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Jeannie Javelosa: What makes a great woman

Jojo G. Silvestre

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If I wasn’t sure about how she would react, I would name Jeannie Javelosa, co-founder of the pioneering ECHOStore and the GREAT Women brand, as one of the greatest women of our time and of her generation. But knowing her, she’d probably just ignore the whole label, or worse, she’d reprimand me for describing her in the most fawning of words. If I sound like crawling all over her, don’t blame me. It’s not only that she’s easy to like and admire, she has proven herself through her many successful endeavors.

An action woman — that is who Jeannie Javelosa is, whether she is empowering other women, promoting indigenous products, getting us to enjoy slow food, demonstrating how we can conserve the environment, fleshing out the idea of sustainability, or simply walking us through a green exhibition. No wonder she’s the kind who, if you try to recall when you first met her, you would not remember because, well, she has been everywhere. To use the trite expression, she’s been there, she’s done that.

JEANNIE Javelosa, advocate for culture, sustainability
and gender.

I know her best for her leadership in promoting Philippine arts and culture. To be specific, she was the lady who gave me my scholarship grant for all courses of the Institute of Culture and Arts Management (ICAM) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) at the start of the millennium. I just introduced myself and probably seeing in me that x factor (ha ha), she decided there was a hint of a chance I just might make a difference.

Now, here’s the shameful part. After all these years of writing about everyone and everything, it’s only now I am writing about her and what’s keeping her busy for the sake of dear humanity or make that mother indigenous earth. Better late than never, as they say.

But to go back to ICAM, Jeannie can probably revive the institute because many of our arts and culture movers today used to be students in this esteemed yet short-lived “institution” of learning. It may be gone, as they say, but it lives on in the accomplishments of its alumni and faculty members.

With so many schools now offering arts administration, there’s probably no need to revive it, but how Jeannie Javelosa did it then, getting the best from the different agencies and NGO to teach the fledglings and the promising, as well as those who have been in the sector and succeeding with their hit-and-miss approach, is a strategy that probably needs some replication here and there.

ON display at Makati Shangri-La’s lobby are indigenous textiles created by Filipino women.

It was also unique in that it brought together cultural workers from all over the country, thus not only forming a pool of talent and expertise, as it were, but also creating a “bank of best practices” from which to draw creative solutions to issues and problems.

Of her many attributes, Jeannie’s ability to spot great potential, whether this be in a person or a talent or a resource, stands out. The ongoing Women’s Month collaboration of GREAT Women (Gender Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women) with Makati Shangri-La, “TAPESTRY – CELEBRATING the GREAT in WOMEN,”  activities that support women producers of textiles and  food products, proves once again Jeannie’s third-eye capability for knowing which one would click or not.

Anyone who views “Inspirations and Innovations,”  the ongoing textile installation at the Shangri-La Makati central lobby, can only marvel at the exquisite craftsmanship with which indigenous textiles, including the Panay hablon and patadyong, the habi of Camarines Sur and the back strap textiles from the Bagobo, Tagabawa and Maranaw groups, have been produced.

I am not amazed at all that the Filipinos can create such masterpieces. Instead, I am impressed and grateful that Jeannie and her GREAT Women and Makati Shangri-La, under the leadership of general manager Greg Findlay and his staff, especially Patti Javier of the hotel’s public relations department, in partnership with Dedes Zobel, Olivia Limpe-Aw and other women-who-matter, should arrive at a meeting of minds, spirit, talent and resources to celebrate the indigenous Filipino women.

The culminating event will be the “Great Women Fashion Show” on Saturday, 30 March, 4 p.m. at the Lobby Lounge, showing a collection of contemporary women’s wear made from handwoven textiles by community weavers. The trunk show is from today, 29 March up to 31 March, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

JEANNIE and Makati Shangri-La general manager Greg Findlay unveil the textile exhibit.

I am sharing excerpts from my recent conversation with Jeannie whom I visited in the GREAT Women showroom on Arnaiz Avenue in Makati. It was a long overdue visit to a dear mentor and ideal woman, no wonder that we touched on various topics which, I trust, will give you an idea of how fantastically engaged Jeannie is in many causes and concerns, especially the economic empowerment of our indigenous women in the countryside.

All part of the journey

Daily Tribune (DT): You’re very healthy.
Jeannie Javelosa (JJ): Well, I try so hard.

DT: You weren’t at the Assumption Velada the last time.
JJ: No, we turned emerald two years ago. Why were you there?

DT: You know naman the social climber. So I was there. That’s my branding.
JJ: (laughs) I like the idea. Oh, but I am not the social type, if you’re gonna be social climbing with me.

DT: There are different ways of climbing. One can be an achiever and have a reason to mix. Or one climbs by just being there (laughs).
JJ: Okay, so we’re the social climbers here today (laughs).

DT: Are you still with the Yuchengco Museum?
JJ: Yes, I still am.

DT: I am confused.
JJ: I know. People get confused with me. And I keep saying maybe it is my creative part because at the end you cannot label people. But when you look at everything that we have been doing, it’s still aligned. And it’s all aligned because we’re bringing small producers and indigenous people’s products into the mainstream, be it green, sustainable, or women company, it’s the same.

DT: So, the one I am looking at is still you?
JJ: It’s still me. So if I were to really kalkal (rummage through) everything that I am engaged in, it’s still coming from culture. It’s either green, or sustainable, or slow food, or women. They are interrelated.

DT: You’re with the slow food movement also, right?
JJ: Yes, even with women, our weavers, or indigenous people weaving. All of that is the expression of our culture. So it’s still culture-based, it is Filipino, but because I’ve been involved with ASEAN through the CCP (Cultural Center iof the Philippines) and the the NCCA. I set up the ASEAN Desk and the International Desk of the NCCA before. So I know ASEAN culture.

DT: So, it’s all part of the journey.
JJ: Yes, it’s all part of the journey. It just gets enriched in the business enterprise space. So if my advocacy was cultural preservation before, now it is bringing a development perspective through our foundation of helping the small people who are the bearers of culture. Helping them, be they people who are weavers, crafts people, people who actually plant our indigenous grains and fruits, and people who know our cooking methodologies. Culture ‘yan eh. Also bringing together destination areas that are holistic in approach for the visitors to understand the full expression of culture. I am also a storyteller because I write and I brand. I am also an artist when you see me writing my book, or designing something. It’s still aligned.

DT: It’s very holistic, it’s very you.
JJ: Yes, exactly. But you can understand that only when you really know me. It’s still culture, it’s still development and sustainability. It just so happens that part of the sustainability is we have to help women because it’s half of the population in the country. And most of them are in micro-business so the face of poverty, actually the global face of poverty is the woman farmer. That’s why you also have to help them produce food through agribusiness. So sustainability, culture and the whole advocacy of storytelling impact is what I do.

The storyteller

DT: Is the GREAT Women part of your storytelling?
JJ: It’s the same DNA. I am taking the leap for GREAT Women. We focus on weaving because it’s a woman’s craft all over the country. And we would like to support women producers because a lot of them are not in the market, they cannot reach the market, and they don’t know the market. So everything we’ve done is always to tell them: Where are they going?
Where’s your market? You can’t keep doing something you only like if you don’t know where you are going.

DT: Do you have your cooperators? How are they called?
JJ: No, we have communities that we help.

DT: But how did you find them?
JJ: Well, through the ECHOStore, ever since 10 years ago. We were working with them on the food, we were helping them with their crops and everything. With GREAT Women, we just focused on weaving. The emphasis is on the non-food, just so the brands do not conflict.
ECHOStore focuses on foods, GREAT Women on the non-food.

DT: The delineation is very clear.
JJ: Now, isn’t it very clear? That’s why what you see here are textiles, handmade items and things we can talk about. And our direction now on this space is the full supply chain, not just the bag. It is about the threads, where they are weaving it, how’s the community center, how’s the weaving center, are they being trained financially, is it ready internationally, is there proper lighting, are they ordering correctly, how is the width of the loom, how is your loom, is it a back strap or handloom, are they ready for the handloom? Maybe we should not even give a handloom because there are cultural directions of back strap looms.

DT: So this is not just a boutique?
JJ: No. A whole development platform.

DT: What’s your approach?
JJ: The approach is going downstream through the foundation, the development programs. Funding comes from grants.

DT: Where do you get your funding?
JJ: A lot is from the private sector. We tell them this is what we’re doing. And then the enterprise, the social enterprise sells. So we’re looking at all the ways to sell our products.
It’s so hard because we realized after two years that we needed to know where we we were going. Where are we gonna go with this? We don’t want to be a Pinoy balikbayan craft. We leave that to those who are doing it already. We also don’t want to just be a brand.

We also asked where the gap was and we found out it was in the textile. The designers didn’t have textile. What we realized is that we’re just weaving polyester that we buy from China, threads and all. So PTRI, Philippine Textile Research Institute, and we are partners on the ground for threads. Okay, we are putting up a micro-yarn spinning facility, so that we can blend pineapple, banana and so on.

DT: These are local products?
JJ: They are soon combining local thread blends.

DT: Separately?
JJ: Yes. Cotton is coming in from India and China. We’re not even planting as much here except for Ilocos. Ilocos has some.

DT: And Bulacan?
JJ: A little. So what we are trying to do is organize the thread source.

DT: It’s going to be local?
JJ: Yes. This is our example.

DT: Well, you have piña in Aklan for example.
JJ: Yes, but you see that’s just one thread. What we want to do is blend abaca, piña, water lily… how nice.

DT: That’s new?
JJ: Yes. That’s what we wanted to do with Philippine Textile Research Institute.
So, an example of innovation is we decided, we won’t stay very much in the traditional.

Schools of innovation

DT: What will you do instead?
JJ: We’re not staying traditional, we’re innovating. So if NCCA has schools for living tradition, our vision in GREAT Women is to create schools of innovation. We’re starting with the Bagobo, for example. Take a look at those abaca, that one up there is traditional Bagobo.

DT: How about those bags and throw pillows?
JJ: Yes, abaca, vegetable dye, done in a very traditional way. When we went to them, we said, “What if we gave you cotton?” Candy [Great Women’s textile expert] sat in the circle and discussed with them. Half of the group did that one because they wanted the old way. The other half was young. We left them alone. The results were beautiful. So, this is Bagobo today. Our stock is almost gone.

DT: Is it what the people want?
JJ: The designers want it.

DT: Who are these designers?
JJ: Fashion and home. They came here, they were buying.

DT: So not just for garment.
JJ: For accessories, too, and the home.

DT: What about the designers?
JJ: Our market will be the designers. To help them.

DT: So you are focusing on that now? You’re prioritizing it?
JJ: That’s one main business stream for GREAT Women, which is what we try to bring internationally.

DT: Now that you’re telling me, that is awesome.
JJ: You know why it’s GREAT?

DT: Why?
JJ: It means Gender Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women.

DT: You thought of that?
JJ: No, it was a project before of Canada. It was not finished. So what happened was we realized we could not sell all the products in ECHOStore. Hindi naman green and there are too many textiles. So we made a brand. Canada said to give the brand to the private sector.

So we own the GREAT Women brand. That brand is what my storytelling is all about. It’s women helping women. It’s about economic empowerment. We focus on the economic aspect of their lives. For them to keep the money in their hands. That’s the big vision. It’s a platform, and that platform looks at every potential business that can support women.

We’re now expanding our textile, the width. We’re changing the combinations, we’re defining — these are for apparels, these are for bottoms, these are for skirts and these are for shirts. Then, the traditional colors are changing, too. They are more contemporary. We also have upcycled textile, recycled threads… and all of these have a story.

We’re the only one with a swatch book. That’s because we know how to document. If you read our swatch book, you will read the name of the community, the production capacity, whoever weaves it and so now this way, the designer will know if he can do a big collection or if he can have this kind of color.

DT: You’re like a data bank.
JJ: Yes, because I am cultural worker. If I were only a fashion designer, I’d give it up. If I weren’t in development, there’s no way I’d do this. And because we know development, we know how to work with grants. So there is a clear demarcation between what is development and what is enterprise. That is why this is social enterprise.

DT: You’re helping them by connecting them to the grants?
JJ: One, but were helping them because we are buying. We’re selling them.

DT: You buy and then you sell?
JJ: Yes. Even the capacity to purchase is a development as well as an innovation. Because, think about it, we don’t have the big money to buy. But because we are able to work with an institution that is willing to help impact, there is a revolving little loan. We manage the money but it does not go to us. The money goes straight to them. So when we order, they are paid. They don’t have to wait for 60 or 30 days. They are fully paid.

DT: Where is the fund from?
JJ: Peace and Equity Foundation. But now, we are developing it as a real purchase fund. With other grants coming in, other loan connections. Because they, like the banks, are afraid to loan to the small, but they are willing to work with us, because we are the one buying and selling.

DT: Why do they do that when they don’t expect to make big money?
JJ: Social impact. They want to help women, too.

DT: Thanks so much for enlightening us about the GREAT Women. It’s really a pathfinding endeavor that only you are capable of initiating.
JJ: Oh, don’t say that. Everything we do is group effort. This is all about women empowerment. This is about women, and this is about us. We, of course, want to give our best.

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