“WE are world-class and we belong to the world,” said Consul General Claro Cristobal when we spoke with him after he and the economic team from the Philippine Consulate General New York visited around six booths at the NY NOW, the largest US gift and home decor trade show.

“What can be the most important lesson to learn is that we have what it takes to leapfrog onto the global stage. It only takes ambition. The skill, the talent, the wherewithal, we have that,” he added.

Consul General Claro Cristobal, Special Trade Representative Nicanor Bautista and Consul Arman Talbo with Rome Oamil and Rosemarie Oamil of Mele+Marie at NY NOW. | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

Cristobal, together with Senior Trade Representative Nicanor Bautista, Consul Arman R. Talbo, economic officer, and some staff from the consulate made the rounds and encouraged other retailers and wholesalers to participate in the Manila FAME this coming October 17-19, 2019 and consider buying and distributing Philippine-made and Filipino designed products in the U.S. mainstream market.

Among the booths visited were a mixture of American companies like Kubla and Lily Juliet, importers and distributors of Philippine-made artisan products; Natibo, ATBP and Likha, which are Filipino American owned companies which use hand-loomed, handwoven fabrics indigenous to the Benguet Province in the Philippines and natural, eco-friendly materials including natural straw and plant fiber, coco coir, sustainably-sourced shells, and recycled wood, respectively.

The Boracay Bowl is available for sale at Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s, among other places. Lily Juliet is an importer of products from the Philippines where Joel Levin, its managing director, works with craftsmen to create products from shells and driftwood found in the countryside. | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

If there is one thing that these companies’ Philippine-made and Filipino designed products have in common, it is the fact that each product is made with love and a lot of skill and hard work. Just a quick and cursory look would show its beauty but a much closer and detailed look would reveal each item’s unique characteristics.

Case in point: the Boracay Bowl, sourced through Lily Juliet, sold at Barney’s for $415 and at Bloomingdale’s for $385. Crafted out of driftwood, it is also described as “handmade by craftsmen, no two pieces are alike” and a “statement-making bowl inspired by texture and patterns of driftwood” that can be used as a centerpiece or decorative fruit bowl.

The consulate team ended at Mele+Marie, a Cebu-based company that makes accessories, clutch bags and minaudieres.

Melecio Oamil and his wife Rosemarie started their export business company in 1999 and now, almost 20 years later, they have evolved and are on top of their game promoting Filipino craftsmanship and creativity. He is the creative genius in charge of the design while she is the one who takes care of the business and attends trade shows such as NY NOW, where she brought their daughter Rome, an up and coming designer herself.

Mele+Marie’s clutches | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

The last time they were at NY NOW was in 2017 and the couple decided to return to the trade show this year. Like in the previous years, they were placed under Artisan Resource, a carefully curated pavilion of innovative artisan brands from around the world.

“New York is getting better in terms of business. It is becoming alive again, although we never stopped supplying some of our retailers,” Oamil said, excited that she gets to meet some of their old clients to introduce Harvest, the company’s new collection.

Melecio has always been very personal in terms of his design and him being naturally a farmer, he wanted to give tribute to what he is. What you can see in the farms, you can see the luxury versions in their clutch bags, as elements such as bees and palay grains are incorporated into the handles.

The classics are still there, particularly the minaudieres using the iridescent shells, the same material Lily Juliet artisans in Cebu use for their distinct resin shell dishes.

Mele+Marie is also expanding its operations in the Philippines and next stop are more trade shows in Dubai and Paris.

“We are focusing right now on the five major cities of fashion and since we are a Filipino company, we also have to fortify our presence in Manila, which is why our products are now available at Conrad Hotel and later this year at Shangrila BGC,” Oamil shared.

Innovation showcase

Handwoven fabrics from Sagada and the Cordilleras are turned into robes, pillowcases, tote bags, pouches and purses by Paulo Manaid of Natibo ATBP. | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

Among the plethora of products at NY NOW are world-class Philippine products ranging from high-end wooden bowls, mother of pearl handbags, t’nalak and abaca clutches, to jewelry boxes and woven baskets.

There are also coco coir planters, mother-of-pearl coasters, wooden jewelry, hand-woven palm clutches, tabletops and robes, bags and pillowcases using hand-loomed, handwoven fabrics from the northern Philippines.

Competing for space and attention are some small business owners like Paulo Manaid of Natibo, ATBP and Patrick & Nathalie Lim of Likha, who are among the 2,500 exhibitors from all 50 states and 85 countries and 400 product categories.

Manaid uses handwoven fabrics from Sagada and Cordillera for his range of products such as tote bags, pillowcases, pouches and even unisex robes and Yakan designs from Zamboanga for his accessories.

“I wanted vibrant colors and for the tote bags, silhouettes, which is good for city life,” he remarked.

He began in the industry by selling jewelry and eventually incorporated Filipino handicrafts. He embraced the shift and decided to do more with Filipino textiles and came up with the tote bags, which he said did really well when he sold in different markets in the city such as the Hester Street Fair and other pop up locations.

Manaid lamented the fact that based on his experience, older Filipinos in the United States don’t seem to support and appreciate the native weaves and fabrics from the Philippines and the hard work that have been put into it. Traditional weaving in the country, unfortunately, is also fast becoming a lost art.

“I realized that when I went around, and saw that most of the skillful weavers are elderly women,” he said. “Tapos parang walang appreciation from Filipinos here, yung mga Fil Ams na lumaki dito looking for their identities, yes, may appreciation from them.”

But that is not stopping him from still using these native, labor-intensive fabrics and working with artisan communities to provide sustainable income for them and hopefully, in the long run, preserve their craft skills.

Among Likha’s products are coco coir planters, mother-of-pearl coasters, wooden jewelry, and hand-woven palm clutches. | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

Manaid approached ByHand Consulting and like Likha, he was placed under the Innovation Showcase pavilion in the Handmade Global Design section of NY NOW, along with other US-based global handmade companies new to the wholesale market.

For Likha, they are back for the third time at NY NOW, and they are thankful because, through their exposure at the trade show, they were able to bring their Philippine-made products to almost 100 retail stores across the United States and internationally.

Also through ByHand and its Artisan Resource program, international artisan enterprises such as Mele+Marie have been guided to be successful at the trade show and generate sales with US customers.

NY NOW, formerly called New York International Gift Fair, is held twice annually in January and August. The show is organized into three collections – Home, Lifestyle and Handmade (including artisan) to help independent and specialty retail buyers, interior designers/firms, distributors, importers and wholesalers find everything they’re looking for.

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