Jul 3, 2020

By now you’ve probably noticed the growing interest in washable face masks, especially ones that feature weaves from local artisans. Sellers have been promoting these masks as an easy way to support local culture and the weavers who worked on the fabric.

Both of these sound like good causes to support, until you realize that you might not be fully aware of the stories behind the fabric you’re wearing on your face. For example, did you know that the textiles used for your masks are the same ones used for rituals related to marriage and birth?

One of the woven fabrics used in cloth masks is the Tnalak, which is produced by Mindanao’s Tboli tribe. Photo by Nikka Cunom on Wikimedia Commons

That’s the case for the Tnalak, which is associated with spiritual meanings and traditions for the Tboli people. The designs on the fabric are inspired by weavers’ dreams, and weaved with the community’s culture and beliefs in mind. 

Given the work and thought that goes into weaving the Tnalak, there are also traditions associated with its production and use. Sellers may not even be aware that the Tnalak should not be used for masks, as the cloth should be protected from the wear and tear that cloth masks go through to keep them sanitized.

[READ: We need to talk about the proper way of washing reusable masks]

Aside from textiles being used incorrectly, there’s also the issue of weavers who aren’t acknowledged for the effort they put into weaving the fabric used for the masks. Sadly, there are a number of sellers who use woven fabrics on their masks but fail to acknowledge the communities and locals who worked on it.

Photo by Rico H. Borja for the Philippine News Agency

“Alamin dapat ng supplier or ng consumer yung taong gumawa kasi artisanal products siya,” says designer Maco Custodio, who has worked with the with the Bagobo, Tboli and Blaan tribes through programs initiated by the Philippine Commission on Women. “May sense din kung kilala mo kung ano yung design, kung ilang oras nagawa, ano yung buhay ng weaver—things like that.” 

Custodio also stressed the importance of knowing the kind of work that goes into the weaves, especially in terms of helping preserve our country’s cultural heritage. “Halimbawa, ibebenta na siya or may kliyente ka na, you’ll also share the traditions. Hindi tayo dapat madamot with that, those are essential right now.” 

[READ: Underpaid and unacknowledged: The current state of Filipino weavers]

So the next time you spot someone selling woven face masks online, it pays to be vigilant about the brands you’re considering supporting. Asking questions about the weavers and where the sellers sourced the fabric used in their masks can go a long way.

If you’re considering buying masks with woven designs online, it won’t hurt to learn more about the community and culture that produced the weaves beforehand. One platform that people can consult is the Philippine Textile Research Institute, which carries resources on the types of textiles and even dyeing methods that are found in our country.

You can also read up on the kinds of woven fabrics and symbols you might spot on your woven masks.


Header photo by Travel Philippines on Wikimedia Commons

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Read more:

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TAGS: cloth face mask face masks indigenous weaves local weaves maco custodio nolisoli T'Boli Tnalak traditional weaves