By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN
With the abundance of natural resources, creative minds, and hard-working individuals, the Philippines is known for making export quality products—from delicious food and dry goods to arts and crafts and fashion items. Recently, a local shop named Henry’s Banig Shop (HBS) from Basey, Samar is creating buzz online.
The images of their beautiful, handmade bags caught the attention of netizens. In a conversation with the Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the shop’s owner, Ricky Bautista, shares the humble beginnings of his business and how he has been using art to empower his female employees.
Down the memory lane
Dubbed as the Banig Capital of the Philippines, Basey is known for making colorful mats, which is the livelihood of majority of its residents. But when typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit Eastern Visayas in November 2013, it caused severe damage to the town.
“We want to bring it back. We live in a town that once held the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest mat weaved in history. With or without aid from the government, we need to rise up and get back on our feet again,” Ricky says. “A solid motivation. This is how it all started.”
As a journalist by profession, Ricky says that he’s aware that in times like Yolanda, it is the poor who suffer the most. “One of my learnings in civic journalism is, lowly people i.e. fishermen and farmers are often deprived of government’s attention and support,” the HBS owner continues. “And then came Yolanda. The typhoon brought hopelessness to the people. I needed to act fast. I tapped the weavers, housewives, and even unemployed bystanders to work with me. I brought mat-weaving to a new level. Products that are often unheard of by outsiders were introduced.”
From then on, more and more people inquired about Basey’s products. That’s when he decided to turn this initiative into a solid business.
Picasso Straw Bag—artistic, handmade, all natural
What sets HBS’ products apart from those of competitors are their colorful artistic designs. Mostly made of weaved tikog (Fimbristylis globulosa) and buri leaves (Coryphe Elata Roxb), HBS’ products are all natural and are made by hand.
“Most of the designs are traditional, something we’ve had since time immemorial, from the pintados followed by floral, geometrical, lace, and zigzags. All native stores in town are doing that. To avoid competing with them, I created some new designs,” Ricky says. “One time, my then 10-year-old son Henry, drew my face. When he it showed to me, an idea came up to convert it into bags deigns. It clicked and suddenly became viral. It captured great attention from buyers and art lovers. One buyer told me that she loves it because it looks like a Picasso work that she saw in Paris. From that single design, I produced a thousand copies and named it ‘The Picasso Straw Bag.’”
He adds that when it comes to introducing other designs, all he wants is to provide customer satisfaction. “It should be cost-efficient, affordable, native but with a twist of modern Filipino style, fashionable, and made of indigenous materials,” he says.
As a journalist, Ricky promised himself that he will always do his best to help people and to support women empowerment. No wonder, 90 percent of HBS’ employees are composed of women.
“I made sure that one objective of the shop is women empowerment,” the current editor-in-chief of Samar Weekly Express shares. “By providing them with job opportunities, they will have daily income. That can make them feel they’re not just housewives but also breadwinners. We empower them to earn and not just wait for government aid. My workers are beneficiaries of the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), PWDs, and solo parents.”
With the Covid-19 threat, HBS production is also affected. But Ricky is making sure that he continues to find ways to support his employees.
“When the government started closing down borders, our livelihood was paralyzed again. Buyers stopped ordering while others cancelled their orders. Our workers were restricted from traveling and sourcing of materials became difficult. We are again hopeless,” he says. “For some reason, we have been deprived of aid intended for informal workers. I borrowed money from my siblings to support my own family and the families of my workers, as well. They are all my responsibility.”
Extending a helping hand
Aside from helping his employees, HBS also partners with other organizations to help those affected by Covid-19 and the victims of typhoon Ambo, which recently hit some parts of the Visayas.
Ricky worked with the Eastern Visayas Artist group in putting up an online exhibit. For every HBS products that is sold, a certain amount goes to the group’s program designed to help the people of Tarangnan, Samar. “I feel their sufferings. It is too difficult to live in an area where you don’t even know if you have an infected neighbor,” he says. “You cannot travel to buy food and to work. Government resources are not enough, so we must do our part.”
The HBS owner also partnered with the Samar Island Press Club, Inc. to help journalists affected by the Covid-19 lockdown and by typhoon Ambo. “Learning from what happened in 2013, we understand how hard it is to perform our tasks when we are affected by disasters. I proposed to the Catbalogan-based media group to extend help to colleagues in Northern Samar,” he says. “A small portion of the bags’ sales goes to the club’s budget. Augmented by the club’s budget plus donations from good Samaritans, we conducted relief operations benefitting some 25 people in the media in the province. We also distributed some 100 food packs to random community folk heavily affected by typhoon Ambo.”