Jose Paolo S. dela Cruz(The Philippine Star) – June 24, 2018 – 12:00am
“I think the influence started as a child, having grown up in Mindanao,” says the soft-spoken lady from Iligan. “I grew up seeing the Maranaos. My mom is from Basilan. I would see the Yakans and growing up, my parents made sure that Philippine culture was very strong in our upbringing.”
So strong that Len even danced for the Bayanihan. “I did not fall in love with it or become interested in local textiles. I grew up appreciating it and learning the value of it.”
Once a fashion stylist who dabbled in editorial work, and a marketing person dedicated to the family business (her family brought in that iconic Coleman brand to the Philippines), Len shifted gears dramatically after being diagnosed with cancer.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. Having cancer really taught me that bad things happen in life. It’s very important to have an anchor. Thankfully, I had a relationship with God and that really helped me go through such a difficult time,” she confides.
The Big C also pushed Len to think about what she really wanted to do in life. She wanted something with purpose. In her prayers, the word fashion would always come out. “But not mainstream fashion! Definitely not!” she shrugs.
Things got a little clearer when she met textile designer John Robshaw in his showroom in New York. There, she learned of how he visits all these villages around Asia. “Right there and then I said to myself, I’m going to do the same thing with the Philippines,” Len says.
And while the Holy Book was her primary source of strength, Len also found inspiration in another book, Neal Oshima and Mailin Paterno’s Dreamweavers, which featured some weavers from Lake Sebu in 2009. “Immediately I wanted to meet with them. I wanted to work with them,” she gushes.
Since the fabrics take time to complete, Len doesn’t want to lose the weavers’ magic by pressuring them to mass-produce. She knows that she has to cater to a market that understands the luxury of time that her pieces enjoy. She started out by joining trunk shows abroad, where people didn’t mind paying extra for things of high quality, before eventually setting her online store. Recently, she has been more adventurous, with Filip+Inna opening pop-up stores in Rockwell and during ArteFino (to sold-out success!).
As for the purpose she’s been looking for at the start of her journey, Len finds most of it in the weavers she works with, especially when she sees them beam with their work. “They were so thrilled when they saw the Vice President wear their work. They’re so thrilled when they see Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres wearing it, or when Karen Davila goes on air with some of their weaves. I think it really encourages them to get better in their craft,” she says.
More importantly, Len, who had her last treatment for cancer in 2015, has helped transform these people from simple weavers to lucrative, self-sustaining artisans. “I visit them, and they show me their house. They open up to me and talk about their children and the future,” she shares.
Indeed, Len Cabili has woven a happy, meaningful life.