Surprise! Cebu dancing inmates make the best bags | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

MIA Arcenas’ coco bead bag laboriously done by Cebu prison inmates.

Who would have thought that the world-famous dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) have yet another skill and talent—they make one of the best women’s bags produced and exported by Cebu itself.


The CPDRC inmates became instant celebs in 2007 when a video of their Michael Jackson dance number (“Thriller”) was uploaded on YouTube (more than 53 million views at last count). Jackson’s choreographer then flew to Cebu to work with them on other numbers.


These inmates are proving their skills in another craft—laborious production of bags made of coco beads.


MIA Arcenas in her showroom she decorated herself in bronze and earth shades, including a cabinet with distressed finish.

Cebuana designer Mia Arcenas is convinced that these men make the best bag craftsmen, because, she said, they have firm and strong hands. “Their work is pulido (polished and streamlined),” said Arcenas.


She noted that they have the capacity and patience for the painstaking detail of sewing and lining up the coco beads in seemingly infinitesimal rows.


Given the quality of their work, Arcenas has turned to masculine labor to produce her bag designs.


By making bags, the inmates have been able to earn and support their families.


COCO bead square clutches

For the other accessories she designs, Arcenas trains women in northern Cebu, Davao and Bohol, to work with indigenous materials.


Arcenas has a chic and sleek line of fashion accessories—from earrings, cuffs, neckpieces, rings to clutches, bags, which she exports to Australia, Maldives and Japan.


Apart from the metallic coco bead bags, her other striking products are neckpieces made of gold-plated wire with amber acrylic crystals, or with recycled bottle pendant, or laminated snakeskin pendant wrapped in gold-plated wire.


We also took note of and bought her gold-plated chain earrings with freshwater pearl.


SILK-WRAPPED neckpiece

She also has brass neckpieces covered with silk, resin neckpieces, shantung silk clutch and silver-plated cuff.


An only child, 23-year-old Arcenas grew up in a household that moved around accessories design. Her mother Iris (Fernan) manufactures bags.


Arcenas attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.

From accessories, Arcenas has moved on to designing chic but exotic kaftans, which she will launch on March 7 in Cebu.


Her style concept, she said, is “a modern goddess on the go, always elegant, but not pricey.”


Photos by Thelma Sioson San Juan