Weaving forward

ANTHILL, a cultural and social enterprise that gives livelihood to people, had a rosy start this year until it was met with panic and anxiety when the lockdown was announced. First, it secured the safety of its workers and its over 500 partner artisans. Then its designers shifted to producing reusable masks from textile waste. And the business continues.

The year 2020 marks a decade of weaving dreams at ANTHILL. We were filled with excitement and had grand plans of growth and expansion to commemorate a milestone that took a long, arduous journey to get to. 

We kicked off the year working smart to address the gaps of years past. We doubled time on production, tripled our stocks of raw materials and inventory, and lined up our international and local events and pop-ups. Our calendars were filled with certainty, oblivious to what would come. We were prepared for a celebration but we were faced with a crisis instead. 

The abrupt announcement of a lockdown jolted us into panic and anxiety. How could a small business like ours continue to operate and secure the livelihood of our team and over 500 partner artisans all over the Philippines? Our primary concern was the health and safety, mental and financial well being of our people and our partners. 

We readily rounded up to draw up a business contingency and continuity plan. We provided care packages and disseminated information to keep everyone vigilant and protected. To ensure job security, we restructured and reorganized a decentralized supply chain to see to it that everyone on the team was productive even while working from home. 

We lent sewing machines to our seamstresses and set up WFH (work from home) stations to keep going even though we did not know yet what we were going to produce. We just knew we had to be agile and find a way to still facilitate cash inflow.

When the adrenaline rush settled in, the team worked hard to gain our rhythm back. The biggest challenge for ANTHILL was perhaps the transition to a WFH setup, given that the nature of our business required a lot of human interaction. We feed off on each other’s energy through shared meals, morning exercise routines, project consultations and brainstorming sessions. The culture we nurtured in the company was suddenly put to the test. It was very difficult to communicate because not everyone had good internet connection or had space in their homes for work.   

Early on, we put our foot down and communicated to all our stakeholders that we were choosing people over profit. As a social enterprise, we are accountable to remain steadfast in our commitment to positive impact and so the pressure to pivot fast was great. 

Our designers quickly made the shift to producing essential items and utilized the sacks of textile waste from production end-cuts in our garage to make reusable masks. Since then, this has been the lifeblood of our business.

Our primary product offering of ready-to-wear apparel was deemed non-essential at a time when people were not allowed out of their homes. Gone were the days of fashion trends being influenced by runways and designer brands. Our summer collection took a pass this year to be sensitive to the times. Our lifestyles have drastically changed to being homebound, and unlocking our baking and urban gardening skills. 

Our designers quickly made the shift to producing essential items and utilized the sacks of textile waste from production end-cuts in our garage to make reusable masks. Since then, this has been the lifeblood of our business. 

We are fortunate to have set up our website last year, which became the sole revenue channel left for us to rely on. The lockdown made it very difficult for the team to be mobile and largely affected our impending shipments and production. Given the absence of retail operations, cancellation of events, and unattended corporate proposals, our sales plummeted to half this year, limiting our capacity to support our partner artisans. 

Our partner artisan communities, textile and production partners, are spread out across the Philippines in urban, rural and mountainous areas from Abra to Bukidnon, Lake Sebu, and South Cotabato, among others. 

A lot of the elder weavers who weave at weaving centers are not able to go back to work. Our crafters in urban areas turned to produce masks while those in the rural areas either continued to weave from their own homes or spent more time on farming for their sustenance. A lot of our women artisans became automatic breadwinners, taking the responsibility to provide for the entire household as their husbands lost their jobs.

We conduct monthly community check-ins to see how we can continuously provide support. Most of our direct partners have savings with us, which we released to provide them additional resources for their daily needs. 

As Cebu faced another lockdown, it felt like we were back to square one, scrabbling for opportunities to keep things afloat while circumstances changed almost on a weekly basis. 

It’s been quite challenging to lead while treading on unknown waters and balancing empathy and authority. We have shared so many stories of failure and success over the years, but this has been the most honest and vulnerable we have ever been. 

Though the past months have been a roller-coaster ride, they have also been a valuable learning journey that strengthened our team to work better and step up together. We discovered so much empowering humility in being transparent to our customers and being able to honestly say, “We need your support to keep our livelihood alive.” 

The years ahead may remain bleak and uncertain, but we weave forward with great trust that this pandemic has also paved the way for many to transition to a slower and more conscious lifestyle that puts value in what matters most. We envision a fashion revolution that will have an abundance of creativity and innovations around the use of sustainable materials and a more human-centered and inclusive supply chain. We predict a shift in local sourcing that will potentially support our partner artisans. 

We plan to keep growing our online platforms and launch a shared market platform to make our Philippine weaves accessible to the world. We will explore a wider range of homewares and continue to invest in product development. We will leverage the use of technology to continue building the capacity and resiliency of our community partners and our team.  

ANTHILL will carry on and continue being storytellers. This crisis may have cancelled our 10th anniversary but it is also what activated our collaborations with our community of Proud Weaver Wearers and partners in change. 

We weave as one community and we keep weaving forward to serve the greater good.


Edited by Tanya T. Lara

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