UNKNOWN to many people, that most desired of luxury fabrics, silk, has been quietly being made in the Philippines.

In a video presentation during last week’s TELA Conference 2021 (streamed via Zoom and Facebook Live), the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) under the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), gave updates on the Philippine Silk Road Program, which is an initiative to develop raw silk through local silk farms. Some of the silk producers they interviewed have been at it for 20 years. Some of the country’s silk farms, set up with the assistance of the PTRI, are located in Kalinga-Apayao, Ifugao, Benguet, Aklan, Misamis Oriental, and Bukidnon.

Silk is a legendary product, with its first use documented in ancient China, reaching the West through the Silk Road trade route. Silk was one of the treasures that drove explorers to reach the East, and legends of how sericulture (the cultivation of the silkworms from which comes the silk thread that is used to make the fabric) came to the rest of the world range from the deceptive (princesses smuggling cocoons in their hair; monks keeping moth eggs in canes) to the divine (gifts from gods).

In the Philippines, we don’t have to worry about that. According to the PTRI, the backbone of sericulture rests in an expertise on silkworm germplasm and delivery of disease-free silkworm hybrids. They are assisted by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) of the University of the Philippines in the study of silkworm strains. Meanwhile, weaving silk thread into fabric was shown to be accomplished through handlooms, though some have upgraded to using textile software to create designs.

Antonio Arabis, one of the silkworm breeders from Cagayan de Oro, presented his rearing house (where the silkworms are raised); while Alfredo Ampo from Cagayan Valley said that his first step into sericulture was signing a Memorandum of Agreement to plant mulberry plants (the silkworms’ primary diet) in a 1/4 hectare plot. “I realized that it’s good to expand, so I made it almost a hectare now,” he said.

Celia Elumba, Director of the PTRI, used the opportunity to promote local textiles, especially silk. She notes that consumers still think that Philippine textiles should be cheap, or else might be of low quality. “That has to change. We are part of that equation,” she said. “The call is, if the industry is not yet hearing the call, consumers must heed the call.”

“Consumers, you exercise, as in elections with the ballot, you exercise with your money.” — J.L. Garcia