Anya Lim weaves her brand of artistry and entrepreneurship into the social fabric
| By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
ANYA T. Lim’s friends would often introduce her as someone who is trying to save the world, which, she says “is not a compliment at all, because I don’t think anybody can.”
So how does the 29-year-old social entrepreneur want to be remembered? As someone who is making a difference, capitalizing on her strengths and passions, and in her own way help those who are in need.
So in 2010, together with her mom Annie, Anya founded the social enterprise, Alternative Nest and Trading Hub for Indigenous Little Livelihood Seekers, better known as the Anthill Fabric Gallery. A social enterprise in Cebu is relatively a novel concept in Cebu — it is essentially a business that addresses an altruistic goal, and in Anthill’s case, they create partnerships with local communities in fabric weaving and handicrafts.
Anya explained that Anthill generally stands as an intermediary between the weaving communities to the designers and the market. Going beyond that, the enterprise also touches on the development aspect by letting communities realize their full potential through instilling a sense of pride in their crafts, introducing product innovation, and heralding business and financial literacy.
One of Anya’s goals is to do away with their dependence on foreign aid, if not the notion of going to the city to do blue-collar jobs to live a comfortable life. “There is so much richness in these communities that they themselves don’t realize,” said Anya, who hopes that their projects will eventually enable them to stand on their own.
Anya has been exposed to social work at an early age when her mom, a pioneer of the Jesuit Volunteer Group, would share stories of her adventures doing fieldwork in rural barangays. “I was drawn to working with communities in the field, especially with indigenous communities because my mom had so many stories to tell while I was growing up,” she said.
Anya studied economics and advertising management at the De La Salle University. She had a brief stint in a multinational company as a management trainee, but not quite satisfied with the job, she left to volunteer for Unicef Philippines, through which she was able to spend time with indigenous communities and observed how many simply lacked encouragement and opportunities to make their lives better.
She also worked as a preschool teacher in Taiwan and volunteered with the Teresian Missionaries there. She then joined World Vision in Manila and spearheaded its eventual expansion in Cebu. Last August, Anya finished her masters studies in communications for social change at the University of Queensland in Australia.
In February 2010, Anya and her mom pooled their resources and strengths together to form Anthill. “My family has been in the fabric business for many years. My uncle owns Familia house and my mom owns Blak Fabrics downtown,” she shared.
“Coming from a Chinese family, she expected me to take over. I never thought of selling fabric but you know the saying, ‘When you’re given lemons, make lemonade.’ One thing was very clear: I wanted to do fieldwork and being with the community,” she said.
“It gets exhausting, yes,” Anya admitted. “But it’s what fuels my passion, as it allows me to be one with real people, and witness genuine stories of life and living. It constantly grounds me to the realities, reminds me that there are a lot of things I do not know, at the same time drives me to act, to be creative, to incessantly learn and not just accept things for how they are.”
Time was their biggest investment, Anya said. “We spend time getting to know the community, building the relationship and getting their trust. We talk to them, live amongst them, understand their culture and way of life. We ask them what they envision for themselves, how they’re going to get there and we share that vision with them.”
Anthill is presently partnering with three communities: the Abra Weaving Community, the Daraghuyan Tribe in Bukidnon, and the Handcrafters of Mary Enterprise in Tisa, Lorega and in Toledo City. The enterprise provides a communal space for the weavers and the design collaborators to work together, move toward a common goal, like hard-working ants to an anthill.
“We believe in partnering with young, talented artists and growing with them,” Anya said, instead of leveraging on the fame of celebrated designers, some of which are actually their clients.
By connecting the communities to the artists, Anthill is also able to provide them with design support. “We teach them how to use their fabric in more contemporary ways that is more relevant to the market now. We teach them the colors of the season, the difference between maroon and red, green and teal—little things that make so much difference and give knowledge so they become confident and empowered.”
But most importantly, Anya said, “We encourage them to dream.”
For the Yuletide season, Anthill released collections featuring a line of bowties and neckties for men, and ready-to-wear skirts, tops and dresses for women. They also released products done under collaborations with Mothering Earthlings, Diane Espera of Sepa Accessories, and Alessandra Lanot of Life After Breakfast.
Anya’s Christmas wish for their partner communities is simple: abundance.
“I wish that they be filled with more love for culture, and a sense of pride and ownership for their crafts,” she said. “I also wish they will have abundance in wealth, love and good health so they may continue to let their traditions flourish.”
As for her own wish list, one thing has already been checked from it. Seeing mothers teach their daughters traditional styles in weaving, or knowing that these communities are learning how to stand on their own are, for Anya, enough to make this season a heartwarming and fulfilling occasion.
Photography: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome
Venue: Anthill Fabric Gallery | Hair & Makeup: AJ Airraveche