There are still many misconceptions regarding indigenous communities – even in efforts to show appreciation towards their culture. Social enterprises that are not careful can mislead customers into buying into the businesses’ brand without the cause in mind.

Social enterprises have been on the rise in the Philippines. Slowly, Filipino entrepreneurs are transitioning from a profit-driven business model to one that uplifts and empowers marginalized communities.
In a 2016 study by the British Council and the Philippine Social Enterprise Network, there are as many as 164,473 social enterprises operating in the country whose target sectors range from agriculture, education, to employment creation.
One of these social enterprises is CustomMade Crafts Center, Inc. (CMCC) who bridge indigenous traditions and heritage with modern-day lifestyles with a particularly unique and comprehensive marketing strategy.
“We don’t just sell the product. We sell the product because it has a story behind its creation,” says Marie Joy Ann Chua, the Sales and Marketing Officer of the organizatoin.
CMCC is the marketing arm of the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program (NTFP-EP), an initiative to establish a place for indigenous and rural crafts throughout Southeast Asia.
Non-timber forest products range from abaca, pinya, rattan, nito, bamboo, fruits, honey, seeds and natural dyes – all of which these communities utilize for their everyday needs.
Formally established in 2008, NTFP-EP’s objective is to provide a consistent source of livelihood for forest dependent communities and allow them to preserve their heritage and environment.
NTFP-EP’s core partner communities in the Philippines comprise of the Mangyan of Mindoro of Mangyan Mission, the Palaw’anon and Tagbanua of Palawan of Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan, Higaonon of Bukidnon of the Fr. Vincent Cullen Tulugan Learning and Development Center, and the rural artisans of the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development. Included as well are artisans from the T’boli of Lake Sebu and weavers from Bolinao, Pangasinan.
Before intricately woven fabrics make it to CMMC’s shelves, a comprehensive process that considers environmental sustainability, profitability, and respect for cultural heritage is conducted.
Formally established in 2008, NTFP-EP’s objective is to provide a consistent source of livelihood for forest dependent communities and allow them to preserve their heritage and environment.

NTFP-EP’s core partner communities in the Philippines comprise of the Mangyan of Mindoro of Mangyan Mission, the Palaw’anon and Tagbanua of Palawan of Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan, Higaonon of Bukidnon of the Fr. Vincent Cullen Tulugan Learning and Development Center, and the rural artisans of the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development. Included as well are artisans from the T’boli of Lake Sebu and weavers from Bolinao, Pangasinan.

Mangyan Basket

Palawan Tingkeps – Traditionally  used to store rice or household goods but the Pala’wans also craft mini-tingkeps to sell to tourists and culture enthusiasts

All about the community

Before intricately woven fabrics make it to CMMC’s shelves, a comprehensive process that considers environmental sustainability, profitability, and respect for cultural heritage is conducted.

Marie Joy Ann shares that indigenous communities usually reach out to their organization with resources and crafts in mind for selling. A forester is then sent to their location to do research on the sustainability of the environment for crafting and production. In-house designers create studies on possible designs in line with their more modern demographic’s lifestyles.

“It’s a lot of research and a part of it is a whole lot of consent,” Marie Joy Anne said.

Aside from selling traditional textiles and fabrics, they also sell more ready-made items like Hinabol wallets created by Higaonon women and woven pandanbags by the Mangyan.

CMCC then takes over to voice out the story of each and every item through their social marketing strategy. They make it to a point to impart to the customer where the product is from, who made the product, and how their profits benefit the community.

Based on a fair trade value system, CMCC ensures that generated income returns to primarily their partner communities.

“It’s one thing to just buy and pay it well… Part of the payment pumupunta sa(goes to) local nurseries or local programs that will enrich their livelihood or kung saan sila nakatira (or their environment) [such as] reforestation programs, etc,” Marie Joy Ann explained.

“Always focus on the community. Always listen to the community,” she continued.

Notebooks using indigenous fabrics

Mindful and creation consumption  

Marie Ann Joy agrees that there is definitely progress made by social enterprises, especially in the food and beverage industry. However, commercialization of traditional crafts can be a double-edged sword.

“The mindfulness that everyone’s talking about should not just be about food or farming but also about crafts because it’s our local heritage,” she said.

At trade fairs, Marie Joy Ann and her team have encountered customers who complain about the prices of their crafts. Some vendors feel the need to drastically lower their prices to appeal to a market who is used to much cheaper prices.

“I don’t want to undermine the value,” she pressed. “Handmade ito(This is handmade). Isang(One) loom is made in two weeks just from weaving.”

“I hope people know that it isn’t just paying the right price but knowing the good stories of these good crafts,” she continued.

There are still many misconceptions regarding indigenous communities – even in efforts to show appreciation towards their culture. Social enterprises that are not careful can mislead customers into buying into the businesses’ brand without the cause in mind.

Marie Joy Ann cites how garments from these communities have been misappropriated into fashion items such as shoes or jackets. Brands and designers can tend to shed light on themselves instead of the tradition and the identity of these fabrics.

To ensure these stories and heritage of these crafts not get lost, mindfulness must be exerted by both the entrepreneur and the consumer.

On their part, CMCC facilitates workshops for elementary students to raise awareness on the skill and effort exerted in the local crafts industry to the current generation.

Open as well for the public, their current classes are workshops on dyeing with natural Philippine indigo. Participants can experience the hard work and feel the patience needed to create a deeply-colored indigo textile.

For more information, visit CustomMade Crafts Center’s official website, Facebook, or Instagram page.

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