Producing value-added products from hinabol fabric
LAGONGLONG, Misamis Oriental—Esmerna “Esmer” Gabutina owns Tinabuan Arts and Crafts, a sinamay-making enterprise under the DTI One-Town-One Product (OTOP) program in this municipality.
A pharmacist by training, she closed her drug store and bake shop in 2000 in order to put up a handicraft business.
At that time, Esmer was concerned that the skilled women weavers in her town were underemployed. At the instance of the Department of Trade and Industry, she organized the women so that they may avail themselves, as a group, of technical assistance from the DTI.
In a series of product training workshops, the women learned how to produce value-added products from the hinabol fabric they weave, that is, to convert the weave into end products.
After the training, Esmer asked them if they were willing to work for her. Many agreed.
She now has 10 weavers and 20 coilers working for Tinabuan Arts and Crafts and producing bags, purses, hats and other fashion accessories, placemats and coasters, holiday decors, flowers, blinds, and ribbons—all made from sinamay or abaca. The company also sells sinamay rolls to other sinamay converters.
As she grows her business, Esmer, now 71, has stuck to some personal principles that have helped forge her distinct product identity and carve her market niche.
To establish her unique product image, she eschewed the colorful weave Bukidnon tribal weavers are traditionally known for in favor of the plain-colored. “This is my personal decision. Why use Bukidnon designs when this is Misamis Oriental?” As far as she knows, she is the only bag producer in Mindanao using plain, one-color hinabol fabrics.
She insists on being different “I do not want to do something that others have already done. For example, for the sling bag we are developing, we are looking for something new for handles other than the usual wood. Leather seems promising and we are experimenting with it.”
Esmer also learned to mix-weave abaca and cotton from Canadian experts who studied her operations intensively.
Most of her products are slightly high-end. “Ayaw kong gumawa ng cheap, ayaw ko ng common. Maraming ganun sa Divisoria.”
Most of all, she takes pride in her “made-in-Misamis Oriental” label. Recently, she had a big-volume order from buyers who intended to super-impose their own brand on Esmer’s “Tinabuan.” She backed out from the deal. She thought assenting to the wish of the buyer would be a disservice to her workers, her weavers, her hometown and province.
She used to be her own designer, getting inspiration from trade fairs, from design magazines, and from seminars she always makes it a point to attend.
Lately, she has been able to engage the services of a professional designer on call basis.
Sustaining the market
Marketing Tinabuan products has not been a walk in the park.
At first, she put up her own sales outlet along Pabayo Street in Cagayan de Oro. Before long, she closed it down when it proved too expensive to maintain on account of the limited sales it was generating.
It was initially hard to sell the products and she started to feel stirrings of doubt. Then her son, who was then chief of staff for a congressman, gave away some of her products among his office friends. This resulted in some orders. From word of mouth, Tinabuan gained popularity.
Soon her products were being carried by the Mindanao Product Showroom, a marketing project coordinated by DTI.
Tinabuan products can now also be found in other DTI showrooms, tourism houses, the Fair Trade Store in Cagayan de Oro, and souvenir shops around the area. Some five-star hotels in Mindanao would soon be displaying the bags and houseware, too, if negotiations go through.
Local government is a loyal Tinabuan customer. The office of the governor of Misamis Oriental and the mayor of Lagonglong would often buy sinamay products from Esmer to give away to official visitors. DTI also buys items from her for its seminars and conferences.
There were opportunities to export, she recounts, but she had to turn these down because supply of abaca is unstable and because she didn’t have enough weavers.
Notably, Esmer put up the business with her own money, grew it with her own money, and still doesn’t see herself borrowing in the future.
While she seems resolutely financially self-reliant, she is quite open to technical and marketing assistance.
As the OTOP project of Lagonglong, the sinamay industry has been the recipient of DTI interventions— capability building for skilled workers and management; product and design development; and promotional and marketing assistance.
Tinabuan Arts and Crafts is considered the lead enterprise in the OTOP project—the prime mover in the production and processing of well-designed sinamay and sinamay products in the municipality.
Esmer looks forward to a bigger market next year, with more exposure of her products. At a recent DTI trade fair, many buyers expressed interest in Tinabuan which she hopes would translate into orders.
Note: Tinabuan Arts and Crafts is one of the small enterprises to be featured in the upcoming book of the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation on “Product Strategies of Micro and Small Businesses.” For more entrepreneurial stories, and starting and growing in business how-to’s, visit www.serdef.org.
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