Fascinating Women 2023: Monique Santos-Roxas
Through her social enterprise, Likhang Balai, Monique Santos-Roxas is reviving weaving communities and the use of their creations, one tablescape at a time
Many remember when the lock down was first announced. The whole world stopped, and all of a sudden, we all became intimate with the corners of our homes. The memory is so vividly cherished as a time when a lot asked themselves, “What to do now?” There was a renaissance in hobbies and passions ignited for what were once on bucket lists, and people now had the time to do: some baked, others tended to their gardens, while many amassed a collection of table accoutrements as entertaining at home was in full swing.
Monique Santos-Roxas, Cordon Bleu Paris-trained chef, knows a bit about entertaining... and then some! “As Filipinos, entertaining is our love language. We show our love for our friends and family as we set tables and welcome them to our homes. That brings us joy, these simple joys that are oftentimes overlooked. There is joy in setting the table and welcoming guests with love to our homes,” she shares.
The concept of genteel entertaining and love for craft and art were cultivated in Monique by strong maternal figures in her life. "[My mom and lola] exposed me and my five siblings to the beauty of art and craft at young ages. I grew up surrounded by the world of art and craft. My mom would always take us to handicraft stores when we were younger. She believed that craft was inherently connected to the culture of a people and that they hold unique stories that machine made products do not," she shares.
It was during pandemic when Monique conceptualized and made Likhang Balai happen. A few artisans whose livelihoods were affected by the lockdowns reached out to her. Wanting to help, she focused on making things for the home. With communities of weavers, Monique birthed collections of textiles and linens for the home that were traditionally made, but modernized through color, pattern and even function, by employing fabrics that were never made into home goods before. Wanting to keep the weaving traditions alive, Likhang Balai is Monique’s way of encouraging not only her partner weaving communities, but also the public, to use these creations everyday, making it integral to the contemporary Filipino home.
“Rugs, placemats, runners. Kantarines a fabric that was always made as cloth for example I thought why not make these into napkins? Kundiman made into blankets, let’s make them into placemats. How do we keep these traditions alive? Let’s use them everyday at home,” she imparts.
Through an Instagram page where Monique sells local linens made by women artisans all over the Philippines, Likhang Balai’s exclusive and limited weaves are coveted, enjoying brisk sales. If you have watched this page over the past year, you will know that it only takes minutes within posting before Monique declares her items "SOLD."
“At Likhang Balai, our products are 100% handmade. We partner with a team of over 75 weavers and artisans from La Paz, Abra, Santiago, Ilocos Sur, Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Lamitan, Basilan, Bansalan, Davao, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and Metro Manila.,” Monique reveals, shedding light on the reach of her mission towards empowering artisanal communities.
She laments the modern tendency towards the machine-made, fast goods for the home, arguing that having a platform to bring to light the colors, variety and uniqueness of the handmade has allowed her to help uplift the lives of woman weavers.
“Many of the artisan communities we work with are in rural areas where women are struggling to find support for their livelihood. Weaving communities are currently struggling to pass their traditions on to the next generation. What is central to Likhang Balai is that we credit the artisans, the hands that make the craft. In our Bagobo Tagabawa pieces for example, we attach the names of the weavers who make each piece. It not only gives credit to the artisans, but it is also a sign of reverence for the ancient traditions that have been passed on. Most importantly, it shows respect and gratitude to the communities who continue to preserve them. We constantly feature artisans on our page. Likhang Balai is and will always be about these women- their work and their stories. Our core value is to support, inspire and empower,” she tells Metro.Style.
The act of weaving a textile into being is wrought with stories, primal and common to many cultures who produce fabrics by hand. “There is profoundness in how handwoven fabric tells our humanity’s story- a human connection in a world that oftentimes feels disconnected,” Monique Santos-Roxas shares.
What other nuggets of wisdom can this fascinating woman impart? Read Metro.Style’s exclusive Q & A with Likhang Balai’s Monique Santos-Roxas to find out:
What, for you, makes a fascinating woman?
"She’s a woman who is authentic and stays true to her values and beliefs. She is gentle yet strong, compassionate yet fierce, vulnerable yet brave. A fascinating woman knows that because she is a woman, there are no limits as to what she can accomplish. "
In your opinion, what makes women who live well a fascinating topic?
"A life well lived can mean different things to different people. Women who live well for me are those who pursue their passions, yet are still able to enjoy precious time with family and friends. They find simple joys in the oftentimes overlooked moments. But most importantly, a life well-lived is making small but lasting differences in the lives of others. It’s living a life that you are proud of, a life full of meaning."
Who are your role models or design heroes?
"My mom, Malyn Syjuco Santos, full of passion and creativity yet has been living a meaningful life surrounded by the love of her family and friends. She was a working woman, but she nurtured all of her five children with grace while continuing to pursue her passions. She’s an art enthusiast, a horticulturist, and an antiques collector. She continues to touch the lives of many by her authenticity and generosity.
My lola, Aurora Limcaco Syjuco [also] supported local arts and championed local ever since I was little. Lola would go on trips to Paete, she loved everything handicrafts and handmade.
Both their homes were multilayered, it spoke of them and what they loved."
What would you like to impart on the next generation of women?
"I will always remember what VP Leni said- “Empower one woman and she herself will raise others with her.” Our strength and creativity as women together, are limitless."
Name three women whose homes you’d love to grace with your creations and why?
Justina Blakeney, India Mahdavi and Margherita Missoni. Their creativity, love of color and passion inspires. It would be an honor to have our local, products on their tables so we could proudly showcase to the world the work of our artisan women. It would be inspiring for our local artisans to see this as well, and that would empower them and fuel their creativity. Pakita natin sa mundo kung gaano kagaling ang gawang Pinay.
If you had three tips for women who want to chase their dreams, what would they be?
"A dream starts with a dreamer. Take that step, always stay true to yourself and know that your creativity as a woman has no limits."