How a British artist is planning to help Ifugao community

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Apr 19 2013 04:11 PM | Updated as of Apr 20 2013 12:11 AM

US based Filipino Meredith Ramirez Talusan (3rd from left) founded Ricefield Collective after a research trip to Ifugao.

LONDON - A group of artists and social entrepreneurs are hoping to preserve the traditional way of life in the Ifugao region of the Philippines, through a new creative project funded through crowdsourcing site Kickstarter.

Ricefield Collective, a creative social enterprise based in Ithaca, New York, aims to produce a collection of stylish hand-made knitted products from the Ifugao region, while providing a much-needed supplemental income to the local community.

British artist Anna Maltz, the project’s design director, is preparing for an imminent trip to the Philippines, where she will stay in the village of Ujah for three months, to teach local women the art of knitting and to oversee the communal production of the group’s first collection.

Ricefield Collective plans to help Ifugao by providing an extra source of income through knitting.

“By teaching them how to knit and by making a market for the things we knit together, we hope that we can bring an alternative income stream to them, in order for them to stay where they want to stay,” Maltz told ABS-CBN Europe.

The Ifugao community, the group discovered, is under threat from forced migration due to economic hardship, with more and more people opting to move to an over-crowded Metro Manila in search of a decent living.

By sharing knitting skills and creating a sustainable local industry supplying local and international markets, Ricefield Collective hopes to help preserve the unique way of life in the region by allowing people the financial means to stay on their land, predominantly a farming community that tends to the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces.

“What we would love is for this project to become a model of how industry can happen in a gentle, impactful way, that allows people in rural communities to stay where they are and where they want to be,” said Maltz, who is set to fly to the Philippines on April 29.

The 34-year-old British artist, who will also run a knitting course at Craft Manila en route to Ifugao, will be joined by her friend, Meredith Ramirez Talusan, a US-based Filipino artist, writer, academic, and director of Ricefield Collective.

“Our members think differently,” Talusan said in a statement. “Because they farm by hand and their land is in these gorgeous mountains, they value both beauty and labor, and that translates into their knitting.”

The project aims to create stylish modern and ethnically produced knitted products made from the Philippines.

Talusan, who studied at top American universities Harvard, Cornell and California College of the Arts, founded the group following a cultural research trip to Ifugao in 2011, where she met a local woman, Jean Mundiguing, who revealed her battle to stay on their land due to lack of income and resources.

Talusan then spent the following summer teaching Mundiguing and six other women how to knit, and the number has continued to grow since.

In an official statement from the group, Mundiguing was quoted: “We continue to practice our knitting. We teach our children and our family and we want to show what we can make to the whole world.”

The project will soon gain momentum as Maltz and Talusan join forces with Ifugao women to create a special autumn collection of knitted garments, including hats, scarves, finger puppets, wristbands, and other products.

A campaign on crowdsourcing site Kickstarter will fund the endeavor, offering special gifts in exchange for the support, which has so far raised nearly $70,000 from over a thousand backers around the world.

“We started our project almost a month ago. They last a month, and within the first few days, we were more than 200% funded, so this has been a totally exciting and overwhelming thing,” revealed Maltz.

Dubbed as Knit 4 Life, the project begins in the Philippines in May, promising high-quality knitted products under the principle of fair trade and wages, sustainable development, ethical production, and eco-friendly materials.

The group also vows to contribute to community projects in Ifugao, as well as an emergency fund for local farmers towards damages from natural disasters.