By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Negros Occidental is known for their cuisine which involve the popular chicken inasal and piaya, ancestral houses, and that the region is the primary sugar producer.
Another aspect that makes Negros popular is the woven products that come from the locals of the region.
Michael Claparols and his wife, Johanna, started Creative Definitions to provide world-class Negrense products in the local market to open more opportunities for the weavers.
“It’s a trading company we set up way back in 2008. We sell Negros made products in the local market then we eventually evolved towards supporting the hand-loom communities in Negros,” Claparols said.
The couple saw a need to provide livelihood to the weaving communities of Negros Occidental. They are currently working with Negros 9 weavers, local weavers who hail from a remote area of Kabankalan.
Farm to fabric
As the couple became more involved with the weavers, they have also begun to take the different aspects of the supply chain into consideration.
“Besides the weaving and making the fabrics, I’m also engaged in helping out the farmers who grow cotton as their primary crop,” Claparols said.
In 2017, Creative Definitions worked its way from the end of the business line to the beginning by collaborating with Negros farmers who supply the cotton used in their products.
As a board member of Habi: The Philippine Textile Council, Mike Claparols is in charge of the different projects that involve the use of cotton. This is also the reason why he advocates the use of cotton in the products that their company sells.
Ever since polyester and synthetic fabrics became available in the market, the public hasn’t given much attention to the usual organic fibers that were once used for clothing. This resulted in the decline of several farms who grow organic weaving materials.
“Farmers used to grow lots of cotton then shifted to growing other kinds of crops to make up for their lost profit. We want to redevelop the cotton industry in Negros,” Claparols said.
To get things back to the way they used to be, the couple partnered with the Department of Agriculture to work with the cotton farmers in Negros to give them a new market.
Claparols said that the DA aided the farmers in planting cotton by providing them with seeds that they could start working with. From there, the farmers went back to their roots and grew the crops as if they were their own children.
Another thing that the couple advocates is giving fair wages to both the weavers and the farmers.
“We don’t really value profit but rather the impact we leave on the communities that we’re working with. We pay the farmers and the weavers get 15 to 20 percent from our products,” Claparols said.
The deal behind cotton
For years, cotton has been cultivated all over the world for its fiber and seeds. It is usually grown in warm climates and is used to create fabric used for different kinds of everyday items like clothing, towels, bandages, and more.
In the Philippines, Negros is known to be one of the many of producers of cotton in the country, which is why the couple behind Creative Definitions are working hard to reinvigorate the once booming industry in the region.
Another reason why Claparols promotes the use of cotton is because of its natural properties that could lessen the amount of pollution in the future.
“When you bury cotton, it’ll degrade because it’s made of natural fibers. However, if you discard or bury polyester fabrics, the material lasts for years and years because it’s that unnatural,” Claparols said.
Even if people can easily tell the difference between cotton and polyester through touch, Claparols advised that a sure way is to take a single strand, when possible, and snap it in two.
“If the strand easily breaks, then it’s made out of cotton. If not, then that’s polyester,” he said.
His and hers: Promoting diversity in the workplace
Contrary to popular belief that women are usuals behind the loom, the Claparols also employ men from the weaving community. Out of the nine weavers they currently have, three of them are men.
“Having both sexes in the workplace is actually refreshing and people can really see that there’s something unique in the output and from having an equal relationship between the men and the women,” Claparols said.
Claparols added that having men working behind the looms helps them unleash their imagination and creativity, which can be distinct from the designs made by women.
To ensure their productivity, the Claparols teach their weavers how to do each design or work every station that was originally designated for one person.
“This way, we don’t have to worry that production will slow down or stop when one of our weavers get sick or pregnant. It’s also our way of sharing weaving knowledge that they can pass down to future generations,” Claparols said.
Involving other farming communities
According to Mike, their next step is to create their own line of shoes made from organic materials such as rattan, abaca, cotton, and rubber.
For this, the couple has tapped into a local rubber farm where they use rubber waste as the soles of their upcoming shoe line.
Creative Definitions will soon venture to growing other types of crops like rattan and pineapple, whose fibers can be used for making fabrics, woven items, and more.
This venture, as the couple sees it, will be their impact on becoming sustainable by helping others gain a livelihood, promoting the talents of different communities–especially from far flung areas, while also lessening the non-biodegradable material that could potentially harm the environment. (Photos courtesy of Creative Definitions Facebook page)
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2020 issue.