Indigo was once widely favored by the local weaving industry as a traditional way of adding color to fabrics due to its excellent resistance from fading or running. Yet, over the years, this natural dye was pushed to the sidelines by the emergence of cheaper and easier to obtain synthetic dyes which were quick to be embraced by textile manufacturers.
But not all is lost. A collaborative network of non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations in South and Southeast Asia called Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) has started working on The Indigo Project which reaches out to indigenous populations in upland and rural communities in the Philippines and Indonesia. These artisans include members of Mangyan Alangan, Mangyan Hanunoo and Mangyan Iraya of the island of Mindoro; Higaonon of Bukidnon, Palaw'anon and Tagbanua of Palawan, T'boli of South Cotabato, Maguindanao weavers and those of Negros.
The Indigo Project promotes the development and implementation of environmental and social standards in hand-woven textiles production. It supports production and sourcing of environmentally friendly natural dyes and fibers, establishes eco-friendly product standards, and scales production of eco-textiles.
In the Philippine, NTFP-EP partnered with CustomMade Crafts Center (CMCC) as its integrated design and marketing arm to give project beneficiaries proper skills training that will allow them to combine modern technology with age-old practices. The goal is to produce world-class materials made of natural dye and fiber that can be promoted not only locally but to the international market as well.
Modi or Modern Indigenous, CMCC’s banner program, for instance, is a lifestyle line that fuses traditional crafts with contemporary design and function. It is a synergy of Philippine tribal artisans and city-bred designers to make culture-bound crafts up to date. CMCC, incidentally is one of the social enterprises being supported by leading telecommunications company Globe Telecom.
"When we started the Indigo Project, there were no takers. It was only Globe who really worked with us on this," says Benilda Camba, NTFP-EP Enterprise Development Coordinator.
“Globe believes that everyone should have a share in the country's economic growth that is why we continue to focus on underserved communities which we can help by providing sustainable livelihood programs. Through these efforts, Globe hopes to offer viable economic opportunities – and with these, new possibilities for prosperity,” said Fernando Esguerra, Director of Globe Corporate Social Responsibility.
NTFP-EP and CMCC benefit from the information and communication technology tools being provided by Globe such as internet connectivity and mobile credit card payment facility through Globe Charge , as well as capacity building support and market access. "We're not business people, we're more involved in community development. But all this technology helps drive the business," adds Camba.
But Globe is not only all about technology. As part of the company’s rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Province of Aklan, Globe and CMCC has expanded the program in the province to benefit more subsistence farmers and to take advantage of the vibrant weaving industry in Aklan. In Madalag, for instance, from just one barangay Globe added 10 more to its list of supported barangays. Madalag grows Indigo plants whose leaves are eventually turned into powdered dye which CMCC buys to supplement the livelihood of the communities.
Globe helped establish natural indigo dye powdering facilities not only in Aklan but also in Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Zamboanga, and Palawan.
By preserving this craft which is a traditional expression of the art and identity of indigenous and rural peoples, NTFP-EP, CMCC, and Globe are not only able to keep such customs alive but are also able to provide the communities a way to a better life in the face of growing marginalization.