ANTHILL Fabric Gallery: Reviving Filipino Indigenous Culture Through Fashion
During our last trip to the Philippines, we met with Anya Lim, founder of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery. Though we don’t have any ANTHILL products on Cambio Market (yet!), we had heard such great things about their textile-based products and their work with indigenous communities in the Philippines. So when the opportunity came up to meet with Anya in person, we knew we couldn’t miss it.
A Cultural Enterprise Is Born
For Anya, the idea for ANTHILL originated from an experience in her youth. She remembers travelling to Banaue in Northern Luzon and visiting an indigenous community of traditional weavers. They were so proud of their work and techniques, and she left very impressed. A few years later, she returned to the village with high expectations but surprisingly found a ghost town. The young people had disappeared, their weaving traditions had been lost, and all that was left was a museum to commemorate a lost culture. This shocked Anya and had a profound impact on her.
That’s when her idea for ANTHILL was born. Their mission? To preserve indigenous culture in the Philippines by providing traditional weaving communities a sustainable livelihood. Since reviving indigenous Filipino culture is essential to their mission, ANTHILL considers themselves as both a social AND a cultural enterprise.
So, how are they doing this?
Redefining What “Traditional” Means
First, it’s about making hand-woven products trendy again. Most people think of traditional weaves as things you rarely wear or even something you use to make curtains (yes, some people say that!). But “traditional” doesn’t have to mean “outdated”. Though it’s challenging at times, ANTHILL tries to marry contemporary design ideas with their partner communities’ traditional styles, patterns, and colours. The goal is to use these weaves in modern ways and transform them into products that will actually sell on the market. Indigenous weaves should be accessible and people should want to wear them everyday, not only during formal and traditional events.
And they are doing it! We love how they make an innovative use of weave patterns and vibrant colours. They’re definitely bringing traditional weaves into the modern age.
Luggage tags and bow ties made from traditional weaves. We picked up a few things for ourselves!
Bundles of weaves sourced from ANTHILL’s various partner communities
Indigenous communities are often isolated, located far from urban centers, and have very few ways to generate income. For this reason, many individuals (especially the younger ones) move to the city to find work and end up losing touch with their culture. This is what ANTHILL wants to prevent.
Anya shared the story of a woman who used to skip meals to ensure her five children had enough food on the table. Once she began working as a Master Crafter and making ANTHILL dolls, she received enough steady income to provide food for herself and her family. She was even able to save enough money to buy a washing machine, which allows her to spend less time on domestic chores, perform laundry services for neighbours for extra income, and ultimately spend more time on what she loves: her art.
ANTHILL's Community Based Development Program
For the younger generation, working with ANTHILL has significantly improved their lives. Instead of having to move far from their families and work in the city, ANTHILL allows them to weave and work from their own homes while raising their children. As Anya explained, these women consider themselves to be mothers first and weavers second. Very few jobs would allow this kind of flexibility.
ANTHILL even goes one step further by teaching their weavers how to be business owners and to manage their finances. Since most people have never had stable income, they never learned how to save money or what to do with it. ANTHILL isn’t just committed to providing jobs, they want these communities to be self-reliant, with their art and heritage as a source of livelihood.
Gelaine, Jérôme and Anya at ANTHILL's store in Cebu
Preserving Indigenous Culture
Although livelihood and financial stability are key, merely selling products isn’t enough for these communities. Traditional weaving is considered an art for the older generation, but the skill is being lost. Many young people continue to migrate into the cities in search of further opportunities and never learn to weave. That’s why ANTHILL has set up a mentorship program in their partner communities where they will pay extra to the elders that teach and mentor younger members how to weave.
Beyond preserving the technique, ANTHILL’s most profound impact is restoring pride and dignity to these indigenous communities. A younger member once told Anya that they used to ignore and “walk over” their cultural heritage. Now, their heritage is what gives them livelihood and hope for the future.
This is what we love about ANTHILL: it isn’t charity work. ANTHILL works with indigenous communities as business partners and helps them to create a community enterprise. This is the essence of what makes social enterprises so integral to improving the lives of many people in the Philippines (and around the world) and why we’re so proud to be part of it.