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Pinay Brings Eye-catching 'Third World' Crafts to France

France-based Filipina Apol Lejano-Massebieau gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Third World.” A former magazine editor and television host, Lejano-Massebieau sells handcrafted bags, trays, lamps, and bowls under the "7,100 Islands" brand Lejano-Massebieau moved to southern France eight years ago to join her French husband. Her line of products include bright and eye-catching indigenous Philippine materials like abaca; T’nalak, a traditional cloth made by the T’boli tribe in South Cotabato; and hinabol from the Higaonon tribe in northern Mindanao.
“Didn’t we all grow up hearing and saying, ‘Ay, napaka-third world naman!’ meaning backwards or baduy? I wanted to turn that idea on its head and show that third world can also mean exciting and new,” Lejano-Massebieau said in an e-mail interview with GMA News Online.
In between writing projects, she creates whimsical French vintage items for La Pomme, which is sold on the online marketplace, 7,100 Islands brand brings her much closer to home and the things that she has loved about the Philippines: its textiles and crafts products.Happy Tribal, Lejano-Massebieau’s first collection, consists of colorful and bright bags, clutches, trays, and bins that, she said, “evoke the Pinoy joie de vivre.”She gives them playful names, too, that any true-blue Pinoy would be familiar with: “Seksy” is a fabric bowl sculpted painstakingly to form a curvaceous shape. “Bansot” is a 4-inch-tall bowl for pens, keys, and coins; its bigger version, “Lusog,” is an 8-inch-tall storage solution. “Ganda” is a 3.5x3.5-inch ikat-print pencil holder.
An idea, 20 years in the making
The idea of creating new objects from indigenous materials came up 20 years ago, on Lejano- Massebieau’s visit to Pampanga, which had been ravaged by the Pinatubo eruption. There she chanced upon Aetas selling seed-bead jewelry, arches, and arrows. “I found the objects beautiful. At the same time, I felt pain for the Aetas because they had been displaced,” she recalled.

Many years later, she would make the idea a reality through "7,100 Islands," by building a business that would help Filipino crafts people earn a living. Lejano-Massebieau found her textile sources through the help of another France-based Pinay,Nola Andaya-Milani, a social entrepreneur who has worked extensively with tribes and artisan communities in the Philippines. She contacts them directly through e-mail, phone, and Skype. The whole business setup is not without its challenges. The T’nalak fabric takes two months to weave, and considering the time it takes to ship the material from the Philippines to France,plus designing and creating an object out of it—something Lejano-Massebieau does herself—an item from 7,100 Islands can take as much as six months to make.
If there’s anything Lejano-Massebieau has learned from the experience, it’s that one needs to go with the flow. “It takes foresight and patience, and an acceptance that things will not always go as planned,” she said.
Recently, 7,100 Islands was featured in an American blog, which caught the attention of an American designer who wants to collaborate with Lejano-Massebieau. Soon, the 7,100 Islands collection will also be sold through the online site, enabling these Pinoy-made designs to reach a wider audience worldwide.
In the future, Lejano-Massebieau plans to come back to the Philippines for an extended visit and set up a production house for 7,100 Islands. She intends to find Filipino designers and artisans whose works she can feature and offer to the global market. Indeed, Lejano- Massebieau proves that there’s more to “third world” than meets the eye.

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