Lockdown Economy Philippines in a Local Clothing Brand with Veronica Baguio

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

In this interview, we meet Veronica Baguio, the founder and owner of Balik Batik, a social enterprise in Liloan, Cebu. Veronica established Balik Batik due to her love for local products and drive to wear pieces made out of local fabrics. She started the business with “batik” products and later on expanded the catalogue ranging from north to south, from one ethnic group to another. The brand started right before the lockdown in Cebu so Veronica had only one week to ship out orders then. With the surge of the “Support Local” movement, comes the rise of the numbers of local patrons. Hence, the business was able to live through the challenges brought by the pandemic and the lockdown. The brand started to gain attention online to the point that the well-known Filipino boy band SB19 sported a customized Balik Batik ensemble for their 2020 Philippines-Korean Cultural Exchange Festival performance.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Hello Veronica! How are you?

Veronica: Maayong hapon! How are you, Miss Julie? Thank you so much for having us.

I’m doing great and thank you for joining us for the Lockdown Economy. So let us start, introduce to us your business Balik Batik.

Veronica: Balik Batik is a social enterprise and we promote Filipino traditional handwoven fabrics, embroidery design and traditional artistry through modern clothing pieces and accessories. We partner with weaving communities and indigenous groups from all over the Philippines and we work with them on designs for blazers, jackets and cover-ups that are wearable by Filipinos any day or every day.

Veronica, what is the advocacy that Balik Batik stands for?

Veronica: This really started with a love for local. I’ve always really liked local designs ever since a few years back, but I’ve never really been able to wear them because they’re for formal events — so pang-formal, maybe sauna, eh hindi naman pupunta sa sauna! I love and admire these designs, but never really got around to wearing them or having one of my own. This year, I had a work trip to different cities in Mindanao and I discovered some blazers that I really love because they look so uniquely Filipino. I felt that these are pieces that I can wear to work and I realize that a lot of other people would want to wear Filipino designs on a more regular basis. More than that, advocacy is about promoting Filipino designs because we have very many traditional and diverse designs in terms of handwoven fabrics and embroidery traditions from all over the Philippines and different indigenous groups. We want to promote that so that more Filipinos appreciate the diversity of our culture and design.

Veronica, may I know what is the exact name of the fabric used by Balik Batik?

Veronica: It’s interesting because we started with batik products and batik is a printed fabric. However, ever since we started in March 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, we really expanded to using many different handwoven fabrics from different indigenous and weaving communities. For example, for Mindanao we have t’nalak (or tinalak) from the T’boli of South Cotabato. We’ve also created pieces using inaul from the Iranun tribe; inaul is a traditional handwoven fabric of Maguindanao. In Visayas, we have the hablon de argao from Cebu where I’m from, and hablon from Iloilo as well. In Luzon, you also have the fabrics from the Cordillera region, you have the Kalinga handwoven fabrics and from Abra, you have binakol and kantarines, so we actually work with a lot of different fabrics.

So you have a diverse catalog!

Veronica: Yes! I’d like to say na it’s from the north to the south, all the way from Abra down to South Cotabato.

Can you tell us something about the donation drive you did for victims of recent typhoons?

Veronica: During the typhoon, I think everyone really felt a great need that our countrymen felt. I think we all know how it felt to see social media posts of people stranded on roofs, so we donated our sales and profits during that time to different donation drives. We identified organizations such as Tindog Bicol that we knew were working on the ground. We also donated to a group in Albay run by youth leaders. We gave our shop based in Bulacan, our partner designers, the resources so that they can cook and prepare meals for the evacuees of the typhoon. During that time, evacuees had no access to food because hindi sila makauwi. Even though we’re a small business we really try to help and a lot of other small businesses did that as well, so it was really nice. It was a difficult time but we all tried to pitch in.

Veronica, how was Balik Batik during the lockdown?

Veronica: It’s very interesting because we actually started right before the lockdown here in Cebu so I had one week to start shipping out pieces and then boom! We’re on lockdown! It was a challenge because we were a new brand. We were just starting out and suddenly we had all these limitations. However, there also came opportunities because everyone was on social media and so we were able to really connect with and grow a community of local lovers by having this online presence and always sharing information about handwoven fabrics or embroidery. At the start, it was a challenge but we just kept on going even if we weren’t sure how long we would be stuck, right? We didn’t know! We just kept going and we’ve been growing ever since.

What are the strategies you’ve utilized to stimulate your business and attract customers online?

Veronica: Being online, I think it’s about being able to get in touch with people or the market. As a young person, I also want to encourage young people to wear Filipino designs. During the start of the pandemic, we were really engaging customers through different means. One example is that people made designs of our pieces on Animal Crossing, a video game played on gaming consoles. How we really connected with people is by sharing information about the different Filipino designs. During that time, a lot of people were online; they were engaged and liked the idea of knowing more about the Philippines through the designs.

Do you know how your customers and competition are doing now?

Veronica: I think right now it’s been great because we’re not the only local brand that popped up this year. I feel like there was such a surge of supporting and promoting local brands and you can really see different small businesses popping up. I think it’s great that we’re not the only ones doing this; we’re not the first, we won’t be the last. I think each brand really brings its own speciality and it’s great that more shops are really promoting local designs.

What is different with Balik Batik?

Veronica: What I think is different about us is we’re very diverse. You have shops that are focused on and promote weaves from certain provinces because that’s where they’re from. Maybe they’re from Mindanao and so they promote the Mindanao fabrics or they’re from Ilocos and so they promote the handwoven fabrics from Ilocos. What we have is a very diverse selection from so many different ethnic groups, so many different weavers. You will see many designs in our pieces.

The second is that we make our designs really wearable not just for special events. You can wear it any day, in your Zoom meetings or at home. That’s what sets us apart — we make our pieces wearable any day, every day.

Last October 31, 2020, the well-known Filipino boy group SB19 wore customized Balik Batik pieces for their performance during the Philippines-Korea Exchange Festival, am I correct?

Veronica: Yes, they did!

Tell us something about that.

Veronica: That was very surprising! I think it’s because we’re so engaging online — we’re on Twitter and that’s how we started. SB19 fans kept suggesting to the band to wear our brand or as fans, they would say, “We want SB19 to wear Balik Batik pieces because they’re a Pinoy pop group and so we want them to wear Pinoy fabrics.” Kami naman — our reaction was, “Whoa!” We’re a small business. We’re just starting out and it’s a big goal. It was a wish! I think the brand got so much traction because the fans saw the designs and really loved the idea of SB19 wearing them. It came to a point where their manager contacted us and my reaction was, “Oh my God!”

When I knew what they were planning for the Philippine-Korean Festival Exchange performance, we were game to create the pieces for them. It was a very collaborative effort. Each member of SB19 had an idea of what they wanted to wear. They collaborated with our designer and we really pushed for handwoven fabrics to be used. They also loved the idea and I think it turned out great!

Veronica, after experiencing such an amazing feat and looking forward, what are your plans?

Veronica: To be honest, when I first started Balik Batik, I had no big plans set and we’re still in awe of how much we’ve grown over the past 10 months. This year we’re going to try and make sense of what’s happened because, for the past few months, we’ve just kept going. We haven’t had the time to pause and reflect on where we are going. My next step is to pause and reflect so we can really plan.

You mentioned earlier that you struggled during the start of Balik Batik because, during that time, quarantine was imposed in Cebu. In terms of struggles, can you name three things you need help with?

Veronica: On the three things we need help with — first I do believe that there are organizations that focus on handweaving fabrics in the Philippines and they have seminars on how to respect the use of these fabrics. That’s one thing that I and maybe other brands that have started would need help with because sometimes we might get too excited about a fabric and we’re not sure if we’re using it correctly. It recently happened that a weaver said we are not allowed to use t’nalak as a face mask. That kind of information, which organizations have, would be very helpful for as we operate. Since we are working with indigenous fabrics, it’s important for us to respect the culture.

The second is training. As a young social entrepreneur without a background in business — my background is actually in Psychology — I don’t have a good grasp and I’m still learning business management. Training in small business management would be very important. The training nowadays really looks at things from a big perspective, but a small business operates differently so I think training on small business management would be very helpful right now. It’s connected to what I said about having to pause and reflect, and maybe learn more so we can grow more.

As for the third one, it’s not technically about help, but it would be really much appreciated if more people would support local brands.

Let’s say that you’re conversing with potential customers — tell them why they should choose Balik Batik.

Veronica: You should choose Balik Batik because we work directly with our partner weavers and artisans. We promote their work, we respect their work, and we want to promote local in collaboration with our partners. We really make sure that our designs are respectful and beautiful.

A local business that promotes a diverse Philippine culture through handwoven fabrics. This is Balik Batik. Thank you so much, Veronica!

Veronica: Daghang salamat!

Walang anuman!

About the Guest

Veronica Baguio is an educator, youth empowerment and mental health advocate, and founder and owner of Balik Batik. She also works as Assistant Principal for the elementary and JHS department of Britech College. In her work with Balik Batik, she believes in the importance of highlighting traditional designs and working closely with indigenous artisans to promote Filipino craftsmanship.

Balik Batik is a social enterprise whose mission is to spread love for Filipino traditional artistry and design through clothing that brings together the traditional and modern. They partner with Filipino artisans, weavers, embroiderers and designers from all over the Philippines and from different indigenous groups to create their pieces.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/balikbatik

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/balikbatik/

Facebook: https://web.facebook.com/balikbatik

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.