Etniko Pilipino specializes in contemporary woven bags, whose fabrics and baskets are handmade by various tribal communities. Founder Pedro Ding Perez likewise classifies his brand as sustainable fashion because it considers the whole ecosystem, from the planting of organic materials such as rushes (tikog), pandan leaves, nito vines, and bamboo to the zero-waste production of the weavers and the concern for their welfare. Traveling around the Philippines to remote regions, Perez learned to appreciate the local culture and beliefs. He was fascinated by the garments and accessories that were used in rituals. “It was an awakening to rediscover the soul of the Filipino,” he says. Perez recalls that in fiestas, the people’s costumes looked cheap, using fabrics that were obviously made in China. He learned that there was a dearth of traditional woven materials. Only the older women maintained their weaving skills while the younger generation preferred to work abroad. He then joined the bandwagon of entrepreneurs who ventured into fashion to save the dying craft and create a demand for local artisanal products. Without any background in fashion, Perez bravely started Etniko Pilipino. The self-financed entrepreneur started sourcing materials from the indigenous people (IP) and worked with his loyal helper and her two daughters in sewing and assembling. He uses his instincts to design the bags and suggest the shades for the weaves while maintaining respect for the tribes’ sacred patterns and colors. Perez does his own marketing and distribution. Aside from being a regular merchant at the Legazpi Sunday Market, he also joins big fairs such as the prestigious Designers Holiday Bazaar in Greenbelt 5 and the American Women’s Bazaar and maintains an online presence through his Instagram account. This year, Perez is girding for the Manila Fame in October and hopes that he could also join an international fair abroad. He developed his market by word of mouth. Balikbayans make up a large segment. They find his price points of P900 to P3,980 very accessible. Then there’s the logo-weary social set who appreciates local artisan bags as new luxury.
Photo by Ayunan Gunting-Al-Hadj
“People are tired of branded items. They give importance to something that is handmade and indigenous but with a contemporary twist. I have a good following of titas and doñas, online resellers here and abroad, and big store buyers,” he shares. “I’m happy when my customers say they get a lot of compliments for my bags. Some doñas tell me that they prefer to use Etniko Pilipino bags over imported brands for daily use.”
One of the biggest challenges among entrepreneurs who work with artisanal materials is their availability. “When I ask for a repeat order from the IPs, I would be told that only one person has the skill to weave a certain fabric or basket but she is getting old. She can’t pass it on to the next generation,” relates Perez.He cites the example of the late Lang Dulay, a recipient of the National Living Award, who preserved the t’nalak, a dyed fabric made from abaca. “Nobody has learned the skill of making the t’nalak directly from her. If more Living Treasures are gone, how will the younger generation learn? There’s an urgency to put up schools of living tradition in the IP communities. Another challenge is to educate the young generation on the value of our tradition and how it retains our national identity,” he says. To earn their trust, Perez pays the artisans, particularly the IPs, immediately. He has turned down consignment offers in major department stores because he refuses to buy on credit from the workers. “My weavers and suppliers survive on a hand-to-mouth existence. I can’t stomach the idea of being on credit. I usually pay my suppliers in advance. Most of the time, they are in need,” he explains. “Kapwa tao (helping the fellow man) mentality is important.”The IP’s don’t work with deadlines. “During the planting and harvesting season, weaving takes a back seat. Their products are works of art. You can’t rush artists. I need good sales so that I can order from the different IPs,” he says.
“By establishing good relationships with my suppliers, they are able to maintain high standards. Pride or self-worth is the driving force of their creativity. That pride is translated into quality.”Photos from Etniko Pilipino/Instagram
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