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ArteFino 2018: Governor Sharee Ann Tan Of Lara Is Samar's Dream-Weaver

Stylish Filipinas carry their day-to-day life essentials in their bags and never leave home without them; but for the women weavers of Samar, bags are, in fact, much more than just a fashion accessory and the very reason they've rediscovered diginity, pride, and a new lease on life itself.  

 

 

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The seemingly random combination of Samar, fashion, and weaving might sound like an unlikely formula for success, but Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan is out to prove everyone wrong—or rather, she already has. 

Working tirelessly to better the lives of the people she serves, this public servant's greatest feat to date is being a key player in the development of Lara, a keenly watched brand of locally woven bags, shoes, hats, and other accessories for men and women that even the most fashion-conscious Filipino has come to notice. 

 

 

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Recalling Lara's humble beginnings, Governor Sharee narrates, "Way back in 2013 after Yolanda, one of the women weavers approached me to ask if we could help them with reviving their tikog plantations, kasi talagang dapang-dapa. They were really washed out, so I gave them around 10 hectares [to use for this purpose]."

"After a year, we had a bazaar in the province, and surprisingly [the women and their products] were there. They said, 'This is the result of what we planted; now, they're bags,'" she adds with a smile, mirroring these women's own sense of accomplishment. 

Spotting the opportunity for her province's residents to cultivate their artistic potential, Governor Sharee acted quickly. She enlisted the help of a Manila-based consultant who could mold Samar's women weavers' talents into palatable products that would appeal to a wider, high-end market.  

 

 

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After months of product research and development (and even more moments of prayer and of finger-crossing), Lara found its way to Manila and made its first major appearance at a shopping mall expo in March of this year. Waiting for results with bated breath, Governor Sharee and her team sighed a sigh or relief and celebrated when buyers at the event fell head over heels with what they saw. 

"I said, 'Ano'ng nangyayari dito? Ito na ba talaga?' I went back to the weavers and the women association back in Samar and told them their products were a huge hit! I let them know we needed to weave more and improve on aspects like durability and style," she shares. 

Expectedly—and heartwarmingly—the weavers were ecstatic. On their own, they had realized that they had been given the opportunity to reinvent their province's current reputation of being calamity-stricken and constantly facing hardship, to one defined by vibrance, longstanding tradition, and resilience—it was a responsibility they took to heart without question. 

 

 

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"The weavers now have high hopes and a sense of dignity and pride. They told me, 'Governor, ito na talaga. We don’t want to take this chance for granted, o pakawalan pa.' They're extremely excited," this governor says, clearly excited about what the future holds herself.

With her project that's surpassed all expectations, Governor Sharee is helping Lara hit yet another milestone by pariticpating in ArteFino for the first time this year. The premier crafts fair showcases only the best of the best Filipino products and a curated roster of vendors; to be one of them is a great honor for the governor and her team, its weavers, and Samar itself. 

 

 

READ: ArteFino 2018: HaloHalo's Cara Sumabat Talks About Elevating Banig To Create Stylish And Functional Pieces For Your Wardrobe And Your Home

 

Yet more than simply contributing to the fluorishing fashion scene in the Philippines, the message Governor Sharee sends with Lara's success is loud and clear: Samar is well on its way to re-claiming its spot as one of the country's most artistically gifted destinations and creating sustainable, culturally relevant livelihood for its people. Most surprisingly of all, Lara's success has even gotten younger generations interested in the centuries-old craft of weaving, with many of them expressing interest in being trained by older weavers and continuing the art form themselves.  

Stepping up from being known for weaving the humble banig, Samar's indigenous local art scene is gradually earning the respect it's always deserved with Lara, one bag at a time. 

The name Lara, after all, is Waray for weave; in its name, it carries the pride, the story, and the future of the Filipinos behind it.  

 

 

Video by Marie Francia, Marnie Giron, and Berwin Coroza 

Video editing by Berwin Coroza

Photos from @larasamarph