Rope of the North: Saving the Philippine Sea One Tali at a Time
Christa De La Cruz | Jan 22, 2016
In a 2015 report by US-based environmental nonprofit organization Ocean Conservancy, it was revealed that five Asian countries account for half of all plastic waste leakage globally. One of these is the Philippines. You would think that for inhabitants of an archipelagic country like ours and for people that are highly-dependent on the sea for livelihood, we'd have more respect for the ocean. Sadly, this is not the case.
Mandy and Miku Ebueza, owners of Tali Ti Amianan, recognize this growing environmental problem and have committed themselves to become "stewards of Mother Nature." Tali ti Amianan, an Ilocano phrase for "Rope of the North," is a surfer-run social enterprise based in San Juan, La Union that makes handcrafted bracelets, charms, and bags from beach trash and used items such as worn out shirts and post-consumer canvas cloth. They don't use glue so there's a guarantee that the bands will not suddenly break when submerged in water—a huge plus for local surf instructor Mandy and the beach enthusiasts who frequent the waves of San Juan.
"We really want to make sure it's eco-friendly. We can't give back to the surf community if hindi eco-friendly," the Ebuezas narrated in an interview with Choose Philippines.
As most out-of-the-box projects, Tali ti Amianan is a product of Miku's boredom and unrestlessnes one fateful morning. It was late in 2013 when she moved to La Union to be with her husband. Used to the hustle and bustle of Manila where she worked as a nurse, the slow-phased life in the province was a complete 180-degree turn. She was on a continous search for something to do until she woke up her husband at the ungodly hour of 3 am. The idea? Make a bracelet using her own shirt rummaged from the closet. The 28-year-old then posted the product on her social media account and positive comments were given. It was only months later, in the summer of 2014, when she created the @tali_ti_amianan account to officially start the business. The IG immediately garnered 500 followers in a period of two days and orders started pouring in. Miku became in charge of marketing, accounting, and taking of orders while Mandy took care of production. Their first client was a medical student who eventually became their daughter's godfather. They also negotiated consignments and their first home was the local Moonleaf branch where a supply of two-dozen bracelets was sold out in two hours. San Juan establishments like El Union Coffee, Nani Wahini, Coast thru Life, and Mad Kahuna also sell Tali ti Amianan items. They sometimes hold pop-ups at local bazaars and seasonal fairs.
From a team of two, Tali ti Amianan expanded as more orders from here and abroad came. They started doing sustainable livelihood programs in the inner barangays of the municipality through the help of the local government. After giving classes on how to make the eco-friendly, local, and handmade accessories, they hire a few who can be regular Tali weavers. To date, they have 10 locals, mostly surfers, elders, and women of San Juan, who help out with the production.
"Tulungan mo 'ko para matulungan kita. It's a give and take thing," Miku explained. Sometimes, the business is met with challenges but the people behind Rope of the North persevere. "Okay lang, sobrang worth it kasi kapag may magtetext na sa iyo, naka-sweldo na sila. 'Ate, thank you kasi nabayaran ko na 'yung motor ng asawa ko. Di na mareremita.' For us, for me and my husband, that's enough. Okay na kami do'n. Sobrang sarap na no'n."
Tali ti Amianan only makes bracelets upon demand. "We really have a good take on quality versus quantity. Sa amin, di bale nang konti pero mabenta mo lahat. We make it a point na kapag hiniklat mo, hindi siya matatanggal. Pag offset 'yung araw [ng worker], hindi namin pinapapasok, hindi ko pinagagawa. 'Yun nga, quality talaga." Once a customer reports that their bracelet isn't at par, they exchange the broken one with two. They invest on labor which makes their products a bit expensive despite using only low-cost raw materials—their cheapest ropes are at PhP 100.
They veer away from the factory mindset and only accept demands that they can meet. Their biggest order inquiry came in late 2015. The organizers of the United Nations' "Free from Fear" campaign called Tali and asked if they can make a total of 710 bracelets and have them delivered in a week. Miku was hesitant because they wouldn't want to agree immediately and fail in the end. "If I say yes to this client, kailangan ma-meet ko 'yun. Sakto 'yun, nandito 'yung workers. Kung di natin kaya, wag tayo um-oo. [...] Kaysa magbigay tayo ng oo tapos di naman natin mapapanindigan. E sila 'yung nagsabi, 'hindi, kaya natin! magpapasko!' E sabi niyo e. Ayun, hindi sila natulog, isang linggo." Six workers all together produced more than 700 bands for five days.
What's next for Tali Ti Amianan? They're looking into having a permanent shop or stall in San Juan where customers can check out their products. Target date is before this year's La Union Surf Break. Until then, the Ebuezas' humble abode in front of Urbiztondo Beach is their workshop, showroom, and front desk all rolled into one. The next time you're in San Juan, drop them a visit (in front of El Union Coffee) and get yourself some "ties that bind."
(Some photos courtesy of @tali_ti_amianan.)
How to Get There
Buses to La Union depart the terminals in Manila every hour. Travel time is between six to seven hours by commute.
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