By Alex Y. Vergara
House decors by Golden Arts and Furnishings
Rubyline ladies fashion by Ruby Gealon
Stylish handbags by Handmade by Princy
Basket filled with Negrense products were given to the guests during the 32nd Negros Trade Fair Luncheon
Chef JP Anglo serving Negrense-inspired dishes
Handcrafted table and home accessories by Silay Export
Silk tassels by Momsies Enterprises
Artworks from NVC Foundation
Nena Tantoco welcomed guests at the Sta. Elena Golf & Country Estate
What started out as an act of desperation and survival in 1985 by 15 women, including a number of wives of hacienderos from Negros Occidental, has grown to become what it is today: the 32nd annual Negros Trade Fair.
The event, which has evolved to include companies from both Negros provinces, will feature 72 exhibitors, as they regroup anew from September 27 to October 1 at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati.
Just in time before the Christmas rush, these exhibitors, some of whom also export their products abroad, will feature a wide range of houseware, fashion accessories, furniture pieces, and gift and food items—from woven ladies’ bags to silk-and-cotton blend scarves, gourmet tuyo and sardines to iconic Negrense snacks, woven placemats to women’s and girls’ clothing apparel, ceramic accent pieces to framed mosaic artworks made of painted eggshells, and many more.
Nena Tantoco, wife of Bienvenido “Rico” Tantoco, Jr., executive vice president of Sta. Elena Golf & Country Estate, recently opened Villa Marina, the family’s weekend home in Canlubang, Laguna, as a venue for the trade fair’s launch.
Chef and restaurateur JP Anglo, also a native of Negros Occidental, graced the launch and prepared two Negrense-inspired dishes, halaan, gata and ginamus, and squid ink batwan pusit, which he tweaked and updated for guests to sample.
Tantoco also hosted lunch featuring a buffet spread of Negrense cuisine, including kadyos, baboy, and langka, also known as KBL, chicken inasal, lechon de leche, and grilled prawns.
“I’m not heading anything,” Tantoco clarified. “As a fellow Negrense from Bacolod, I’m just happy to host lunch for my fellow Negrenses. It’s my way of giving back to my province and my people.”
Back when Tantoco, who’s now in her early 70s, was growing up in Bacolod, she couldn’t recall any noteworthy handicrafts made from her home province.
“There were plenty of food products,” she said, “especially sugar-based delicacies.” But Negros Occidental back then wasn’t known for anything except for its large tracts of sugar plantations.
For the longest time, the island, especially Negros Occidental, was somewhat insulated from the rest of the country, as it enjoyed sugar quotas imposed by the United States. In short, it had an assured market to sell its sugar produce, a cash crop that made not a few landowners in the province rich, while not a few of their farmers remained dirt-poor.
That all started to change when sugar prices in the world market started to plunge in the early 80s. As if that wasn’t enough, the US scrapped the Philippines’ sugar quota. Thus, the country not only lost its primary market, it also had to scramble and compete for new markets with other sugar-producing countries.
These turn of events changed the fortunes of hacienderos almost overnight. If it was hard for them, imagine how it was for their farmers and their families. The province was on the brink of famine, as exemplified by images of emaciated, bulging-eyed Negrense children with hardly anything to eat.
Instead of allowing their province to sink deeper, a group of Negrense women—Dory Ledesma, Robie Laguda, Tima Lacson, Nora Varela, Maricel Monfort, Elenita Benedicto, Sona Sarrosa, Betsy Coscuella, Gigi Campos, Rica Suarez, Ellen Alvarez, Josie Alejo, Amai Lopue, and Lyn Gamboa—rolled up their sleeves and travelled to Manila to take up courses in cooking and handicraft making.
“It was almost a hopeless situation that they had to take matters into their own hands,” said Mike Claparols of Interweave, also a Negrense and one of this year’s exhibitors. “These women are my heroes. They soon set up a foundation, which was then called The House of Negros. It evolved to become Association of Negros Producers. The rest is history.”
When these visionary women returned to Negros Occidental, they lost no time mobilizing their province mates by sharing with them what they learned in Manila. Their products were first displayed in 1985 in a bazaar at the open-air parking lot facing the now-defunct Quad.
“The first bazaar featured products that partly reflected the traditions and materials found in Negros as well as new ways of doing things the women learned in Manila,” said Claparols. “With the advent of the Negros Trade Fair, the annual event became more categorized and systematized. A lot of the exhibitors did market research and eventually became exporters.”
Materials for products then range from pandan, which is abundant in Negros, coconut shell, and cotton from neighboring Iloilo. Claparols, for instance, is involved in the weaving industry started by a Columban priest in the city of Kabankalan.
Although some of the earlier exhibitors have since closed shop because of age and the series of global financial crisis soon after 9/11 and during 2007-2008, some have also passed on their skills, knowhow, and even their entire businesses to the next generation. Young and brimming with ideas, this new crop of Negrense entrepreneurs and designers weren’t afraid to diversify and blaze new trails.
These year’s exhibitors include Ading’s Gourmet Tuyo, Artisana, Clara’s, Golden Arts and Furnishings, Hacienda Crafts, Kiculo Crafts, Momsies, Handmade by Princy, Negros Silk, NVC, Tumandor, Domesticity, Silay Export, and Felicias.
“Some of these companies sell their products to Balikbayan Handicrafts, Tesoro’s, and Rustan’s,” said Claparols. But for five days later this month, they will present some of their finest products to the public under one roof.
For more info, go to www.negrostradefair.com, like
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