Will Sell Blankets For Sleep | Chem Torrente of LOCANO
"I love to sleep," says Chem Torrente, the woman behind LOCANO and one of the two co-hosts of Ladies, Wine, & a bit of Design in Manila.
A glimpse at her Instagram at once tells us that other than sleep, she loves traveling, too. One moment she’s about to consume a hearty dessert at a quaint cafe in Singapore, the next she’s atop the world with a view of the Red Rock Canyon. You and I will never really know where she is, currently; our only guarantee is that once a month, we’ll find her at Xception, the official venue of Ladies, Wine, & a bit of Design. Catch her if you can!
Thankfully, I've gotten a hold of her one regular afternoon, at a local bazaar, seeing her in action selling LOCANO blankets. I ask her what made her decide to start a blanket business, of all things, and that's when she vehemently declared her love of sleep. ("I do, too," I say in my head).
Other than sleep, she quickly explains, "LOCANO is the happy convergence of everything I find myself drawn to—the love for things beautifully made, love for discovery and grounding, and love in relationships, especially that of mothers and daughters.” Chem never really saw herself getting into business, but after two major life-changing events: a break-up and completing her master's degree, she needed to find a distraction, so off she went to Vigan with her mom.
Not surprisingly, she finds herself at the famous Calle Crisologo, where Ilocano blankets are everywhere to be found. She found herself visiting a friend of her mom’s who owned a weaving house, where they made all kinds of ‘abel’ products. Abel is the Ilocano word for “weave”.
Chem recalls, “Curious, I tried out the loom and ran my hands through every piece of fabric in that place. It felt magical. I was lost in stacks of abel, and I wondered why I never noticed this before. It was right under my nose!” And when she went back to her family's home in Ilocos, the woven blankets were everywhere, too. "It was calling me," she says.
Pleased with her re-discovery, Chem found herself back in Manila, carrying with her some blankets and a few rugs. “At first, I didn’t know what to do with them, but I felt an excitement to start something—to tell others about it," she shares. Back then, Chem held a full-time job at a bank, which, admittedly, left her stressed and burned out. It motivated her to start a side project, which would eventually be LOCANO.
"The name 'LOCANO' presented itself—I am Ilocano and also a bit of a loca-loca,” reveals Chem.
I ask her about her relationship with her mom, the true-blue Ilocano in the family. "My mom is from Vigan, Ilocos Sur, while I grew up in Manila. She's very maalam sa buhay, domesticated," begins Chem, sharing that one time she was clueless about buying onions from the market, let alone chopping them the right way so it doesn’t make her tear up. Her mom had to guide her. "Because of my mom, I realized that I needed to learn the basics—the simplified and practical life skills," she says.
From sewing to maintaining the household and running the family, Chem quietly admires how her mother traverses through life on the daily. She admits not being good at the basic household skills, such as sewing, and is only starting to learn it from her mom. "Whenever I encounter a challenge with the LOCANO weavers, I run to her," shares Chem with a laugh. "Mag-i-Ilocano siya." And most often than not, the job gets done.
Working directly with the weavers from her hometown in Ilocos is fulfilling as one can really see that the sales are able to provide extra income for them. “You see the improvement in the lives and families of the weavers,” says Chem. “However, a lot of them would prefer na magsaka kaysa maghabi,” she concedes, admitting that this can be quite a challenge.
Still, Chem pushes through, and once in a while, you might catch her at bazaars like I did.
“Ilocano ka ba?”
I notice many of the customers ask her bluntly, “Ilocano ka ba?” and I stop myself from nodding on Chem’s behalf. Of the traditional Ilocano traits, Chem admits that she can be quite kuripot, but says that her mom is the original Ilocano reyna.
“‘Pag pumasok ka sa kwarto, siya yung maingay saka malakas tumawa,” she says. “Mga Ilocano, maraming opinyon. Kahit hindi pa kayo magkakilala, mahilig mag-comment. Loca-loca sila,” she adds.
At this point, I’m already second-guessing if I should admit that I have Ilocano roots, too. After all, I might be a loca-loca as well. All the same, Chem shares that it’s only recently that she's started to vocalize that she is from Vigan, seeing that it’s become such an FAQ often thrown at her at bazaars.
“Blankets are art you can sleep with… and can bring with you anywhere.”
Looking closely at the weaves of LOCANO blankets, one can be curious about the story behind its woven design. “These are patterns of routine, places, and activities I associate myself with—landscapes, nature, and the ocean," reveals Chem. In fact, LOCANO's recent collection, called Siesta Fiesta, features colorful yet cozy-looking designs called Sunset, Dusk, Sky, Sand, Sunshine, and Ocean. I want them all, by the way.
We talk about how local weaves have recently become uso, especially in fashion, and she quickly agrees, pointing out: "Nilagay na sa lahat, kulang nalang sa panty!" I was amused to the core. Chem has zero interest in incorporating Ilocano weaves into apparel, and would rather turn it into items that are more travel-friendly, like a malong. "That way, I can bring it with me anywhere!"
“Blankets have a way of making you feel the comfort of being cared for,” she says, adding that you don't necessarily give a blanket to someone you hardly know. Most likely, you'll give it to a family member or a person you deeply care for. "It's like a sign and symbol of showing that you care. It's like the kind of love you see and receive from loved ones, that you also want to give back," she explains.
“Use advice from your own experience.”
Seeing as the brand seems very personal for Chem, I ask how she reconciles with the business side of it. "I'm vocal that I'm still in the process of finding out what my formula is," says Chem of her journey with LOCANO. "I don't want to put pressure on this na ito yung what will make me survive. That's why I have my day job," she says, and I find reassurance in her words.
All the same, she knows that the setbacks will always be a part of it, and this includes dealing with personal struggles and keeping up with the industry. "If I don't go through it, it won't be worth it. At the end of the day, I want a business that would make life meaningful, and I want to own it."
And so here I am reminded to keep at it, being a novice in the world of entrepreneurship. "Even if you're just a small voice in a room full of people who've already made it, have a strong opinion," she tells me. "There are whispers you should listen to. Remember to use advice from your own experience.”
I nod, finding her words as cozy and comforting as her blankets.