Face masks made from Inabel and Binakol handwoven fabrics

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many small businesses, but it also encouraged many to transform their businesses by adapting their products to the needs of the times. 

Entrepreneur Esrom Asuncion, from San Juan, Ilocos Norte, is the owner of Esrom’s House of Eco Buri, which sells colourful and trendy straw bags, pouches and buri bags. He was a regular at trade exhibits where his products were among the top picks among local and international buyers. 

But when the pandemic came, Esrom suddenly lost his buyers. “I realized that my buri bags lost its market. Pasalubong Centers and Trade Fairs were prohibited. People do not need my bags anymore; they only need essential items to survive COVID-19,” he said.  

Esrom has in stock lots of Inabel and Binakol fabrics, materials for making the native bags. Out of these materials and other scrap fabrics from his shop, he began making face masks—which are in huge demand at the moment. 

“As an Ilocano, I wanted to promote the genuine Ilocano culture and heritage through our Inabel fabric. It’s also a way of helping our local weavers earn a living amidst the pandemic.” Esrom added.

Inabel fabric is indigenous to the Ilocos region. The term actually means handwoven or “hinabi” in Filipino. 

Inabel weaving is a practice handed down from generation to generation. It is manually woven through a wooden-pedal loom and traditionally used for blankets, pillowcases, table runners, bags and other garments.

With interlocked geometric patterns, “Binakol,” on the other hand, is a variation of the Inabel weave. 

To ensure the quality of the face masks, Esrom personally facilitates the production at his shop, starting from the pattern making up to sewing. 

Community members are involved in making the Inabel face masks

Members of Esrom’s community in San Juan are involved in making the face masks. Esrom prioritized those who have been displaced from their previous employment. 

To sell the unique face masks, Esrom tapped online platforms, where orders are placed and paid through online banking apps or money remittances. 

Purchased products are sent to customers via courier services. 

The washable Inabel and Binakol face masks have already reached the Ilocos Region and Metro Manila markets. They have also been purchased by customers living in Japan and Hawaii.

From a zero-income-generating business during the 1st few weeks of community quarantine, they  have earned P20,000 income in less than two months of production.

“The COVID-19 has brought a drastic impact to MSMEs like me. In this difficult time, we need to step-up and find that ‘silver lining’ to help us get through it. To my fellow MSMEs, let’s bounce back and help one another.” Esrom said.