Ifugao Nation is a textile brand. But it doesn’t just sell locally woven fabric from Northern Luzon. It also educates about the Ifugao culture. It supports the livelihood of its weavers, assuring the continuance of their rich tradition.
It also allows non-Ifugao consumers to wear the traditional weaves appropriately. This was what Marlon Martin made sure of when they were starting out. He gathered the elders of their community to discuss the patterns that are allowed to be sold.
Ifugao Nation started through Martin’s leadership. He is an Ifugao whose passion for his culture led him to head of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (Sitmo). The non-government organization aims to conserve the Ifugao Rice Terraces and the Ifugao culture.
“We have a problem of the rice terraces being abandoned. One of the major reasons farmers were leaving the terraces was that they were looking for employment elsewhere. The terraces could no longer sustain them,” he said.
What Martin and other volunteers did was to promote and market existing traditional economic activities that the Ifugaos already have. This included weaving, which led to the creation of the Kiyyangan Weavers Association.
“We didn’t have to introduce anything new or a different livelihood to these farmers. These were things that they were already traditionally doing. Also, weaving is a disappearing [tradition],” he said.
Part of the reason is that, the job has become unsustainable for the weavers, as they don’t make money from it. They spend days, weeks, months on one project and they get shortchanged when their products are finished.
Martin wants to prevent this from happening. The goal is to get the artisans paid fairly. Now, he said, the weavers get paid twice or more than what roadside souvenir shops usually pay them.
This was enough to entice other weavers in neighboring municipalities to join the association. They started with 15 weavers from Kiangan. It slowly spread into different areas in Ifugao and now they have 68 weavers.
Materials are provided by the association. Martin said that they source Philippine cotton through the Habi Philippine Textile Council. Thus, what they produce is 100-percent Filipino made. Ifugao Nation was established in 2019 as a platform to sell their products nationwide.
They were off to a great start, then the lockdowns happened. They had a four-month slump. Woven fabrics piled up and they didn’t know what to do with them. The idea to create masks came when the farmers started complaining that they couldn’t sell their produce because they were not allowed to cross borders without masks.
“There are no masks on the mountain. We started creating masks and we gave it away for free for three months to the farmers,” said Martin.
They were operating at a loss, but he said that it was better to make and give away masks rather than to have rolls of unused fabric lying around. When the demand for masks grew, they decided to sell at a low cost. It was a hit, and it led to Ifugao Nation becoming a more recognized brand online.
Some of their fabrics have been featured in New York Fashion Week. Martin says the weavers have no idea what it was, but they understand the impact. Some weavers do not even recognize their work when it is translated into fashion, and that makes them happy.
Martin said that the Ifugaos are not asking for donations. But they are asking for people to support them by buying their products (https://ifugaonation.com/).