A quaint ancestral home in Baao, Camarines Sur has become an art studio, cafe, store, and the main headquarters of 200+ strong Bicolana women.
They are all empowered through embroidery, weaving, and crocheting programs led by farmer and artist Bernadette De los Santos.
The ancestral home is a two-floor casa, with its exterior reflecting the hardwood architecture from the Spanish colonial era.
As visitors enter the mini courtyard, a low-ceiling cafe welcomes travelers with framed paintings and art pieces curated in ala-Alice in Wonderland fashion.
Across the cafe is the store slash art wall filled with embroidered bags and other finished products.
The art wall serves as a divider from De los Santos’ actual craft room, which is still open to the public. It is adorned with different colorful fabrics and yarns as well as some of De los Santos’ famed recognitions, news clippings, and pictures with celebrities.
The Face of BidiBidi
A business management graduate, De los Santos pursued a rural lifestyle in 2004.
BidiBidi is De Los Santos herself. The nickname originated from her brother, who could not pronounce her name, Bernadette, when they were still young.
As soon as De los Santos decided to resettle in her hometown, she noticed that farmers were economically challenged, especially between planting and harvest time.
She then saw an opportunity to teach the community in Baao and encourage them to pursue arts and crafts during the lean season.
“Baao used to be known for embroidery. We were the center of embroidery in Bicol,” De los Santos recalls. “But due to computer-generated embroidery, the industry fell. I knew I had to revive the craft.”
De los Santos started with patchwork and quilts made from ukay or thrift store finds. In 2019, a guest also taught De los Santos how to make fashion accessories from the vintage buttons they get from thrifted clothes. It got picked up by local television networks and articles were written about their upcycling initiative.
“Then we started getting customers, so I decided to teach more women about embroidery. Eventually, they got inspired and we fostered a community of Bicolana crafters,” De los Santos shares.
De los Santos decided to brand themselves as BidiBidi Enterprise. “Since it was my childhood nickname and people in the community knew me by that name. Also, it sounds fun and easy to remember.”
Aside from bags, the enterprise also offers a range of pouches, pillowcases, and upcycled denim adorned with embroidered flowers, Mandala, and Kahlo-like designs.
“It’s not just me. This is a community. The store behind the brand is the community behind it,” De los Santos clarifies.
BidiBidi’s Creative Process
De los Santos keeps a sketchbook as part of her creative process. Her designs are inspired by nature, flowers, and insects. Also, Frida Kahlo is one of her most significant influences.
“The first thing I do is go on a retreat alone. That’s when I call on the universe, reflect, then I start doodling,” De los Santos shares.
De los Santos would create outlines for the patterns and have them photocopied for the other women embroiderers to use as a guide.
“At first, I dictated the women which colors to use, but then I realized they have their own creativity. They have their own sense of color. So now I let them get whatever color they want.”
BidiBidi products are also known to be colorful and have flamboyant designs. This is actually a reflection of her principle. “There’s only one life we have. Why scrimp on colors?” says De Los Santos.
Celebrities and personalities such as Heart Evangelista, Tessa Prieto Valdez, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, and designer Francis Libiran are known to be admirers of BidiBidi bags. Her works were even included in Christian Louboutin’s 2018 Manilacaba collection.
BidiBidi bags were also displayed at New York’s Neiman Marcus and Dubai Expo but De los Santos still has customers from all walks of life. She gets orders from both Forbes Park and Tondo.
“I’m touched when people would message me that they really want to have a BidiBidi bag but can’t afford it yet. There was a retired teacher that only had Php1,000. So I gave her the bag even if it’s far from the original price.”
Even with the international recognition, the 59-year-old artist makes sure that her bag stays affordable, her most expensive piece at Php3,500.
“It’s not about the money. I want more Filipinos to enjoy my products.”
De los Santos loves to welcome guests to her ancestral home. Aside from shopping, visitors may have a cup of hot coffee at Php50 or an iced latte at Php75. They also offer different flavors of pasta that reflect the taste of Bicol, such as Banana Blossom spaghetti, Bicol Express pasta, and Laing Pasta. Prices start at Php125.
The cafe’s menu also has Banana Blossom Burger at Php 100 and Camote fries at Php 60.
How To Get There
From Naga Airport, take a tricycle or taxi going to Naga City Van Terminal.
Upon arrival at Naga City Terminal, take a van going to Iriga City. Fare is at around Php 30 per person. Once at Iriga City, take another tricycle or jeep going to Baao.
BidiBidi Cafe is located along Rizal Street at San Nicolas, Baao. A 3-minute walk from Baao Public Market.
Outsource the Planning
For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operators in Bicol. Click on this link for a comprehensive list of agencies.
Explore Camarines Sur responsibly by making sure that you comply with the province’s health and safety protocols, such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Ensure that you have acquired travel authority at https://s-pass.ph/ prior trip. Bring a copy or screenshot of this along with your vaccination card and valid ID upon arrival.
For the latest travel information about Camarines Sur, you may visit their official website or Facebook page. You may also review updated safety protocols and requirements on Philippine destinations at www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel