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One Negros: Unity amid diversity.

THE NEWLY CREATED Negros Island Region is all set to leave a more distinctive mark on the local business world.

Showcasing the best of Negros from furniture, garments, bags and fashion accessories to natural and organic products, around 80 entrepreneurs joined the 30th Negros Trade Fair in Glorietta Activity Center, Makati last Sept. 16-20.

One of these is Fresh Start Organics.

Its best sellers include organic coffee from Mt. Kanlaon and lard-free piaya with different flavors (cacao, coco sugar, passion fruit, squash and muscovado). It also offered natural sweeteners, muscovado products, soaps and other personal care products.

Owners Ramon Uy Jr. and Francine Maranon-Uy established the business with a goal to provide healthier food on the table and help alleviate poverty in rural areas through better opportunities for the people, especially farmers.

Like Fresh Start Organics Inc., VTN Food Products also offers healthy food with no preservatives. After its Kitchen Happiness Negros Aligue blue crab paste won in the Best Innovative Food Product Category in Panaad sa Negros Festival 2014, owners Teodoro Niel Nicol and Vivien Mae Canja-Gicana decided to start the business. Made of meat from the blue swimmer crab, the paste is used for salsa sauces and pasta dishes and sandwiches.

VTN Food Products also offer other products like fruits and vegetables, herb-based candies, taro chips and green chili sauce.

For all-time favorite Negrense pasalubong (gifts), Quan is the place to go to. Owned by the mother-daughter team of Agnes Cuenca and Chole Cuenca-Chua, Quan is known for its puto and puto-pao. It is also famous for its Napoleones and cassava pandan pudding.

Negros has also become one of the leading sources of quality silk products like scarves, bags and barongs. These are woven by locals using organic silk fibers dyed with different natural colors extracted from plant roots, tree bark, flowers and fruits.

Negros silk accounts for almost 80 percent of Philippine silk through the sericulture project started in 1999 by the Organization of Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA) in Negros Occidental. With the establishment of a Silk Reeling Plant at OISCA-Bago Training Center (OBTC,) jobs were generated to help improve the quality of life of farmers.

Thelma Zacarias-Watanabe, OISCA-Bago Training Center training coordinator and Negros Silk Producers' Association president, says there is low supply to cover the great demand for Philippine silk. Thus, farmers are encouraged to engage in sericulture.

Through the help of Prim Paypon, founder and dream enabler of The Dream Project PH, Risque Designs owner and main designer Tal de Guzman has found a modern way to showcase the creativity of Negrenses, even if she is not one.

She started incorporating Negros silk from OISCA in Bago and Negros weave or hablon from Valladolid in her custom-made shoes last year.

Since she started the shoe business in 2012, she already wanted to use local materials.

Her shoes with hablon and Negros silk were featured at the NY Now exhibit at Javits Center, New York last August.

She believes Negrenses love their own and support their own industry.

It's a very vibrant community, the people are friendly, the young entrepreneur says. I always feel at home [whenever I visit there].

Customers saw the ingenuity of Negrenses in other products.

Kiculo, for example, sells handcrafted bags made from pandan, with leather, colorful beads and metal hardware. The pandan makers are also from Negros.

Behind the elegant look of the bags is the mother-daughter partnership of Marichu Cusi and Catherine Kitkat Cusi-Lobaton.

Cusi-Lobaton says she decided to use pandan in their bags because it is abundant in Negros. She also chose a different kind of weave to make their bags more durable and unique.

Named after the Hiligaynon word that means original and native, Tumandok Crafts Industries, meanwhile, features high-quality furniture, such as tables, frames, boxes and other home decors using indigenous materials and laminated resin.

Owner Josephine Locsin believes her products stand out because of her skilled workers' excellent attention to detail. They are also one of the main suppliers of leading retail souvenir stores.

Unused bottles slumped into durable cheese trays and beautiful decor items can also be found in Yssa's Crafts.

Owner Precy Perez says she was into ceramic business before engaging in upcycling. Although she only has two workers, she says their production is not affected because upcycling bottles is easier than doing ceramics.

Upcycling-or using ordinary materials to make more expensive items-also does not need a large capital, she says.

Because of the uniqueness of the slumped bottle products and upcycled bottles, she has already received invitations to join trade fairs here and abroad.

Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation Inc. (NVC) provides a creative and functional collection of artisan crafts from wooden trays with in-laid mosaic tiles to religious mosaics. For this year's trade fair, it showcased mosaic products made of broken eggshells.

Ours is unique in the sense that [it] is original; and secondly it is unique because it serves a greater purpose, NVC Foundation President Millie Kilayko said.

All of the proceeds go to a good cause, focusing on three areas: nutrition, livelihood and education.

Hailed as the longest running trade fair in the Philippines and one of the top three fairs in Makati, the Negros Trade Fair is a nonprofit program of the Association of Negros Producers Inc. to provide small and medium enterprises a venue to showcase products proudly made in Negros.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Oct 9, 2015
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