By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

When it comes to accessories like bags, we tend to opt for those made from quality material so the item can survive the inevitable wear and tear. However, a social enterprise based in Leyte uses natural materials such as a special reed grass to create products that are both eye-catching and durable.

“We co-create, design, and commission bags, mats, souvenirs and functional or decorative items made with lovingly hand-woven ticog grass, romblon, seagrass, and other organic materials,” said Anna Veloso Tuazon, director of Abre Linea Incorporated.

Tikog, or ticog, is a special reed grass that grows in swampy areas along the rice fields that acts like a sponge because it can hold higher volumes of water during the rainy season or release moisture to the soil during the dry season.

A bulan bag made with ticog, genuine leather, and Philippine cotton.

“We tend to find comfort in the intuitive tautness and organic feel of handwoven ticog. This is especially true on days you miss the feel of grass on your skin and want to bring the outdoors in,” Veloso said.

After Typhoon Yolanda, weavers of Basey, Samar relied greatly on ticog grass since it was the material they had access to in San Miguel, Leyte.

The grass grows wild which is why the farmers need not to go out of their way to nurture it. Their task lies in the preservation of the peatland or marshland where the ticog grows by limiting ecosystem interference.

“Natural calamities such as the Typhoon Yolanda inundation, or man-made interference such as the creation of dams or landfills alter the water content of the peatland and can cause the ticog grass to rot,” Veloso said.

Materials such as buri palm leaves, romblon as well as pandan leaves, seagrass or bariis, and leather are also used in creating Abre Linea Inc.’s quality bags.

Veloso added that the social enterprise fuses contemporary designs with locally available materials and artisanal craftsmanship, for the benefit of weaving communities in Leyte and Samar.

The livelihood-driven social enterprise has a common goal: to help Typhoon Yolanda-ravaged weaving communities in the areas of Eastern Visayas.

Each bag in their collection is the result of the collaborative effort of four communities which are given specific roles in making an Abre Linea Inc. collection into what it is now.

Through the years, Abre Linea has launched collections that proudly showcase collaborations between the weavers of Leyte and Samar, and artisans throughout the Philippines.

Opening new doors for the locals of Leyte and Samar

In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda, internationally known as Typhoon Haiyan, first made landfall in Eastern Samar at peak strength. It was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded.

Anna Veloso Tuazon discussing romblon weaving at the Abre upskilling workshop in Villaba, Leyte earlier this year.

Veloso and her high school friends, Claude Rodrigo Cañete and Joy Yu, established Abre Linea as a response to the urgent call to provide livelihood opportunities for Leyte and Samar, especially when the relief for the Typhoon Yolanda began to diminish.

“We felt private sector intervention was the quickest and most sustainable way to get aid to the communities that need it most,” Veloso said.

Abre, which translates to “open” in Waray, is the friends’ open response to the need for sustainable livelihoods in artisanal communities.

Veloso is a cultural heritage advocate with roots in Leyte and Samar. She sought to build pride around a traditional art-making process that would double as a source of livelihood for communities.

In the meantime, Cañete was inspired by how contemporary designs build emotional ties. She then wanted her designs to connect Yolanda survivors with an audience that can aid the community while appreciating the creativity that they put out.

Lastly, Yu had her heart set on helping others. She decided to venture into social entrepreneurship and use her familiarity with trade and investment to help with the Abre Linea Inc.’s social impact.

Their personal advocacies, interests, and fascination with hand woven buri-embroidered mats and bags led the trio to to work with the weavers in Leyte and Samar, which also helped them realized the need to preserve the craft by making the handwoven products readily available to a global market.

All the proceeds of the product sales go back to each community in Leyte and Samar involved in the production process.

How an Abre Linea Inc. bag is made 

Veloso said that Abre Linea is very hands-on when it comes to creating the different products that showcase the culture and craftsmanship of the weavers of Samar and Leyte.

Embroidering dyed buri on ticog to make the Linda tote.

Farmers from the San Miguel and Alangalang in Samar harvest the ticog grass from the peatlands, or wetlands, to be prepared into mats that will serve as the base for the bags and other hand-woven products.

500 bunches or 1,000 strands of ticog grass are needed to create a panel mat measuring 2 ft. by 8 ft.

The harvested grass is then laid out for 3 to 5 days to dry under the sun. Farmers ensure that the grass doesn’t get wet during this period.

Once dry, when the green has faded and the grass turned into straw or hay, the roots are cut off and then sprinkled in the peatlands to guarantee the continuous growth of ticog in the area.

The grass is then flattened with a bamboo to make it easier to weave. The woven ticog panel can be dyed to fit a pattern that serves as the base of the bag or mat.

For a colorful and creative addition, buri palm leaves are harvested, dried, then dyed into different colors before it is woven into the ticog mat. It usually takes 1 ½ days for an experienced embroider to finish.

Abre Linea’s products range from leather totes, clutches, mats, home accessories such as pillow cases, nesting stools, nesting trays, boxes, poufs, and souvenir or gift items like key chains, luggage tags, card cases, pouches, and picnic baskets.

The social enterprise not only focuses on using environmentally friendly materials in their products, Abre Linea is also highlighting a traditional art-making process that doubles as a source of livelihood for artisanal communities in Leyte and Samar.

For more information, visit Abre Linea on Facebook

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2020 issue.