Strengthening the Marketing Network of Women Workers in the Informal Economy
Towards Advancing Fair, Just and Sustainable Trade


The general policy of the project emphasizes assistance to women in the improvement of their current marketing endeavors as well as in the creation of new opportunities.

Brief Background on the Weaving Industry: Weaving in Bicol is believed to have started centuries ago. In the early 19th century, weavers used cotton thread bought from Manila, then dyed into different colors before they were made into mosquito nets, blankets and other items. In the late 1990s, materials used were rejects in different colors from garments factories in Metro Manila and therefore need no dyeing.

Buhi in Camarines Sur, a town in Bicol region, is known for weaving. The skill can be learned and passed on easily to the next generation. However, as an industry or as a trade, weaving remains an individual enterprise that is merely regarded an alternative source of income and a woman’s trade.

The basic tool for weaving is the upright loom. Most weavers have at least one standard loom for the size of a single blanket inside their house or in a sheltered portion of their yard. Family members are commonly involved in this activity. Men are observed to be better and faster weavers but they usually sit in the loom only when the planting and harvesting seasons are over, and when there is no other alternative job available. Normally, the women do the weaving on top of household chores. The youngsters, do errands for their elders, help in winding or spooling the thread, and, also in weaving when they are big even if not yet old enough.

The Producers There are more than (30) weavers in Lourdes, Buhi, all home-based. Of these, twenty-one (21) are members of PATAMABA – Buhi Chapter comprising three clusters. Cluster I has become an individual enterprise for its members, most of whom are vulnerable to becoming more economically disadvantaged because of over borrowing from legitimate microfinancing institutions and loan sharks. Cluster II should develop into a model of a cooperative undertaking where the seed fund not only remains intact but grows as well. Cluster III is a prototype of a successful home based cottage industry at its pioneering stage. The entrepreneur, her household, and her workers translate their happiness and contentment with their endeavor into very saleable products. The entrepreneur herself, on top of being the capitalist, purchaser and manager, designs, sews and fabricates bags and novelty items from the woven cloth which are labeled Botingting Handwoven Products.

Product Development, Quality Control and Pricing Woven cloth from synthetic or cotton fiber made into blankets is the main product of all the weavers. Standard products are in the form of hand towels with an average size of 15” X 25”, bath towels – 25” X 60”, and standard blankets – 59” X 85” (actually two pieces of single blankets of 30” X 85” sewn together). These are generally machine sewn at the ends, striped or checkered, sometimes plain but grained with black or white. Color combinations can be as common and simple or as varied and exotic depending on the colors of available thread.

Product development and some degree of quality control exist in Clusters II and III. At Botingting Handwoven Products, woven cloth is also cut and made into straps and lining for soles of slippers and sandals, or sewn and combined with cords, beads and tassels for cell phone bags, toiletry kits, knapsacks, body bags, coin purses, pencil holders, throw pillow cases and others.

Cluster II produces covers for TV sets, refrigerators and telephones, table runners, curtains, pillow cases, and bed covers, in addition to the usual blankets and towels. Orders usually come in sets suited for the living room, dining area and bedroom. Product innovations come from customers’ specifications.

Cluster I produces only the standard products: blankets, bath towels and hand towels. There is no product development and hardly any quality control

Generally, weavers have no control over the color of the thread, but they have some control over the quality. Raw material sourcing is a problem that must be addressed.

Products are sold at cost plus at least 100% mark-up. The basic tool for weaving, which is the loom, costs around P3,000.00. The thread, which is the basic material for woven products are purchased in bulk from garments factory in Bulacan or in Caloocan (Metro Manila). The entrepreneur in Cluster III goes to Manila monthly with P25,000.00 budget to buy thread and other materials. She personally cuts the materials, sews the samples for the novelty items, and weaves in the hand towel loom most of the materials to be used. The cost of her labor is not considered in pricing her products.

The average capital requirement, labor cost of weavers excluded, for 30 pieces of blanket is P1,500.00 and the average gross sale is P3,000.00 when no item is rejected A regular sewer is employed at P120/day plus a trainee-sewer at P100/day. They sew not only blankets but all other products that need to be sewn. When not sewing, they help in spooling the thread.

For the footwear manufacturing (slippers and slides), Cluster III employs 3 workers, all males who used to work in shoe factories in Metro Manila: 1 cutter/patternmaker and 2 pressers. They produce 2 dozens footwear/day and gets paid for what each finishes at P85/dozen of slippers or P10/pair of slides. 1 gallon of rugby is consumed for 6 dozens pairs of bottom soles and 1 gallon of ABC white cement for 4 dozens pairs of top soles.

Financing Weavers in Cluster I resort to microfinancing loans from Producers Bank or Banco Santiago de Libon at 2.5% interest per month payable in 6 months.

In Cluster II, a member who has money loan to the group at 5% interest per month. For specific orders, a 50% down payment of the agreed price is required from the customer. So P750.00 is collected from a customer for the agreed price of P1,500.00 for a set with crocheted edging consisting of 2 pieces of 14” TV set covers, 4 pieces of drop window curtains, 1 set of computer cover, and 2 pieces of hanging door curtains.

Weavers in Cluster III get thread on loan or on cash basis. All loans are paid and thread is taken on cash basis during the harvest seasons (April and October), and the soil preparation/planting seasons (June and November).

Marketing The Bicolanos themselves patronize woven products due to their time-tested strength and durability. Buyers in general, go straight to the weavers to purchase the products. Sales are brisk and no stock is retained during the harvest seasons and in the months of November and January. The Catholic Church, through the nuns, also place regular orders in bulk, blankets and towels and other items from any of the clusters. Orders are also received from “balikbayans”.

There are marketers, based in the locality, who regularly buy products from individual weavers and sell them to teachers and employees in neighboring towns and cities on installment; and Manila-based ones, who take orders for custom- made products. There is also a trader who comes to buy all the blankets in stock, rejects nothing in terms of quality or color combination, and dispatches them to Mindanao. The weavers, too, are the marketers themselves - they buy from their peers and do direct or door-to-door selling, or go to the public markets, farms, schools, or offices to sell woven products.

Cluster III maintains a regular stock pile of its products as it has 7 regular marketers and 4 outlets of its products. The regular marketers, all direct sellers operating within Bicol, get slippers, towels and blankets worth P500 to P1,000 on a 15- or 30-day consignment basis. The novelty items under the label Botingting Handwoven Products are farmed on 2-month consignment to two branches of the Outdoor Shop (P3,000 to P4,000 worth of goods each branch) and Master Square (P2,000 to P3,000) in Naga, and a tourist shop (P3,000 to P5,000) in Cagsawa, Legazpi. Unsold goods at the end of the consignment period are retrieved.

None of the clusters has a product catalogue, display center or regular store for all its products. There are usual cases of unmet orders, particularly for Cluster II, due to shortage of raw materials.


The general policy of the project emphasizes assistance to women in the improvement of their current marketing endeavors as well as in the creation of new opportunities.

Brief Background on the Embroidery Industry The present generation of embroiders in Baao, Camarines Sur trace back to 1910 the art and skill of embroidery, with Francisca Esplana, her daughter Pacita, doing embroidered handkerchiefs by hand. In the late1930s to the 1940s, Petra Buena passed on the skill to the succeeding generation, as they did bulk orders of embroidered priestly vestments, tablecloths, bed covers and pillow cases. In the 1950s embroidery started to be done with sewing machines with the generation of Remedios Malasarte, Isidra Benosa and Juana Palencia. In the late 1950s to the early 1970s, Ciriaca Balmaseda had her big house full of sewers and embroiders making embroidered ladies’ undergarments, bed covers and pillow cases. Balmaseda herself sew and embroidered while also teaching young ladies the skills. Her husband and more than 20 others were marketing the products within and outside Bicol.

The present generation of embroiders do mostly pillow cases, bed covers and bath robes on sewing machines. A few have electric motors attached to the sewing machine so the embroider does not have to pedal anymore. Only two embroiders are cited as having high speed sewing machines like those in use in garments factories in Bulacan and China.

To date, no young lady is interested in embroidery and no mother is keen on teaching their daughters the skill. The males, on the other hand were never interested in embroidery, even if the are jobless at prolonged times and even if embroidery is the only source of livelihood of a family of 5 or more members. The males and other members usually help by freeing the embroiders of domestic tasks like taking care of the youngsters, house cleaning and cooking.

As an industry or trade, embroidery hardly advanced in Bicol – not in product design and innovation nor in technology. It still throbs,however, and orders still trickle. But it remains a home based and individualized endeavor. Since it is viewed as a laborious alternative source of income that pays too low and an exclusively woman’s trade, many young women would rather go to Japan or work as domestic helpers.

The Producers There are more than 30 embroiders in Baao and the neigboring San Pascual, Camarines Sur, all home-based. Majority of these are members of PATAMABA and they are quite old, with ages ranging from mid-30’s to late 50’s, married to husbands who are either jobless or occasionally employed as construction workers or farmhands. None of them rents the house they live in, which are mostly substandard annexes to the existing house of their parents, or provided by children or siblings who are working overseas. The women take up embroidery jobs only as a last resort for lack of alternative means to sustain the family or augment meager resources.

Embroidery is not an easy job yet it pays too low - an average net income of P305 for work of 8 to 12 hours a day, 5 to 7 days a week. It demands patience and concentration. On top of embroidery, embroiders take care of domestic chores, like laundry and food preparation, especially if the husband is working. The unemployed husband and the rest of the household may help but domestic chores remain the mothers’ concerns.

The common work-related health hazards of embroidery toll heavily on victims. Poor eyesight or glaucoma, persistent back pain, varicose veins or arthritic limbs due to long working hours in one position and routine movement; and needle pierced nail and finger are common reasons for retiring from the trade even when one is not yet advanced in age. One victim’s veins in the eye burst with blood while she was taking a bath after working on three patches for uniforms. She went back to her trade after a year of regular medication for want of other means to sustain her family.

  • Product Development, Quality Control and Pricing Products are usually ordered as special gifts to balikbayan’s, at weddings and other special occasions. These are the types usually seen in tourist gift shops. Other products are made upon order and specifications of customers. The regular products done for stock piling or upon orders are
  • bathrobes (made of satin, with embroidery along surface edges, in different sizes and assorted colors);
  • bedcovers (size 60” x 78”, with drop on the sides to cover sides of bed, with embroidery along edges);
  • pillow cases (with or without matching bedcover,size 17” x 27” with or without ruffles, with embroidery along edges);
  • embroidered pillow cases (size 17” x 27”) and throw pillow cases (size 17” x 17”) with or without ruffles, made of recycled cloth or flour sack; and
  • delicately embroidered table cloth, runners and priestly vestments are also made upon order by the Carmelite nuns.

Only the traditional designs and colors of flowers, birds and fowls in different motions are seen on finished products. The wings of birds and fowls are done spread out for luck.

Product Development, Quality Control, Costs and Pricing Embroidery is undertaken as an individual enterprise, and therefore to each her own. Decades pass without change in embroidery designs, choice of colors and materials, and product mix.

Sewing machine is the basic tool of embroiders. Singer is the preferred brand because of its tested durability. Brand new sewing machines cost anywhere from P3,500.00 to P5,000.00 but it can be leased at P40.00 per month. The maintenance cost of the machine inclusive of motor oil, miscellaneous supplies such as needles and pins, and transportation expenses are considered insignificant. Materials and supplies are purchsed at retail price in Iriga City.

Likewise, tracing of designs on textiles are not considered as costs. Each embroider keeps her own file of patterns/designs (copies of designs previously commissioned or copied from books and magazines).

Products are sold at prevailing prices which may be unreasonably low on some items. For example, the selling price of pillow cases with ruffles 17” x 27” (1 pair) is P275.00, the average cost incurred is P160.00 (labor and materials), with a net profit of P 54.50 only; or a 60”x78” bedcover, which is sold at P1,500.00 and where average cost (materials and labor) is P 1439.50, with a net profit of only P61.50.

Product development and quality control, along with the development of the industry itself, can progress only if the embroiders are organized into a cooperative enterprise, and if financial, technological and marketing interventions take place simultaneously.

Financing For job orders, the embroider requires a 50% down payment from the customer. The cash received will be used to buy the materials that will be needed to complete the job.

The temptation to borrow for the purpose of funding materials with which to stock pile products is always present. Institutions that are willing to extend microfinancing loans are Producers Bank , Banco Santiago de Libon and the Kabalikat para sa Maunlad na Buhay, Inc. (KMBI) of the Catholic Church. All institutions are based in Naga City.

At Producers Bank, instead of collaterals, borrowers are required to form a cell of 6 members, to whom individual loans shall be extended by the bank, to be paid weekly for six months. In case a member defaults 3 times, the non-defaulting members shall share in assuming the balance of her loan. Thus, by the end of the 6 month period, when no loan shall remain outstanding, the borrowers will get a so-called rebate or savings from their loans. They may apply for a renewal of loan for as long as they remain a six-member cell.

Marketing Sales are brisk during harvest seasons (more money is circulating) and during the opening of classes in June and in January. These are also the marrying months for couples and vacation time for locals who come home as balikbayan. Embroidered items are the favored gifts during these important occasions. Producers run out of stocks and there are even unmet demands during these months.

Buyers usually go directly to the embroiders to purchase their products. There are traders or marketers. who periodically place orders for regular or custom-made products, that they themselves sell on installment to teachers and employees in neighboring towns and cities

For added income, embroiders also sell their own and their peers’ products in the public markets of neighboring towns and barangays. They also do direct selling, going house-to-house, even in the remote barrios.

Recommendations For weaving and embroidery, the common work-related health hazards toll heavily on women: Poor eyesight or glaucoma, persistent back pain, varicose veins or arthritic limbs due to long working hours in one position and routine movement; and needle pierced nail and finger.

Addressing the above problems must be in conjunction with other equally important considerations in order to achieve a more effective and efficient undertaking.

  • Through training, business development assistance and basic business management tools must be extended to members, focusing on individual abilities and the organization’s business operations. Regular monitoring must take place to ensure that such tools are appropriate for the level of operations and potential capabilities of each member and that of the organization.
  • There is need to tap professional assistance for improved and better quality production. In addition members will also need training on new product designs, color combinations, packaging, promotions, and product diversification.
  • Development of promotional materials (brochures) and setting up a marketing shop to serve as wholesale and retail outlet, also for showcasing products and storage for inventories or stocks. Quality direction and design development must be considered in marketing their products.
  • Awareness and education on proper credit utilisation and timing must be undertaken to ensure that loans are utilized as intended and that borrowers will avoid overborrowing.