Veronica Baguio: Fabricated Stories

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Through her social enterprise Balik Batik, Veronica Baguio weaves traditional Filipino artistry with modern fashion that’s wearable every day.

via @balikbatik on Instagram

“Life can be really unpredictable, I learned,” mused Veronica Baguio when asked about her journey with Balik Batik, a social enterprise and clothing brand that fuses intricate traditional Filipino artistry with modern wearable designs.

A year into the business — one that she had started just right before the pandemic swept the world — and Balik Batik has amassed almost 30,000 likes on Facebook, 14,000 followers on Instagram, and a cool 15,000 on Twitter where it all began. “We had a business trip to Mindanao in February 2020, and I took the chance to look for blazers or coverups I can wear to work that would feature Filipino fabrics,” Veronica recalled. Stumbling upon a shop in Davao with items she loved, she took photos and Tweeted them to offer to pasa-buy it for her friends in Cebu.

“To my surprise, this Tweet got more attention than I expected. It got a lot of retweets, and strangers were messaging me, ‘Hey, we’re not friends, but I want something like that!’” she said. “Before this tweet, I never thought of having an apparel business, but seeing how people liked the idea of Filipino handwoven fabrics integrated into normal clothing, I saw an opportunity.”

But Balik Batik was never a planned venture for the entrepreneur, who had her plate full with a lot of work and community commitments. Veronica was working as an assistant principal for a school’s junior high department, doing marketing for a caregiving school, and busy being a junior consultant for a human resources consulting company.

She was also active in youth engagement programs, such as the Cebu Young Leaders Summit, and serves as one of the presidents of the Southeast Asian Service Leadership Network. 

“I was pretty busy already so I didn’t really have in my mind to start an enterprise of my own,” Veronica explained. “[Balik Batik] was a spur-of-the-moment decision, a risk I took, and I never have I regretted taking that risk.”

Piña Bomber jacket in black and white with diamond embroidery.

It was also an unexpected move for someone who didn’t really consider herself a fashionista, though she is quick to note that in college, she always tried to dress up nice when she could. “Especially during exams, because dressing up would really boost my confidence,” she quipped.

Veronica developed an awareness and interest in local weaves in 2016. “When I came to know that local weaves were being used for clothing, I was so amazed and loved the idea of it. I always wanted to have something of my own to wear, but back then I couldn’t really afford it.” 

With Balik Batik, she aims to promote traditional weaving and make it more well known among the younger generation, as well as make them wearable any day, every day. “I noticed that these weaves are actually often used in more formal clothing pieces like barongs or gowns, but these are not clothing we get to wear often,” she explained. “So we wanted to take a direction of making it accessible in terms of design. Integrating weaves or traditional embroidery designs into modern fits would allow more people to see how they can wear it often, and this would increase the appreciation for our handwoven fabrics.”

It’s about preserving and uplifting the beauty of tradition and working to make it relevant and wearable to the modern times.

ALAMAT wearing @balikbatik. Valfer (left) in a bomber jacket featuring Panubok embroidery, and Alas in a T’boli embroidered denim jacket.

Currently, Balik Batik sources weaves all over the country, specifically binakul from Abra and langkit from Maranao. The actual clothes are then made in Cebu. “Another process we have is working with weavers and artisans in terms of design and they create the finished piece using their weaves and embroidery design,” Veronica added. “We also sometimes create clothing pieces that we send to our partner for their embroideries, such as denim jackets or blouses embroidered by the T’boli of South Cotabato or Panay-Bukidnon women of Iloilo.”

Balik Batik pieces have been spotted on many fanworks and even custom clothes on the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the height of the lockdowns. Most notably, Balik Batik pieces have been worn by P-Pop groups like SB19 and ALAMAT. “We love the idea of these modern, young pop groups uplifting traditions and diversity of cultures,” Veronica expressed. “We’d love to be able to continue to work with more P-Pop groups because we also just love seeing them wearing our pieces while dancing and singing!”

Veronica is grateful for the people she has worked with and the learnings she’s made along the way. “Our partners are so very talented, hardworking, and kindhearted. It’s a joy to work with them and see their amazing skills in weaving or embroidery. I am always amazed when I get to see how they create beautiful pieces,” she said. “I also grateful that I’ve learned so much about the Philippines and our cultures. We are a very diverse people, and I’ve seen that in our handwoven fabrics.”

Something I would have done differently with Balik Batik, if not for the pandemic: Maybe Balik Batik would be more “out there” instead of just being more online. Right now, we don’t really have a physical shop, we do accept visitors but rarely. We sometimes go out and do pop-ups, but we mostly still operate online.

Something I’m looking forward to when it’s safer: Allowing people to visit us more and see our pieces for themselves. We had a customer who told us that while the photos we post are nice, nothing beats seeing the handwoven fabrics or embroideries in person. We hope to have more people see it with their own eyes. 

Something that surprised me about myself: That I could do more than what I was already doing! Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve always been a busy bee (sometimes called “busy Vee”; Vee is my nickname), that I’ve never been content with just doing one thing. I didn’t know I had it in me to take on another big, important role. But this is important for me because I know the value of Balik Batik to our partners and stakeholders. Because of people’s support, we really helped a lot of our partner weavers and artisans especially at the height of the lockdowns. We’re promoting livelihoods, and that gives me energy. 

Veronica Baguio is the Founder and Owner of Balik Batik. Follow her on Twitter at @VeronicaBaguio.

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