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Stitching a community together

Perseverance, innovation, and diligence all go hand in hand for Elizabeth Agarao. Beth, as she is called, is overseeing a cottage industry of beautiful embroidery. Little did she know that her community would eventually be adorning a world-renowned designer’s collection of bags.

Beth is currently the president and head designer of her own embroidery business. She is also a mentor to other women in her community in Lumban, Laguna. 

CRAFTSWOMAN AND ENTREPRENEUR. Elizabeth Agarao shares her talent as an artisan with other women in her community. 

But her journey in the embroidery business did not start easily. 

Despite growing up in a place where embroidery is the major industry and everyone learns the craft at a young age, she did not. Beth’s mother disapproved of the low earnings, so she had to learn the craft secretly. 

The side panel of Manilacaba features the embroidery of the women embroiderers from Lumban, Laguna. 

Beth wanted to become a teacher after she finished her schooling. Since only contractual positions were available, she took a job as a secretary in an embroidery company until she resigned after getting married. 

Challenges in life came when her husband was laid off from his job. Using the capital from her husband’s last salary, they purchased textiles to embroider and sell in Manila. She also intended to showcase her expertise for the purpose of accepting orders for traditional barongs and wedding gowns. 

Manilacaba, from the limited edition Treasure Totes by Christian Louboutin, celebrates the vibrant culture of Manila.

Drawing from her exposure to the business of embroidery while working as a secretary, Beth successfully expanded her business; she first had six employees who would embroider and sew her wares. Further work such as beading textiles was also outsourced to other women who worked from home. Her flourishing business allowed her to take out a loan from a microfinance group to improve not only the business but her family’s economic situation as well.   

Beth was introduced to Jeannie Javelosa, the social entrepreneur behind GREAT Women. 

Jevelosa worked with Beth to translate her art drawings into embroidered jusi tops. Soon, Beth’s role expanded into product design and development, as the bridge between client and producers. No longer was she embroidering the same style her town has been doing over and over again for decades. Her days were filled meeting with artists and designers who she collaborated with for more contemporary designs and updated looks and ultimately fresh products. These were all novel experiences for her, especially as GREAT Women brought her closer to partnerships with designers such as alumni of Slim’s Fashion School. She now aims to expand her skills with new textiles, motifs, and designs for new retail platforms. 

Beth (rightmost) with Angie Ilul of the Yakan trip, GREAT Women co-founder Jeannie Javelosa, French designer Christian Louboutin, and B'laan indigenous weaver Felipa Manangka

The GREAT Women Brand also encouraged Beth to mentor other women who depended on their craft for their livelihood. It also gave Beth and other embroiderers in Lumban, Laguna an arena to stretch their creative powers. 

Just recently, the creation from Beth’s community made its way to the luxury fashion scene as French fashion designer Christian Louboutin released Manilacaba, a collaboration with GREAT Women that celebrates Manila’s vibrant lifestyle and culture while highlighting techniques from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. On the bag’s right side panel, one will find Christian Louboutin’s name embroidered by the women from Lumban. Not only is this a source of pride for the community, but also for the Philippines whose craftsmanship is recognized on a global stage.

Topics: Elizabeth Agarao , cottage industry , embroidery , GREAT Women , Jeannie Javelosa

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