Like stone playfully skipping on the water surface, Typhoon Yolanda made landfall several times when she entered the country. One such landfall was in northern Cebu, which left Bantayan Island devastated and isolated. Almost all structures were flattened and industries came to a screeching halt.
In the aftermath, members of the Association of Negros Producers, themselves coming from hardship during the sugar crisis of the 80s, actively sought to offer livelihood assistance to storm-ravaged communities. One of them is Marichu Cusi who runs Kiculo Crafts, a fashion accessory company owned by her daughter, Kitkat Lobaton. Providing livelihood to those who need them is in the DNA of Kiculo . The company has been working with beneficiaries of Gawad Kalinga in Bacolod who supply the bag lining. This innate desire to help now finds new meaning outside Negros, as Kiculo breathes life to “Smiles Beyond Borders”, the theme of the 29th Negros Trade Fair.
Living on disaster relief cannot be sustainable. Bantayan’s predicament caught the attention of foreign assistance, among them, the French NGO Humanitarian Open Source Touch, or HOST. The weaving of pandan leaves into fashionable bags, common in many parts of the country but not quite in Bantayan, suddenly presented a vibrant source of income. The people of HOST connected with Marichu, offering to undertake the training of the locals to produce bags against strict specifications. That Marichu and her daughters wear their bags daily assures buyers and cautions suppliers of Kiculo’s relentless focus on design, workmanship, and durability. Thus, putting the Kiculo label on woven bags from Bantayan will provide quantifiable endorsement and quantifiable help to the storm-crippled community.
The Bantayan Tote will debut at Kiculo’s booth at the 29th Negros Trade Fair. It will come in two sizes. The large tote reflects a young, utilitarian, laidback lifestyle, its neat weaving pattern offering a rustic island feel that shouts “weekend getaway”! The smaller Bantayan Tote appeals to a wide swathe of age groups, from empowered millenials to powerful boomers. And because the Bantayan Tote is loaded with concern for victims of Yolanda, it is a statement piece, a badge if you will, of love for humanity. Out of altruistic passion comes altruistic fashion.
Since Kiculo joined the trade fair a decade ago, its bags have become iconic to the event. Theirs are not run-of-the-mill “native” bags. Every year, bold and distinguishing elements are noticeable, in one year patadyong-design laminate handles, and in another, generous clusters of sparkling faux pearls in deep color. Unexpected design sets a Kiculo bag apart. In 2014, Marichu is incorporating a lot of leather in her woven bags, not just as handles, straps, and bottom guards, but as details. The Kiculo Leather Mosaic line uses leather cut-outs stitched to appear like mosaic tiles. The leather is done in the same color finish as the weaving, giving a final look of muted elegance and serene stability. The Leather Mosaic bag won top honors for the Fashion sector at the 2014 Bulawan Awards of the Association of Negros Producers.
Colors will make a big splash at the Kiculo booth come September. The Juliet Bag, a favorite among Kiculo customers, uses crocheted wax cord handles and comes ornamented with faux pearls. But the biggest update is in the use of multi-color pandan weaving.