A Design Hub Grows in Bacolod

Southern-based manufacturers find a permanent home in the new ANP Hub. Christina Gaston gives us a tour

 

Negros Occidental, an island province located in the Western Visayas region, is best known as the sugar capital of the Philippines, with its vast sugar plantations and production facilities. But not all of its history is sweet.

A sugar crisis in the early 1980s caused more than 190,000 plantation workers to lose their jobs, resulting in widespread poverty and famine in the area. At that time, Manila-based Negrenses took action to help the workers by providing them with alternative means of income. This gave birth to the House of Negros Foundation, eventually becoming the Association of Negros Producers (ANP) a couple of years later.

The ANP helped establish more diverse industries aside from sugar production, creating various brands of Negros-produced goods, ranging from export-quality furniture, décor, and fashion, to food, agri-business, and beauty products. These products were sold at the annual Negros Trade Fair since the 1980s, and at the ANP Showroom in Bacolod City.


The first Association of Negros Producers (ANP) Showroom when they were started out in the 1980s. The ANP was formed in 1988. (Photo by Lyn Loarca Mapa, from ANP Facebook page)

Having visited two iterations of the ANP showrooms, first in a warm and cozy space beside the city’s capitol building and the second one in a more retail-like setup at Robinsons Bacolod, we were astounded by the variety and fine craftsmanship of products created by the Negrenses. However, the pandemic struck and the ANP decided to close their last showroom at Robinsons.


Current ANP president Arlene Infante and chairwoman Christina Gaston open the doors to the newly-inaugurated ANP HUB (left). The HUB, which was designed by Infante with architect Christian Palma, is located within Negros Forest Park in Bacolod.

Closing shop, then seizing an opportunity
“The pandemic hit the Association of Negros Producers (ANP) very hard,” relates chairwoman and Hacienda Crafts creative director Christina Gaston. “In March 2020, ANP had to make the painful decision to close the ANP Showroom at Robinsons Mall, Bacolod which served mainly the souvenir and tourism markets since 2011. With the extended lockdowns, it was impossible to sustain operations.”

In spite of their showroom’s closure, this challenge presented an opportunity in the form of building a permanent venue for the association. Just a few months after their former showroom’s closure, the ANP, with its current president Arlene Infante, submitted a proposal to the provincial government to build within Negros Forest Park, with the governor approving a five-million-peso grant to construct the building for ANP.



The ANP currently has 89 members in categories ranging from furniture, gifts, décor, and fashion to food and agri-business. One of their members is constant FAME exhibitor and collaborator Creative Definitions, who create sustainable woven textile products with communities in Negros.

A HUB in a forest
Called the ANP Hub, the two-storey modern structure, which was built in just five months, sits nestled amongst trees within the 1,000sqm area in Negros Forest Park in Bacolod City. The bucolic location is the perfect creative space and retail selling area for the association’s 89-strong members. These members include frequent FAME collaborators and exhibitors such as Creative Definitions, Hacienda Crafts, Tumandok Crafts, Artisana Island Craft, and many others.

The Hub isn’t just a showroom, but also serves as a venue for various SME-related projects and services. “The Hub houses The Negros Showroom/Event Space; Training Room, ANP Office and Conference Room, the Outdoor Bugana Market Pavilion (which will be built soon), an outdoor plant area, and eventually an outdoor café,” says Gaston.


ANP members include enviro-social design company Hacienda Crafts (left) and home décor and accessories brand Domesticity (right). The 35th Negros Trade Fair, in which many of the ANP members participate in, will now be a hybrid physical/online fair.

A trade fair, done two ways
But what about the annual Negros Trade Fair? Again, the opening of the Hub presented an opportunity for hosting the physical fair within its new building in Bacolod, and the creation of a digital fair from May to June for shoppers nationwide and internationally.

“To celebrate [the Hub’s opening], we will also be launching the 35th Negros Trade Fair, from May 29 to June 30, which will be a hybrid (physical and virtual) fair,” Gaston says. “Around 40 vendors will be participating in the virtual fair with more participating physically. Customers from around the world will be able to order products online and we will be able to serve them, both for domestic and international [markets].”

Gaston reveals that in addition to the Hub, another one of their pet projects for the New Normal is the ANP 4.5, which is a program to up-skill the association’s MSMEs in embracing digitalization. “As entrepreneurs, we need to adapt to new ways of doing business,” Negros Trade Fair co-chair Mary Ann Colmenares explains. “This is a paradigm shift. We have no choice but to embrace digitalization to thrive.”

Main photo images: Hacienda Crafts, Creative Definitions. Photos courtesy of the Association of Negros Producers and the brands.

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