A tour of Laguna & Rizal's artisan workshops

Monica De Leon takes us on a tour of the Philippine’s artisan hub — from shoemaking factories to traditional hand embroidery and woodcarving workshops 

Photos by Ferdz Decena


1 Liliw, Laguna: Shoe Wonderland

Shoe mold
Liliw, a quaint little town located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Laguna, is the Philippines’ shoemaking hub, best known for the manufacture of trendy wedges, classic espadrilles, and slippers. You'll find rows of shops and shoemaking factories along Gat Tayaw Street in Liliw, selling ready made products. The best buy here is still canvas espadrilles, selling from P250 (about US$5) a pair.

Canvas espadrilles is one of Liliw's best buys. Archipelago managing editor Monica de Leon goes shoe shopping.

Liliw manufactures shoes for some of the fashionable brands in Manila’s shopping centers. Some big brands commission work for up to 1,000 pairs of shoes a week. Liliw-made wedges with three- to six-inch heels, are from P350-P400; espadrilles from P250; flat sandals for women, from P160; flat pumps, from P230; slippers, from P100.

The birth of Liliw’s shoe industry
The birth of shoemaking in Liliw can be traced back to Nicasio Pisuena, who, back in the 40s after the World War, experimented with coconut husks to make slippers, which he sold to his neighbors. It was a hit. He opened a store in Quiapo, Manila, and his footwear became known as “Dimasira” (unbreakable). He became rich and passed on his craft to the townsfolk of Liliw. The rest, as they say, is history.

Badong Footwear loafers.

Where to shop
Zhooz Enterprise.
This shop designs and manufactures shoes, offering a unique collection.
Badong footwear. One of the best shops along Gat Tayaw Street. It has comfortable espadrilles and designer inspired shoes.
Entrada. Perhaps the most stylish shop in Liliw, selling shoes the same quality as those found in malls in Manila.
L’Chica. Sells a mix of Lumban designs and its own design.
Ai-She. One of the most established shoe stores along Gat Tayaw Street selling its own manufactured products.
Ness C. Retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer. Producer of a few popular shoe brands that sell nationwide. Has a huge collection.
Cheryll Footwear. This shop designs their own slippers.
Edna’s. Sells traditional criss-cross slippers for men and fully beaded slippers for women.

Who to tap to start a shoe business
Marieta “Maruth” Penaflor.
Maruth has been making shoes for 20 years now and has earned a reputation for the quality of her work. She has one of the biggest backyard shoe factories, employing up to 50 workers during peak season, supplying top shoe brands across the country. 
Ai-She Factory. One of the biggest shoe factories in Liliw, manufacturing for big, Manila-based brands and a shoe exporter, selling shoes made of exotic Ifugao-made fabric.

The municipal tourism office of Liliw can put you in touch with shoe stores in Gat Tayaw street. Call Rocelle Montaus at +63905 594 6270. You can also call the president of the United Footwear Association of Liliw, Romeo Colendra at +63916 429 0024.

2 Lumban: where traditional hand embroidery is a thriving craft

Lumban embroidery
Lumban, a quiet town in Laguna is the Philippines' embroidery capital. Spaniards introduced embroidery to the Philippines in the 1500s and the craft is alive and well in Lumban, with most families passing on their skills from one generation to the next.

Lumban’s hand embroidery covers hundreds of embroidery style from the traditional scallop; sulsing ambon, which are like raindrops; manika, doll shape; rose; buko; and calado, a Lumban technique that separates the thread of pina (pineapple) fabric, creating a net like effect on the cloth. Lumban has also kept most of its age-old design patterns, and are still using them today. 

Hand embroidery in this town is still very much a way of life, apparent in the sight of bastidors or bamboo frames, used in stretching embroidered pina fabrics, left in front of houses to dry after washing. There are thousands of traditional burdaderas (hand embroiderers) in Lumban against  an estimated 250 machine embroiderers. It’s a family tradition for a burdadera to teach her child or grandchild or niece the craft at an early age. In some barangays like Wawa, you see women, children, and even men bundled under a tree in their frontyard embroidering.

House of Lea
House of Lea
In 2008, a group of Lumban embroiderers formed the house of LEA or Lumban Embroidery Association Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LEAMPC), which aims to promote the craft and find productive and sustainable ways to improve the industry.

The members of House of Lea with Monica De Leon
Stationed in front of the public market of Lumban, the airconditioned office of the coop is also a shop selling ready-made embroidered products, ranging from barong Tagalogs to dinner accessories. You can place orders for bespoke pieces. In a month, the coop is able to produce 3,000 pieces of garments applying traditional embroidery, and about 5,000 pieces using embroidery machines.

Patronage from the giants
A lot of big names have been supporting Lumban’s embroidery including Tesoro’s, the country’s leading barong (the national Filipino costume for men, the equivalent of a tuxedo or black tie)) maker; Onesimus, a formal clothing line; Kultura Filipino; Filipino designers such as Rajo Laurel, Randy Ortiz, Paul Cabral, who design for former Philippine President NoyNoy Aquino, and New York-based Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino.

Getting to know Lumban-embroidered fabrics
Purse made from pineapple fabric
The priciest fabric used in Lumban embroidery is the pina original, a crosshatch fabric, colored ecru, with yellowish tone, sourced from Aklan, a prime supplier of pina fabric in the country. Next in line is pina silk, lighter in shade compared to pina orig with horizontal pattern in its weaving. The pina cocoon, which comes from Thailand, follows, then the jusi, the cheapest fabric, which comes from China.

Calado Kimona
Pina jusi is the term used for pina fabric that has been dyed. Barongs  costs from P1,500 (about US$28) for pina jusi to about P5,000 for pina orig. Ladies gown are from P15,000; dresser set from P1,100; cocktail set, from P700; purses from P150; and handkerchiefs from P100.  Recommended pieces to buy are the full calado kimona for women for formal events; the Chinese collar top with colorful embroidery for dressing up; and the purses. 
Contact the House of Lea for appointments and orders at +6349 501 4895 or visit their shop at National Highway, Lumban Market Site, Brgy. Lewin, Lumban, Laguna.

Lumban star embroiderers available for commissioned works

Monica De Ramos
She started embroidery at the age of seven, and is Lumban’s longest practicing and oldest burdadera in town. She now has her own team of hand embroiderers, and gets on with the work of designing her pieces. Monica has posed for Neil Oshima for a coffee table book entitled En Barong Filipino where she’s called the “Laguna Superstar.” One of her loyal clients for decades now is Tesoro’s. Contact her at +6349 501 4229

Rosalina Rivera Anonuevo
One of the oldest embroiderers of Lumban at age 86. She caters to direct clients from Manila. Contact her at +6349 501 4895.

Maxima Divina
She’s 73 and has been embroidering for 35 years now. Contact her at +6349 501 4895.

Marivic Gordivez
Her shop called La Burda de Filipina Tatak Lumban, employs 30 workers, and has been operating since 1994. Personal clients include Rajo Laurel (since 1995), New York based designer Oliver Tolentino, and Bettina Ocampo, owner of celestina New York Maynila - soon to launch in Greenbelt - who outsources embroidery for shirts she designs and sells In New York. Contact her at +63917 331 4147.

3 Paete: home of master woodcarvers

Carving a religious image
Paete, a charming inland town in Laguna, located about 113km from Manila, is known for its exceptional woodcarving, a craft that dates back to the 16th century Spanish era. The first Paetenian woodcarvers carved retablos or overhanging altar backdrops and religious images for churches, and today's woodcarvers continue the tradition. With the Philippine population largely Roman Catholic, and with commissions from abroad, work for such carvings have not dried up for Paete's skilled artists. Walking along the public market located at the heart of the main poblacion, you'll find woodcarved images of all shapes and sizes. The real gems of Paete, however, lie in the hands of a few Paetenian master woodcarvers, who have all contributed to Paete being declared Woodcarving Capital of the Phillipines in 2005.

Justino "Paloy" Cagayat, Jr.
Master woodcarver of religious images

One of Paloy's skilled woodcarvers
Paloy Cagayat does bespoke wood carving using batikulig wood, a soft wood with a natural wood scent that repel termites and woodworms, and chosen for its abundance in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, and occasionally the pricier Philippine hardwood narra or kamagong. Cagayat has perhaps Paete's biggest open air workshops right within the compound of his home. His work station faces his workers, and is beside his showroom where he receives guest, many belonging to the local prominent families.Some of the works that Cagayat has done include the mould that the Philippine hero Ninoy Aquino's papier mache was patterned after, a work commissioned by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino in to mark Ninoy's 10th death anniversary, and an image of San Pedro Calungsod, brought to Rome in October 2012 for the canonization rites of the second Filipino saint. Other recent works include a commissioned image of the Sacred Heart of Hesus, a life size detachable carving of the Blessed Virgin Mary that will be shipped all the way to Germany. He has also curved the rather daring image of "Machete", the mythical woodcarved figure that comes to life, used in the local movie Machete starring Cesar Montano in 1990, and Gardo Versoza in a remake in 1993. Cagayat is his family's third generation woodcarver, taking up the trade in 1983, not long after completing his engineering degree in Manila. He trained under his father, and is now training two or his three children, helping make sure the woodcarving craft does not die. For inquiries, call +6349 557 0641.

Luisito "Luis" Ac-Ac
Philippine folklife wood sculptor

Luis Ac-ac is one of the few woodcarvers in Paete skilled in the fine art of wood sculpture. He is known for depicting rural Filipino scenes and subjects and the use of such medium as batikuling, molave and narra wood. Ac-ac's sculptures are distinguished by their intricate detail, making them almost life-like, as well as the natural beauty of the bare wood as medium. His celebrated works include the giant Jubilee Cross that stood in Manila during the World Youth Day in 1995, a project led by late Pope John Paul II; a four-foot tall sculpture of Pope John Paul II erected in Eastwood, and a commissioned piece for a collector - a five- foot tall Lapu-Lapu Versus Magellan carving that fetched P600, 000. Ac-ac has been sculpting since 1979. He was an apprentice to Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts, sculptor Napoleon Abueva. In 2009, he was nominated for the National Artist Philippines Multi Award. He has exhibited in the Philippines and abroad. Ac-Ac's simple woodcarving  costs from P15,000 to P250,000 depending on the intricacy of the piece. For inquiries, call +63906 3400 390.

Angelito “Angelo” Baldemor
Three-dimensional still life artist
Rice and flower painture
Angelo Baldemor, brother of renowned Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts Manuel Baldemor, has made a name for himself, specializing in paintures, mixing the art of painting and sculpture. His house in his native Paete town is also his studio. The subject of his paintures are rural harvests - bananas, corns, fruits, vegetables, delicacies like smoked fish, and colorful flowers, particularly santan, lotus, anthurium and birds of paradise. But what stands out and has been his signature are his rice sculptures—rice grains in a winnowing basket and golden rice grains with chaff still intact in woven containers. He has done private commissions from a local government official. Baldemor has also done a sculpture of two kids playing, now displayed at the Serendra lobby at The Fort, Taguig City. Baldemor has been honing his craft for more than 30 years now. He is a member of Guhit Artists and Paete Artist Guild, done 12 one-man exhibitions. Prices of Baldemor's pieces vary, depending on the intricacy and size of work.
For inquiries, call +6349 557 1875.

Paete Artist Guild
More Paete sculptors
Ben Dailo.  Specializes in driftwood art or wood carving using driftwood. Surreal style, dealing with subjects such as fairies. Call +63915 530 6684

Sukob by Mario Baldemor
Mario Baldemor. Subjects are local lifestyle, beliefs, rituals as seen in his work "Tuli" or circumcision and "Sukob" (take shelter) done on a slab of a tree trunk, leaving the edges raw. A decorative piece for hanging on a wall. 
Doy Baldemor. Does decorative wall pieces. One of his works, a pack of horses running, has a patchy texture creating depth and maintaining the uneven color of the wood. Call +63919 715 1090
Peter Paraiso. Specializes in altars and retablos or altar backdrops. He has done the retablo of St. John Mary Vianne and St. Anthony of Padua both in Antipolo, and the retablo of the church in Canyugan Pasig, the tallest in the Philippines. 

4 Angono: Hub for painters and sculptors

Inside Blanco Museum

Angono in Rizal has been labelled the Arts Capital of the Philippines because of its thriving arts scene. Two great Filipino artists hailed from this town —National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos "Botong" Francisco, highly regarded for his murals depicting Philippine traditions, myths, folklife; and National Artist for Music Maestro Lucio San Pedro, a great Filipino composer. Angono is home to several art galleries including the Blanco Family Museum (312-B Ibanez Street, Brgy. San Vicente, Angono, Rizal. Tel +632 651 0048), Nemiranda Arthouse, (#6 Dona Elena Street, Dona Justa Village, Phase I, Angono, Rizal. Tel +632 451 1580); and Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos "Botong" Francisco's house containing his memorabilia (Dona Aurora Street, Brgy. Poblacion Itaas, Angono, Rizal).  

Travel Related Incentive Programmes and Services or TRIPS
organizes arts and crafts tour of Rizal and Laguna. For more information call +632 811 4115 or email [email protected]

Getting there
Laguna is about two hours' drive from Manila,
 via Rizal, north of Manila. It is best to take this route if you're visiting Paete and Lumban since the towns are close to each other. If you intend to visit Liliw, it's best to go via Sta. Cruz. Hop on a Jac Liner Sta. Cruz bound bus at the Buendia terminal. Bus fare is P140. From Sta. Cruz bus terminal, there are jeepneys that ply to Liliw.
It's advisable to take a privately hired vehicle when visiting the towns of Laguna to avoid getting lost and the hassle of public transport.
Rizal is about an hour's drive or more from Makati, and about 30 minutes or more from Quezon City by car.

Where to stay
In Liliw, book at the Tree Farm resort
near the Liliw Coliseum. They offer standard rooms good for three people from P3,800. Located in Barangay Bungkol, Liliw Magdalena Road. For inquiries and reservations call +63915 354 3344.

Cocoon Boutique Hotel

Book a night at the cozy Cocoon Boutique Hotel in Quezon City, which has spacious well-appointed rooms that have comfortable bed and a huge toilet and bath. It's a good base camp if you're touring Rizal. Room rates range from the P4,900 a night deluxe room that’s good for two adults and two children, to the P11,900 a night two-bedroom master suite that’s good for four adults and four children. Inclusions are full use of hotel amenities and breakfast. Located in No.16 Sct. Tobias corner Sct. Rallos Streets, tel +632 921 2706.

Where to eat
Calle Arco,
about five minute drive from Lumban's House of LEA, serves various meat dishes, snacks like pasta and sandwiches, and crepes at affordable prices. Try their Filipino style cheesy spaghetti, and any of their crepes. Their meal prices range from P150 to P270. No. 57 Rizal Street, Pagsanjan, Laguna. Tel +6349 501 4584.
Arabela in Liwliw is a quaint restaurant that serves authentic Italian dishes and delicious cakes and pastries. They also serve steak. Meal prices range from P200 to P750. 503 Rizal Street, Liwliw, Laguna. Tel +63917 204 1447.
Balaw Balaw restaurant

Never miss a chance to eat at Angono's Balaw Balaw restaurant. It serves "folk food" in its artsy ambience. They serve a family size Minaluto that’s basically like a seafood platter. It comprises of steamed rice and various seafood like squid, mussels, crab and shrimp. It’s good for eight people. Their meal prices range from P90 to P1,650. No. 16 Dona Justa Subdivision, Phase I, Angono, Rizal. Tel +632 651 0110.

Originally published in InFlight Traveller August to September 2013. Updated May 2016