This li’l shop in Negros champions native handicraft, empowers local artisans
VALENCIA, Negros Oriental—About a 10-minute drive from Negros Oriental’s capital of Dumaguete City lies a small and unassuming souvenir shop.
The two-story store named “Subida,” or ascent in Spanish, has made a name for itself as a tourist stopover, souvenir shop, art gallery as well as supplier and educator of traditional Filipino games and toys.
Its signage does not fail to catch the attention of those who pass by Kilometer 8 Street at Barangay Bong-ao, Valencia: It is framed in a huge dreamcatcher.
The shop offers a vast collection of souvenirs and novelty items made from locally sourced raw materials handcrafted by local artisans and craftsmen.
Subida proprietor Michael Angelo “Mike” Alano, 45, says that when he put up this shop in 2015, he wanted it to “scream Filipino.”
He decided to invest in such a shop during his trip to Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental, where he saw local craftsmen peddling their products on the sidewalk.
The experience made him realize the need to create a space where native handicraft could be displayed “with dignity” and showcased in a place where these could be appreciated.
“I don’t want souvenirs that are bought from China, then you just write ‘Dumaguete’ or ‘Philippines’ on it and then resell it,” he says. “It is easy to be rich or to be wealthy using that method but again, that’s not what we are after.”
Thus, Subida was born.
Among Subida’s long list of native products are baskets, mats, trays and tissue holders made of woven bamboo skin, coconut leaves, sig-id vines, or tikog leaves; mess sets and cooking utensils made of coconut shells; rattan handbags and hanging lamps; bamboo mugs, combs, scratchers; and backpacks woven from pandan leaves.
They have items like miniature and wooden Dumaguete tricycles, habal-habal (motorcycles for hire), jeepneys, cars, tractors and airplanes.
Their handcrafted toys include wooden guns with rubber bands for bullets, wooden yoyos, tirador (slingshot), trumpo (spinning top), sungka and a number of other traditional Filipino toys.
They also sell decorative animals and trinkets pieced together from discarded materials, alongside accessories like earrings, anklets, bracelets and necklaces made of wood, braided strings and stones.
Customers and tourists can also request for customized signages, pens and coasters, among many other things.
Product prices at Subida range from as low as P1, such as a single marble, to as high P10,000, say a sculpture by a local artist.
The shop’s best seller is a native backpack made of pandan leaves, priced at P1,250.
The popular bag won the “Most Innovative Product” and the “Most Creative Product” awards from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in 2018.
Not just a store
While Alano buys products from suppliers and resells these in the shop, it is more than just a souvenir outlet. It is also a social enterprise aimed at providing livelihood to local artists and artisans.
Alano and his team of master handicraft makers conduct trainings and workshops for talented individuals to enhance their skills.
Lito Aro, 65, a master artisan, says their primary job is to design products at the workshop. He makes traditional toys like spinning tops and sungka while others focus on developing other handicrafts and novelty items.
Alano says basic products from the Subida workshop are brought to home-based local crafts people for them to either co-design or recreate. They also provide the tools and equipment.
“Then we purchase the products from the crafts [people] while they work from home and sell them in the shop,” Alano said.
The artisans can then pay for the tools later. For example, if an artisan created 150 pieces of ladle out of bamboo and coconut shell, the individual may opt to receive cash in full for the first 100 pieces, while turning over the remaining 50 pieces to offset the cost of tools.
Jovencio Baay, 60, a farmer from Amlan town in Negros Oriental, is among Subida’s long-time supplier of coco and bamboo handicraft.
Before he was tapped by Subida, he used to make items like bamboo scratchers in small quantities when he was not tending his farm.
But the assistance and the additional tools given by Subida enabled him to build his own workshop that could accommodate bulk orders of bamboo mugs, cups, scratchers and even speakers.
“I started small. It’s as if I [couldn’t] stand on my own. But Subida gave me a machine so I’ll be able to make bamboo crafts,” Baay says.
As such, Baay was able to send his children to school and build his family a decent home.
According to Alano, they have conducted workshops and partnered with locals in almost all the towns of Negros Oriental. Subida also extends its advocacy to people outside the handicraft industry.
Copra farmers in Zamboanguita and Amlan towns, for example, found an additional income source when Subida tapped them to supply coconut shells, which are polished and turned into mess sets and native bowls. Before their arrangement with Subida, the farmers would just haphazardly crack coconut shells to collect the meat for copra. The shells were only good for them as firewood.
Subida provided them with hacksaw to seamlessly split the shells. Now, they earn P30 for every coconut on top of their income from copra.
Alano says Subida steadily progressed in four years. From just two inhouse master crafts people in 2015, they had as many as 20 by 2019 or prior to the pandemic. They also retained close to 200 home-based handicraft makers like Baay.
During the same period, Subida was able to open four other shops at Malatapay town in Zamboanguita, Robinsons Mall, the Market Place and The Henry Hotel in Dumaguete.
Pivoting during the pandemic
When the pandemic struck and tourism came to an halt in 2020, demand for souvenir and novelty items also plummeted. Subida had to close shops at Malatapay, Robinsons and Market Place. He was also forced to lay off most of his employees in 2021. Of the 20 master crafts people, only four were retained.
The local artisans had to return to their previous occupations—farmers, security guards, cooks, painters, among others.
But Subida coordinated with the Department of Trade and the Department of Science and Technology to start designing and fabricating face masks, face shields and aerosol boxes using acetate, foams, rubbers, and acrylic.
“And we are proud to say that our design for the face shield was even downloaded and manufactured in the U.S.A, Australia, and France,” Alano says.
They were also able to incorporate their brand in the face masks by using woven pandan leaves in making the personal protective equipment.
Now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted, Alano says many tourists are starting to visit Subida, although the number has yet to reach prepandemic levels.
But Alano plans to reestablish ties with local artisans and resume designing, manufacturing and selling souvenirs, trinkets and novelty items at prepandemic pace.
In the long run, Alano says the vision for Subida as a social enterprise is to pave the way for all handicraft makers to have their own licensed and fully equipped workshops that will supply to Subida, which in turn dreams to establish a nationwide footprint.
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