Why are products made of Philippine textiles expensive?

Published March 22, 2021, 5:25 PM

by John Legaspi

Here’s the value that comes from your every purchase 

ANTHILL Fabric Gallery’s weaved skirts (Photo by Dyan Diaz-Collo)

Whether handloomed or naturally dyed, pieces made of Philippine textiles are beautiful. They have this distinct charm that mirrors our ancient heritage with stories that make you appreciate them even more. 

With the help of fashion designers, social entrepreneurs, and the government, our local tapestries are merged with design innovations, creating new closet staples that are the epitome of patriotic style. But, like all great things in the world, it comes with a price. In the case of these artisanal work, its price tag may not be that affordable for the regular Juan. 

Among social enterprises championing local textiles, it is hard to find at least a blouse that costs below the P1,000 mark. Wearable pieces are marked from P1,500 and above while accessories start at P600.

We know what you’re thinking. Why is it that something made by Filipinos with materials sourced in the country would cost that high? We want to own and wear weaves proudly, but they’re just so expensive.

With its Transparency Thursdays series, homegrown brand ANTHILL Fabric Gallery aims to share on how it puts a price on its products and where does every cent their clients pay goes to. The brand’s Anya Lim, co-founder, managing, and creative director, and Jessica Ouano, chief sustainability and innovation officer and textile and apparel designer, reveal their business processes and talk about the intricacies of supply chain with their personal insights about their work. Here are some of our takeaways.

The work that goes into every piece

Although local brands like ANTHILL doesn’t mass produce their products like other retail giants, it still goes through the same process of product creation, which involves sourcing materials, drafting a good design, and prototyping. Jessica stresses that this part usually takes longer compared to the actual production as weavers create the textiles from scratch and repairs have to be made before approving a design.

“That in itself, I think, is something that is incorporated into the cost because we don’t realize how much repairs we have to make,” Jessica says. “We have to realize that our fabrics and our pieces are not fully ready-to-wear, off-the-rack garments. We don’t use cutting machines, we don’t do large scale production. Everything is made by hand. It takes time to create the pattern and cut each piece.”

Another thing they point out is that every step involves people. Being labor intensive means a high manpower cost and other operation expenses. As Anya says, “when it is made by hand and it is made by people, there is a propensity of having a lot of human error. We also have to account for that in order for us to be sustainable.”

Building a sustainable business

In an estimate, Anya tells that 42 percent of the price of a product is allotted to labor cost. The brand ensures that its staff and partner communities earn a minimum wage for their work. Labor accounts the highest in their cost tabulation and this helps them get the impact they’re working on, “which is to provide a sustainable livelihood.”

While a portion of their profit margin goes to one of the brand’s initiative, the Community Enterprise Development Program, where the brand use the “money to reinvest in capacity building.”

“We want to professionalize the way they do their business so they can work on their own,” Anya says. “The reason why costs are high is because we work with grassroots communities, production partners, and weaving communities that are not ‘professional’ in the sense where there is so much support needed from our end… But the ultimate goal is that we are able to pass on these business skills so that they can reach out to customers directly and lower the cost because we are not involved anymore in that process.”

Value of your purchase

Unlike in other businesses, the law of supply and demand doesn’t pretty much work for the social enterprise, wherein producing more could lower the price. In the beginning, one of the biggest issue that ANTHILL was trying to address was about sustainable economic opportunities among weaving communities. In that situation, there wasn’t a lot of demand that can give weavers a consistent livelihood. 

There is also a cultural problem wherein most of the weavers are in their elder years and the younger generation aren’t interested in learning how to weave—an issue of cultural transmission or continuity. 

“Young women didn’t want to learn the craft that is why it is a dying industry,” Anya muses. “When we approached communities. They didn’t know how much to price their weaves. They were priced so cheap and unfairly that’s why it wasn’t something they can see doing in the long run.”

At first, the brand followed that price range, selling weave at a lower price, to create the demand. But now that many brands are now using weaves and many customers understand the importance of preserving culture, they were able to increase the price, ultimately, giving artisans and weavers a larger wage and make them see their craft more as a profession than a side hustle. 

“We want to be able to give the weavers the value they deserve,” Anya says. “So now we tell them to price their work right. If we go back to how it used to be, that because of the demand we are going to price them cheap, then we are just going back to square one and have these weavers undervalue their craft and their talent, not see themselves as designers, not see the potential to make weave forever.”

“The reality is, with the way that we work and the people we work with, it’s just not possible. We do not benefit from economies of scale the way fast fashion brands do,” Jessica says. “I personally feel that fashion shouldn’t be cheap. I believe in the concept of saving your money to buy something that is in good quality. Where you know people are paid fairly and your purchase goes toward a cause that you believe in.” 

Get to know more about why weaves are expensive on ANTHILL Fabrics Gallery’s Transparency Thursdays.