Meet the social enterprise that helped blaze a trail for the Philippines’ indigenous textiles movement
The social enterprise that’s today responsible for reviving the indigenous textile industry in the Philippines all but started from a young girl’s childhood dream.
Anya Lim, the visionary behind ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, was raised by culturally proud Filipino parents who owned a textile business. Anya grew up with bedtime stories about heroes from indigenous groups in the Philippines. Family vacations comprised of visits to local communities and weaving villages.
Many might know ANTHILL as a fashion brand. But at its core, ANTHILL, which stands for Alternative Nest and Trading/ Training Hub for Indigenous/Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers, is a social enterprise that promotes Filipino culture through contemporary design.
Inspired by childhood memories
Anya’s inspiration to start ANTHILL was sparked when she returned to a village in Banaue – mostly known for the rice terraces – in the Philippines which had turned into a ghost town, devoid of “weaving, carving, and celebration of local culture” that she had enjoyed as a child.
During ANTHILL’s beginnings, local weavers were given little to no mainstream recognition. Traditional patterns were mainly used for furniture and household products. The fate of weaving was uncertain as younger generations were unwilling to inherit the craft.
Anya wanted to make sure that ANTHILL would have enough supply before creating the demand and launching the business. The first five years of the enterprise’s operations focused on capacity building. They ensured that their community partners were ready for business. They provided leadership and financial literacy skills training, with the end goal of making the weavers self-reliant.
From baby steps to leading advocacy for fabric culture and art
ANTHILL’s first big break came in the form of a partnership with an established local cafe chain where they were tapped to dress their baristas and provide textiles for furniture upholstery. They were featured in the establishment’s merchandise section for social enterprises. “This allowed us to grow our visibility in communities like Abra, and gave us credibility,” Anya shares.
Since ANTHILL started, Filipino traditional weaving has made a resurgence.
What was once a dying art has been revived by designers and entrepreneurs.
These vibrant patterns are incorporated into apparel, home decor, and other items admired and desired around the world. Today, these products play a key part in Philippine exports with the fashion industry’s demand for natural fabrics.
Today, ANTHILL’s biggest market is its global customers, making up between 80-90% of sales. Many of these clients, Anya says, are Filipinos living abroad who wish to connect to their roots and wear their identities.
To fulfill the growing demand from around the world, ANTHILL began working with FedEx in 2017. “FedEx has provided tremendous support in our global expansion,” Anya says. “Without them, we will not be able to serve our international customers.”
ANTHILL has struck up partnerships with businesses in Europe, the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan. To better serve them at lower costs, Anya and her team worked with FedEx to consolidate international shipments. “We crunched the numbers and came up with the costs and average rates that will fall within different locations and weight categories. This way, it’s a win-win; our clients pay less on shipping, without affecting our bottom line.”
Rethreading the Loom amid COVID-19
2020 was set to be a promising year for ANTHILL. The social enterprise had booked several popups in Manila and trade shows in the US, and was all set with procurement and production. When the pandemic ripped through the global economy, Anya and her team had to find other ways to support their partner communities.
“First, we decentralized the supply chain, so that everyone can work from home. We were committed to prioritizing people over profit, and we made sure nobody was laid off,” she shared. “We cut down our revenue channels. From four revenue channels, we went down to two. We used to do uniforms for hotels and schools, but that side of the business stopped. Our face masks and our online channel became the bloodline of our business. We were also left with a lot of fabric because of the canceled events, so we started selling them online as well.”
The majority of ANTHILL orders during the pandemic have been bulk purchases of masks to US clients, who then proceed to resell them in their respective stores.
ANTHILL remains determined to continue advocating for Philippine indigenous textiles and local culture. Adapting to the pandemic, they are focused on developing products relevant to the times and serving communities.
“Aside from masks, we’re also looking at home essentials, room-to-zoom blouses for those who work from home, and Christmas decor,” shares Lim. “We’re are eager to collaborate with brands and designers abroad who will have the demand for our fabrics.”
As ANTHILL bravely faces the future and the world at large, FedEx is proud to support them in their mission of keeping indigenous Filipino culture alive.
Learn more about ANTHILL Fabric Gallery on their website.
Visit FedEx Express Philippines to discover more ways to grow your business globally.