Anthill Fabric Gallery has always been ahead of its time. When the social enterprise began threading its purpose of supporting sustainable livelihood to women weavers across the country in 2009, the handloom fabrics they sold mystified customers who were unsure how to incorporate the traditional weaves into their designs.
More than 10 years later, inabel, hablon, t’nalak, yakan and dozens of other indigenous textiles are found in face masks, bags, button-downs and sundresses. Anthill alone has counted more than 66,000 customers who have purchased their ready-to-wear items, fabrics and home goods.
Now the social enterprise is letting go of its ready-to-wear line and moving forward to provide a digital marketplace for its partner weavers.
“We wanted to provide digital access to our artisans . . . The market is like a very niche Shopee or Lazada that specifically sells fabrics of our artisans,” Anya Lim, managing and creative director of Anthill, told Lifestyle.
The online handlooms store—which Lim said will be the first in the country—is set to go live this month, and will feature some 20 partner weaving communities.
Through the store, Anthill will connect community weavers and their handcrafted products to its loyal customer base.
“We really want to put emphasis on our services; we really want to be able to leverage on our strengths,” Lim said. “Even from the get-go we called ourselves Anthill Fabric Gallery because initially, we just wanted to sell fabrics, but no one was buying because they didn’t know where to use the looms. That was what pushed us to sell ready-to-wear items. But now we are going back to selling fabrics.”
Before the pandemic and the never-ending lockdowns that followed, Anthill Fabric Gallery prepared for a series of showcases by stocking up on its ready-to-wear (RTW) items. The off-the-rack garments were supposed to be displayed in pop-ups in Makati, the United States, Australia and Europe.
But the pop-ups were put on hold, leaving Anthill with so much inventory and little cash. It wasn’t just Anthill that took a hit in the ongoing pandemic. Lim also noted that some weavers in one of their partner communities have returned to farming due to the slowdown in business.
“The reason we decided to let our RTW go is because it’s no longer serving our partners in terms of the kind of impact commitments we have,” Lim said.
“The RTW became a burden because we have so much quantity of inventory to get rid of. We needed to let it go so we can raise funds and continue our work to be able to continue to support the livelihood of our partners.”
Anthill has put its ready-to-wear apparel on sale until Aug. 30, to liquidate their stocks and use the proceeds to move forward with their new venture.
But Anthill’s loyal customers need not worry. The social enterprise will continue making clothes, though it will be limited to custom orders and small batch productions.
Lim said that Anthill tried a capsule collection for preorder, but she noticed that customers are not too keen on the wait.
“Our strategy is, we’re doing this now and then we’re going to communicate what the value of preorders are for a small business like ours and what it means for the livelihood of our artisans. It’s a challenging model, but we need to make it work because it’s high investment if we create more inventory,” Lim said.
Anthill will also focus on manufacturing goods ordered by partner companies.
Now that more creatives see the possibilities with indigenous textiles, Anthill is happy to supply the handlooms they need. Lim said that this would allow them to focus on capacity building of weaving communities. In capacity building, Anthill passes on development skills to its partners—from proper costing, design and innovation, to marketing and savings.
All these, plus the apprenticeship of younger weavers, are designed to provide a sustainable source of income to weavers and keep the tradition alive.
“The goal of Anthill is to be obsolete as a social enterprise. Our goal is to one day be gone; to be able to create our legacy is to be able to see our partner community artisans stand on their own,” she said.