By Sahlie P. Lacson

It is true that behind every person or object is a story to tell. For Fawziyah Maridul’s Malingkat Weaves, it is no different.

Born from a union of two faiths, that is from a Tausug father and a Protestant mother, Fawziyyah Maridul, or Faw among friends, managed to embrace differences and be proud of it. She went to a Catholic school from kindergarten to high school in Iligan City, then to UP Diliman for college. “I mention all these because I believe these are major factors in why I’m doing what I’m doing now – promoting Muslim culture, advocating love for the Philippines and its traditions, empowering women to be independent, and just really doing good in whatever way we can and spreading love, peace, and beauty all around,” says Maridul.

From being proud of muslim culture to weaving traditions 

Maridul has always been fascinated with local products, and every time she found something nice, she’d make it a point to tell her friends about the manufacturer or carry and wear the products herself. That was before social media shoutouts became the norm.

Fawziyah Maridul (left) with Malingkat’s first Yakan weaver partner, Norita Pangkalan, during one of her visits to the weaving center. Pangkalan started learning how to weave when she was a little girl watching her older women in the family weaving.

“I’d like to think that Malingkat is a result of a series of fortunate incidents and events. I’ve always been fascinated with local products and handicrafts growing up, and as I grew older, I became more aware and appreciative of our woven textiles and traditions,” relays Maridul.

She explains how her company started: “We had a family reunion in Zamboanga and while there, I visited a weaver I met at a Manila fair. She introduced me to her nieces who were also weavers and everything just picked up from there and here we are now,” Maridul says.

“Growing up, I was exposed to the colorful traditions and crafts of Muslim culture – the Tausugs and even the Maranaos having grown up in Iligan, which is near Marawi (and even living in MSU (Mindanao State University) Marawi for a few years). I want to share and showcase the beauty of Muslim culture starting with its rich and intricate weaving traditions. I guess this is really the main inspiration behind [Malingkat] enterprise and also to honor my late father and the good name he left behind for us.”

Embarking on a new venture

Maridul started her entrepreneurial journey in her mid-30s. She came from the corporate/private sector before embarking on a totally new venture. “But one thing I’ve learned though, which I want to share, is it’s really never too late to pursue what you feel will make you happy and will add value to your life and those of other people,” Maridul shares. Further, she believes in divine timing and the universe conspiring to give us what we want and need at just the right time; it also takes a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, fierce determination, and grit to be an entrepreneur or to embark on something new.

Taking inspiration from daily life – what is functional, practical, and sustainable, but still pretty on the eyes, of course, Malingkat was able to come up with different products and designs.

“I study a lot. It’s like I’m in school again – reading books, going over online resources, attending relevant talks/workshops,” reminisces Maridul. However, according to her, the best teachers are the weavers themselves. “I learn a lot when I visit them and in between, it’s a lot about talking about the whats, whys, and hows of their woven traditions. I’m really thankful also that our weaver partners, especially Norita, our first Yakan weaver partner who also acts as our coordinator at the moment, are so generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge. That is why we also make it a point to pass along this information through our social media pages.”

Honoring the hands that made Malingkat weaves

“The idea was just mine but I wouldn’t have done it and pushed through with it if it weren’t for the encouragement of my closest friends, immediate family, and of course, the wonderful response of our artisan partners. There will be no Malingkat without our weaver and sewer partners,” Maridul humbly shares. “I would also like to give special mention to my former boss, a wonderful woman named Luba, who wholeheartedly supported me in this venture even when it was still on paper.”

Every year, Malingkat mounts a program for the benefit of its weaver partners with the support of other brands and organizations. In 2018, it was with the Rotary Club of Makati East for their livelihood seed assistance program. In 2019, clothing brand Nuevo Ystilo provided weaving shelters or covers to Malingkat’s weaver partners in Zamboanga and Basilan.

Malingkat collaborates with weaver partners in highlighting and promoting their woven textiles by retaining traditional patterns because each design is a reflection or tells a story of the tribe or the community’s way of life. The company plays around with colors to make them more contemporary. They have more or less 15 weavers at the moment.

Malingkat partners and works with weavers directly. Maridul personally visits them whenever she can. They start with individuals and progress to their families (immediate and extended), since, as Maridul says, they can create more measurable impact that way. Apart from consistently contributing to their livelihood through their purchases, Malingkat also makes it a point to give back to the community by partnering with other brands, organizations, and companies that might help address a particular need or requirement.

Last year, they had the support of the Rotary Club of Makati East in spearheading a livelihood assistance program for their Yakan partners. They also collaborated with leading modern Filipiniana clothing brand Nuevo Ystilo in providing shelters to Yakan weavers in Basilan.

“We won’t claim we transform their lives, but we do our best to contribute, in whatever little way we can, to empowering our weaver and sewer partners who are mostly women (and mothers) by consistently providing them with a source of livelihood through our partnership,” says Maridul.

Malingkat promotes the handwoven fabrics as home accents in the form of table runners. In photo is a Maranao balud (wave) pattern inspired by the waters of Lake Lanao. (Photo courtesy of Honeylet Tuanda-Almelor, one of Malingkat’s staunch supporters in the U.S.)

Currently, Malingkat partners with weavers from the Yakan, Tausug, and Maranao tribes, and community weavers from Abra, and sewers from the Rizal area. “We use fabrics woven by our partner artisans from Mindanao weaving tribes – the Yakans from Basilan and Zamboanga, Maranaos from Lanao del Sur/Marawi, Tausugs from Sulu, and a family of weavers from Abra, Northern Luzon,” continues Maridul.

In terms of the fabrics used among Malingkat products, they use abaca woven in Bukidnon, pandan/sabutan from Laguna and Aurora provinces, raffia from Bohol, and t’nalak from Lake Sebu. “We always make sure that we work or partner directly with weavers or artisans themselves,” ensures Maridul.

Traditionally, the Philippines’ woven fabrics used fibers from plants, trees, and were dyed using natural sources or materials. But due to different factors, that is, cost, materials and sources, and the time it takes to weave using all natural sources, most weaving communities switched to using ready-made or store-bought materials like threads instead.

However, in recent years, there has been a revival of sorts in going back to natural fibers and dyes, thanks to the efforts of Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), for one.

“On our part, we will start working this year with cotton blended natural fibers developed by the PTRI and create woven textiles made from plants/trees widely available in the country like banana and pineapple. This was our pitch to last year’s BPI Sinag program. The use of tropical fibers is more environmentally sustainable, will add more value to the woven fabric, and generate higher income for our weaver partners,” assures Maridul.

Weaving works tedious process

“We have different weaving traditions depending on the area,” states Maridul. In Muslim Mindanao, the backstrap loom is still in use. Essentially, a belt-like contraption is tied around the waste and the weaver’s body acts as the tensioning device. That’s why Mindanao weavers are normally limited in width compared to northern Luzon textiles.

Their Abra community weavers, on the other hand, use a pedal loom, which allows them to come up with wider textiles. It’s also faster compared to backstrap loom weaving, but still labor intensive just the same.

The weaving process deserves a separate article altogether, but to summarize, it starts with warping the threads, then setting it on the loom and designing the pattern before the actual weaving starts. And if natural fibers and dyes are used, there’s an entire process that needs to be done before warping can even start. “Weaving is really an intricate process and we need to give credit and value and honor our weavers for sharing part of their culture with us,” says Maridul.

A Malingkat item for everyone

One of the thrusts of the brand is to make woven textiles accessible to as many Filipinos as possible. “We envision each and every Filipino proudly carrying a piece of our beautiful weaving traditions and heritage through a Malingkat item. That is why we are intentional about our pricing and we develop small and affordable pieces like our eco bags and pouches,” shares Maridul. Their bags and pouches start at below P300 while their premium pieces like table runners, espadrilles, and other products start at just over P1,000. They will be launching more accessories this year to make full use of their excess fabrics, or retazos.

Another crowd favorite are the colorful throw pillow covers featuring the seputangan pattern of the Yakans which is traditionally used as a head scarf.

Malingkat items are available online through a dedicated online shop and through their social media pages, although we can’t find all their products on their posts. “It’s a conscious decision because we want our Facebook and Instagram pages to be a platform also for sharing the stories of our weavers, of our weaving traditions, and pieces,” says Maridul.

Frankie & Friends at SM Aura is their retail partner as of date. Though their products are not yet for export, that is a direction they would like to take in the future.

Last year, they were one of the top 10 awardees of the BPI Sinag Accelerate Program. “We are truly honored and grateful for being chosen alongside more seasoned enterprises because it is giving us valuable learning opportunities, a louder voice in sharing our brand and cause, and the tools to improve our enterprise, and do more for our partners,” cites Maridul.

“We plan on continuously widening our reach and impact by maximizing the digital space, partnering with more weaver communities, developing products that will allow every Filipino to proudly bring a part of our weaving heritage with us wherever we go, and showcase and promote the Philippines’ beautiful weaving traditions and other quality locally-made pieces. We’re in this for the long run.”

Deviating from the usual conflict-ridden Mindanao notion

For Maridul, Malingkat is a story that needs to be told. Deviating from the usual notion of Mindanao being a conflict-ridden region, Maridul relates, “I want Mindanao to be synonymous with the word “malingkat.” Mindanao is beautiful in so many ways – its unspoiled natural environment, the harmony of different faiths and cultures, the food – from the exotic to the “not so ordinary” ordinary, and the people – brave, resilient, [and] determined.”

“Beyond what we see and hear in the news, there are so many treasures still undiscovered and undervalued in Mindanao. It really is a land of promise, but has to be given the chance to shine, to showcase what is good and beautiful in its provinces and people, to offer equal opportunities for economic, educational, and social improvement to each and every son and daughter of Mindanao.”

Malingkat is the Tausug word for beautiful (and Maridul is a proud Tausug on her father’s side), while Fawzia means successful in Arabic. Together, Malingkat weaves beauty and success behind every fabric.

“Mindanao is Malingkat,” concludes Maridul.

For more information, visit Malingkat Weaves on Facebook

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2020 issue.