collar threads] are more vibrant and durable because of their consistent quality.”

Paniterce said that upcycled collar threads costs around P140 per kilogram ($2.42) and are much cheaper and accessible compared to commercial threads from suppliers in Metro Manila, which are priced at P480 to 650 ($8.31 to 11.25). 

He added that hinabol products made from the upcycled collar threads are more preferred by customers rather than those made from premade commercial threads.

Through the help of various product development strategies offered by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Camarines, Hataw was able to expand their products from traditional goods such as blankets, towels, and pillowcases, to newer ones such as ponchos, raincoats, and sleeping bags. 

Threading through challenges 

Photo shows Hinaboel blankets (Zarena Hermogeno)

Clarita Noble, the 57-year-old owner of Nakabuhi Weaving Products and a founding member of BOKPA, said that Buhinon weavers struggled to promote and sell their hinabol products before the association was established.

“Finances are a major [problem] for them to have food and to support their children’s studies. Of course, they need to earn money. [The products] eventually get sold, but they would need the [products] to get sold immediately to sustain their needs,” she said.

A 2017 promotional video by the Department of Science & Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-PTRI) for their Textiles Empowering Lives Anew (TELA) Pilipinas campaign highlights that Buhinon weavers depend on tourists, local government units (LGUs), and personal connections to sell their products. However, these are not enough, and BOKPA weavers need a wider market reach to ensure the industry’s sustainability.

Noble also recalled that hinabol production was limited in previous years due to lack of capital and equipment. 

Aside from product development strategies, DTI Camarines also offered equipment to weavers like Noble. In 2013, 40 handlooms and six sewing machines were given to BOKPA weavers as part of the agency’s development program for micro, small, and medium enterprises.

Weaving through the future

From left to right: weavers Clarita Noble, Luzvemenda Sabinorio, and Julie Carullo Lavapie (Zarena Hermogeno)

With the help of such interventions, Buhinon weavers are better equipped to keep their town’s pride alive. 

“It’s a big help for us weavers to have this handicraft in Buhi because we inherited this from my in-laws’ ancestors. Now, myself, my children, and my grandchildren would like to continue weaving. It’s a great deal, and it’s very important,” Lavapie said.

Paniterce is also a family weaver and has passed on the craft to all his daughters. According to him, children as young as eight years old are already learning how to weave. 

“There are already those in elementary [school] who know how to weave because [their parents] taught them. Just the basics though, not yet the [high-level quality] weaving. We’re really trying to pass it to the next generation,” he said.

There are also some local weavers who are determined in educating the next generation of Buhinon weavers. Among them is Lavapie who takes the initiative to teach the youth but is hindered by the lack of equipment. 

“If someone can help, my plan is to teach [weaving] because our weavers are lacking even as the demand for blankets rises. We also lack equipment. My loom is just for home use. Where will we get the [necessary] materials we need to teach?” she said. 

Senate Bill 241 or the Philippine Handloom Weaving Industry Development Act, seeks to create a roadmap for the industry to promote neo-ethnic Philippine textiles by boosting innovation and lending technical support. A similar bill, House Bill 8478 was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2023. Both bills are pending at the committee level as of press time. 

For now, several local government initiatives have also adopted sustainable strategies to generate employment. In February 2024, DOST-PTRI collaborated with the city government of Taguig to introduce a handloom weaving technology designed by the institute that converts water hyacinth into a textile fiber material. 

Buhi’s weavers continue to hang by each thread, hoping that their town’s proud heritage of craftsmanship can thrive in an increasingly volatile world.

 

This story was supported by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines