NORTHLOOM: Carry Your Culture
When my sister posted her first batch of pictures from Barcelona and Granada last month, what drew my immediate attention was neither the gorgeous Gothic architecture nor the equally gorgeous legs of jamon hanging from a metal rod in the market. Instead it was her backpack that caught my eye: black body, non-messy straps, and three big outer pockets made of a striking indigenous pattern. It was just the type of backpack I was looking to use for my upcoming trips, and I’m afraid my very first message to my sister was not “How was your flight?” but “OY! Can I have your backpack?!”
Happily, I learned that not only was the bag — a NORTHLOOM Miguee backpack — available in the Philippines, it was created in the Philippines by a brand whose mission and methods my sister, and now I, are thrilled to support.
NORTHLOOM bags feature the Ilocano abel, a handwoven fabric made in the Philippines’ far north by a steadily dwindling group of skillful weavers. It’s tedious work: just prepping the yarn to be woven takes over a week, as each strand needs to be strapped to the loom’s back beam and passed through the reed one by one. A single 50-yard roll takes an entire month to weave; an intricately designed blanket can take up to 4 months. The enormous time investment — both in learning the craft and in practicing it — is partly the reason why this tradition of weaving is slowly dying among younger Ilocanos. A pity, really, as the abel was such an integral thread in the fabric of Ilocano life, used in a variety of ways from infant wraps, blankets, wedding gifts, and even as heirlooms.
It is this tradition that NORTHLOOM aims to honor and preserve by incorporating the abel into its bags. Their slogan is “carry your culture” — a call for Filipinos to support the art of their ancestors. In sharing this beautiful piece of Ilocano artistry with the rest of the Philippines and the world, they hope that they can awaken enough interest and demand for the abel to entice a new generation of weavers and sustain those that have made this fabric their life’s work.
For now, NORTHLOOM is more of a cottage industry than a big brand, employing one regular abel weaver and one bag maker — with more called into service when demand is high — and one guy doing marketing, finance, messengering, etc. I’m hoping to write more about them and about NORTHLOOM in the coming weeks but for now here’s how you can support the few remaining Ilocano abel weavers: buy these NORTHLOOM bags. They’re great for traveling — both functionally, in form, and even as a conversation piece — and considering the amount of work and skill that goes into each bag, they are very reasonably priced.
The prices below are as of March 20, 2015. The prices in Philippine pesos (PHP) are from NORTHLOOM, while the dollar equivalents I computed myself using a $1 = PHP45 rate. Ordering instructions are in the last photo below. Thanks for supporting Filipino culture!