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Q&A with Julia Villamonte of Fili

Pre-Spring '23

Julia Villamonte's collection of baskets are handwoven in her native Philippines. To launch the Fili collection, we sit down with her to chat about her approach to creating beautiful, functional and decorative items for the home.

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Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Labo, Camarines Norte, a small town in Bicol region in the Philippines. I have a younger brother who helps me with Fili and is still based in our hometown. When I was 16, I moved to Manila to go to the university where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. After university, I stayed in Manila and worked as an architect before eventually moving to Italy where I studied my master’s degree and also worked as an architect. I enjoy taking photos with my film camera and designing sets for Fili.

You were born in Bicol in the Philippines. Can you tell us about the place?

Bicol is a region in the Philippines. To be more specific I was born in Labo, Camarines Norte, a small town in the region. It has a wide river that cuts through its center, rich with rice fields and coconut plantations. The region has always been prone to typhoons, I grew up with them.

 

Where are you based now?

I am now based in Milan, Italy. I moved here in 2016.

How did you get started in the world of baskets? Do you have any formal training?

In 2019, while already living in Milan, I decided to go home for 3 months. During that time I met a weaver known in my hometown for her weaving prowess. I was curious to learn since I already dipped my toes into handicrafts and started selling handmade home decor items from the Philippines in Milan. I thought if I can make a basket myself, it would be easier to design them. For about a month, I went to the house of this weaver everyday to learn, she also introduced me to her family and some weavers also in the community.

 

Your designs are hand woven in the Philippines. How did you find your weavers? And who are they?

My mom met Nenita when she bought some baskets from her, she introduced me to Nenita when I came home in 2019. Nenita has 11 children, most of them are living in Manila and only 2 remained in Camarines Norte and they also are weavers.

Where do the designs come from?

Weaving Lessons, our permanent collection, are some of the forms that were created during my time with Nenita. We started with flat items like the placemats and once I got the rhythm, we eventually moved later on to more complicated shapes like the Wave Bowl and Three Layer Vase. designs come from?

 

What has been your proudest moment with the company?

Every time people reach out to us, ask about the brand and recognize what it’s about. Being able to have a relationship with the weavers, knowing that they are happy and content with what we are creating together and because of Fili, I got to rediscover my hometown and look at it from the outside.

 

What makes you smile?

Discovering new leaves/buds on my plants, being able to weave a shape exactly how I envisioned/sketched it, a vintage find, a nice song, a good meal.

Is there such a thing as a typical day at work?

I have a small studio in our house where I stay most of the work day where I created tiny areas for different types of work that I do— I have my desk for anything admin related, where I have my laptop, my weaving corner where I have a small stool, and where my basin is usually for soaking my materials and all my tools. I also have a shelf in the studio full of my baskets, prototypes from my time with Nenita, baskets that I have created during the lockdowns, and baskets that I made for an online class among other clutter. Everyday is different but I spend most days in the studio.

There seems to be a real trend towards traditional handcrafts at the moment. Why do think that might be?

Traditional handcrafts are getting more popular I think as part of the appreciation to heritage and tradition. And as consumers are more conscious now of what they are buying, there is a new focus and value to time dedicated to creation and just generally how an item is made, its history and materials. I also think they are quite timeless after all.

 

How do you see the brand evolving?

I want to discover more makers in my hometown and collaborate with them, and then the whole region of Bicol, and eventually expand to other places in the Philippines.

You worked on a collaboration with a florist in Milan with Filipino food for the party. What’s your favourite recipe from home?

I have a lot! One of the foods we served at that party was called Turon, which is basically banana slices wrapped in spring roll wrappers coated with sugar and fried. Super easy. It can also be ala mode, served with vanilla ice cream. In the Philippines, it is sold on the side of the roads, street food style, we have it for dessert or merienda.

Why do you think The Hambledon and Fili are such a good match?

I think our values are aligned and our approaches are similar, we pay importance not only to the end result as a product but paying equal attention to the process and story that the objects carry as well. All the brands that The Hambledon champions and supports are the kind of brands I aspire Fili to be.

 

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