Women Trading Globally Program participant exports sustainable Filipino weaving culture to the world
In 2019, the ECA welcomed Anya Lim of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery to Brisbane and Sydney on the Australia Awards Women Trading Globally Program, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Anya is one of a growing number of young female social entrepreneurs in the Philippines.
She is turning the spotlight back onto traditional handwoven Filipino fabrics and designs. ANTHILL currently exports its niche products to clients in the
US (with its large Filipino population), Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Austria and more recently, Australia – and demand is steadily growing.
Anya has kindly shared some Q&A about her business growth since the program, and how she has been dealing with COVID-19.
Established in 2010 and incorporated in 2015, ANTHILL (Alternative Nest and Trading/ Training Hub for Indigenous and Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers) is a social and cultural enterprise established to address the degradation of the weaving culture in the Philippines.
ANTHILL is a women-led and women-run enterprise. About 95 per cent of the team are female. It also strives to create new sustainable income opportunities for women in weaving communities. ANTHILL’s main goal is to celebrate Filipino culture and preserve its famous traditions. All of the products are locally made, something that Anya is very proud of.
About 90 per cent of the handwoven fabrics used in its apparel line is woven from up-cycled thread or textile production scraps that could otherwise end up in landfills and contribute to environmental pollution. As well as a commitment to cultural preservation, ANTHILL prides itself in continuously working on textile research and innovation around circular fashion. Most products come in limited quantities or one of a kind pieces, with a growing global demand for such high quality, distinctive garments.
From its humble beginnings, ANTHILL now supports more than 400 weavers and craft artisans in three direct partner communities across the Philippines representing urban, rural and indigenous sectors. Most encouragingly, 50 per cent of those weavers are aged from 18-40 years, ranging to over 80 years old.
Q&A with Anya Lim
Co-Founder, Princess Ant and Managing Director of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery
What led to you commencing the international expansion of ANTHILL?
It has been our vision to put the Philippine fabrics on the global map, show our exquisite fabrics to the world, share the richness of our handloom traditions and expand our market reach outside the Philippines. This is anchored on our impact commitments to preserve the culture and provide a sustainable livelihood. Our market expansion allows us to increase our investments in capacity building and further support the enterprise development of our partner community artisans. This way, we are able to increase the positive impact and support more weaving communities. Furthermore, it also lifts the dignity and pride among our weavers and partner artisans when they know their beautiful weaves are showcased around the world.
What did you learn from participating in the Australia Awards Women Trading Globally program in 2019?
The Australia Awards Women Trading Globally program equipped me with tools and skill to prepare myself for international expansion. I learned the value of evaluating your domestic stance and really having a clear objective for expansion. Going global has risks and businesses should venture out on expansion opportunities with a plan and confidence that they are ready for it. We were taught to focus on our strengths and leverage on that in our market offering and this really worked to ANTHILL's advantage. I also learned that it is very important to select the right market and develop a core offer tailor fit to their needs. Exploring new markets will require your business to be agile and innovative but it is also imperative to ground your brand in your values as you scale.
From the program, we were able to deepen our relationship with the Australian Embassy in the Philippines who have shown us continuous genuine support in providing linkages and expanding our network. Because of these connections, the Department of Trade in Industry in Australia hosted a business to a business meeting for ANTHILL to pitch its products and services in Australia for potential buyers. The shared camaraderie among the participants has also been a great source of support.
As a result of participating in the program, what are some successes that you have experienced?
We were able to apply lessons gained from the program in our international trunk shows in the United States and Australia. From 2019, we have increased our international collaborations by 50% mostly as a textile supplier and online international sales by 30%. We have grown an active community of Proud Weave Wearers in the US. This 2020, we've also had an opportunity to do a pop up in Australia in partnership with Sari Sari Sisterhood and Entreepinay, a collective of Filipina entrepreneurs that seek to promote awareness of Filipino cuisine, culture and community through creative events. Our collaboration with them paved the way for us to have our first stockist in Australia- 8 Apparel in Moonee Ponds, Melbourne. Because of these connections, we've also had the privilege of making aprons for Dovetail End Cafe in Brisbane.
How have you been impacted by COVID-19 and how have you responded?
The crisis has been a test of resilience and grit in our work life. As a social enterprise, we are committed to choosing people over profit. We worked on strategies for business continuity and ensure that everyone gets to keep their jobs and sustain their livelihood especially since most artisans have become sole breadwinners of the family. It's a huge economic threat to our business so we had to pivot fast and be agile on executing strategies so we're able to still have a steady flow of income stream. We pivoted to mask production and bundling of essential goods of our existing inventories. The masks production has been the current lifeblood of the business. We have also decentralised our supply chain so our team can work from home. The ECQ measures have limited us from running smooth operations. Logistics and mobility have been very challenging but we've managed to shuttle our mobile skeletal work team to and from our workplace twice a week.