Katawhayan: A Piece of Peace Sky high ambition, down to earth beginnings

Eugenie A. Baluran

Pre-pandemic, one may recall the memories of walking around the heart of the city, of hearing its roaring heartbeat from jeepney engines and enthusiastic vendors. Images of bright rugs and patterned dusters, of bottled gayumas and bead bracelets, unbranded phone cases and sizzling street food remain vivid. Cultural colors that paint the diligent, superstitious, and resilient lives of Filipinos. In the sunkissed afternoons rays on concrete, the local souvenir portion of the Iloilo central market lies in its sea of baskets, shell trinkets, and woven hats.

It has been two years since the peak of the pandemic and the rising trend of preference for more eco-friendly and sustainable brands among Filipinos have skyrocketed. Surveys conducted by Kantar in their Who Cares, Who Does 2020 report reveals that a whooping 75% of Filipino consumers are taking steps towards becoming more responsible shoppers. With 90% of shoppers claiming to lean more towards locally-made items with reasons that these products are healthier and supports the local economy, it creates opportunities to meld culture with crafts. Culture is not a devolving practice, it is a continuous stream that trickles down to generations after, and it’s been proven by one particular brand.

Beginnings of Katawhayan

In April 2021, the storm that is Katawhayan, a fashion brand created by Giah De los Reyes had made its way into the crafting industry, specializing in locally sourced handmade crafts. From upcycled jute & katsa sling bags to necklaces made from wooden beadwork which can double as a mask sling, Katawhayan’s versatility in their products is boundless. However, the brand’s soul rests upon its iconic tie-dyed fabrics. Its earthly hues sprung forth from plant sources like sappanwood, bayabas leaves, annatto seeds, and even onion skins. Each imprint upon the products that includes these fabrics are one of a kind, no two prints ever being the same.

“I wanted to do something that kinda gives off a peaceful vibes within me and my environment - thus the name Katawhayan in itself. The term’s vernacular nature also correlates with my idea of learning more from our grassroots and how we can connect with nature and community in our daily lives,” De los Reyes shared in an interview with The Augustinian.

The Culture it Bears

De los Reyes narrates that her pieces and products rely on the idea of telling a story and its value is derived from the principle of “the hands that make”, encouraging appreciation for the little things the earth can give. The core theme of the brand stems from the idea that everyone can contribute to something bigger and kinder into the world and Katawhayan became a medium for giving back. The brand’s products reflect the story of its creation from the sun, wind, and water that grew the sources for her natural dyes all the way to the skilled hands of weavers and tailors.

“We are all culture bearers of our own identity but we need those people to preserve the culture that we have, the local culture that we have,” Meryl Panuncio, a teacher and strong advocate for local arts commented on the success of the brand.

Brands such as Katawhayan debunk the idea of a generation gap between the old and new in the modern world, encouraging creativity and sustainability while keeping the practice of traditional arts alive.

“She bridges a lot of generations, she’s in the middle of different ages and she is the one who bridges the gap between those ages, she teaches the young and she connects the gaps within this young and the older generations so she helps a lot nga mga mananahi (seamstresses) at the same time yung mga young people to appreciate the natural dye, the process of visual arts in the context of local culture so nagiging cultural, kumbaga, nagiging preserver siya of local culture as well,” Panuncio further adds to her sentiments.

A Consumer Perspective

Product reviews of the brand continue to stay strong, especially among consumers of younger generations. The uniqueness of each piece, especially that of the naturally dyed bandanas, adds flair to the already blooming message the brand wishes to spread to its clients.

“Her brand exudes a sense of uniqueness where any consumer could actually pick something and feel that there are personal touches to it and it gives space for the consumer to truly personalize and make that piece yours because no piece is actually the same” Raiza Orevillo adds with regards to the artisan touches one can see in the products.

Parting Sentiment

Entrepreneurship is not always easy, glamorous, or fulfilling as there is a challenge between personal goals and needs of the consumers. But De los Reyes stands strong with her brand’s core theme and message. To return to the grassroots and bring peace to those around you.

“We should be learning how to be more mindful of our actions as to how we impact our surroundings. By learning these things we tend to be less egoistic and more nurturing, extending gratitude, and spreading nothing but good vibes into this world,” De los Reyes concluded in her interview.

The bustling city of Iloilo continues to be a home to many in its fast-paced lifestyle, bright jeepneys, and lines of street food. To indulge and bring along a little piece of peace in this concrete jungle isn't bad at all.

Published: April 20, 2022