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ARTEFINO, one of the city’s more popular artisanal brands fairs, is coming back with a vengeance. While it pivoted during the pandemic by opening a website that made it feel like ArteFino was open all year-round, this year, it sees more than 150 vendors on a rotating five-week schedule.
During a launch in Rockwell, Makati on Aug. 2, it gave a foreshadowing of what to expect from Aug. 25 to Sept. 28. About 44 new brands are set to make their Artefino debut this year, including Aire (outfits in piña cotton), Kelvin Morales (whimsically embroidered barongs; one such sample at the launch was embroidered with crushed water bottles in blue thread), and Pinas Sadya (kimono ponchos, jackets, scarves, and matching sets in indigenous fabric). Some familiar brands included woodworkers SustainablyMade by MARSSE and Riotaso (https://www.bworldonline.com/arts-and-leisure/2022/02/21/430915/from-farm-to-table-literally/ and https://www.bworldonline.com/arts-and-leisure/2021/12/13/416878/a-scrappy-brand-makes-it-to-british-vogue/).
The whole experience will be quite sensorial with food (like the ham butter and ham jam from Mielle) and the aforementioned brands, but even the music has been planned to stimulate the senses, with a soundtrack by Tarsier Records.
The whole showcase would be held on the ground floor of Rockwell’s Powerplant Mall.
“It feels safer to hold it down here,” said ArteFino co-founder Cedie Lopez-Vargas (a scion of the Lopez family, which developed the Rockwell complex). “The spaces are more open,” she said, citing safety concerns that are still present with the ongoing pandemic.
Asked about the website (which has temporarily ceased operations because of the forthcoming fair), she said, “We may probably reopen that once everything has settled.”
Many small businesses use lifestyle fairs like ArteFino to launch their lines. Asked if this specific fair becomes good training for small businesses, Ms. Lopez-Vargas said, “I would think so. If you ask them, they’ll tell you about the discipline that they have to be committed to. Our application forms alone are kilometric,” she said. “We need to be transparent about it,” she said about the vetting process, as well as the work that goes into joining ArteFino. “We need to understand that what they’re doing is authentic — if they say they have communities, do they really have communities [they help]?”
One may think these lifestyle fairs are simply filled with baubles to fill the closets and tables of wealthy homes (though we do note that some pieces sold at the fair are truly affordable), but Ms. Lopez-Vargas thinks that these activities, showcasing small businesses with products made by artisans, serve a higher purpose. “It gives hope. I think that’s key. We’ve always felt that ArteFino inspired hope, for artisans. People who can only do two or three pieces at a time. It’s a platform, it’s advocacy. We try to develop that love, appreciation, and celebration of all things good and Filipino.”
She notes that many small businesses aspire to be exporters, but Ms. Lopez-Vargas notes, “There are a lot of small businesses that would not make it as exporters… we direct ourselves towards the local market.” Exporters usually look for sameness and consistency, but then, “Everything is handcrafted.”
She points to ArteFino habitué Zarah Juan, whose pieces are made with indigenous fabric and beadwork. Apparently, she makes shirts, then sends the beaders home to work on them. Each piece therefore becomes unique, away from an assembly line. “When each piece comes back, it’s all different.”
“That’s who we are,” she said.
ArteFino was founded in 2017, by Ms. Lopez-Vargas, Susie Quiros, Marimel Francisco, Mita Rufino, and Maritess Pineda. Ms. Lopez-Vargas says that one of the things that sparked its founding was her going around another lifestyle fair. According to her, the vendors there told her that many foreign buyers would just stop by their booths and take pictures. Machines would be made that would be able to replicate the process, and allow them to be mass-produced somewhere else. “That was so sad. They started with their hands, with all these hopes, and then some foreigner comes in, takes pictures, then they could mass-produce it.”
“We put so much heart and soul into what we do. It comes to life with us Filipinos,” she said. “You want to be able to keep that hope alive. They can do it — and they can do it the way they want to do it.” — Joseph L. Garcia