Rags2Riches is the perfect example of a successful sustainable fashion brand in the Philippines. They collaborate with top notch local designers and devastated dumpsite communities to create beautifully-handcrafted products, thus, earning features in international titles such as Vogue, and Marie Claire. They have garnered wide appeal across different segments?—?supported by influencers, aspired to by twenty-somethings, and followed by retailers- an incredibly hard thing to achieve in the snooty scene of international fashion. In 2014, its CEO, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, was named by Forbes as one of the most successful entrepreneurs aged under thirty.
Filipinos have a penchant for trends, and the average Juan would be willing to spend a fortune just to look chic; hence, the long lines at H&M and F21 during their Philippine launches. The success of the quarterly Bloggerati Bazaar also serves proof to this testament. In addition, more and more international clothing brands are being introduced and patronized, and the SSI trademarks are still growing.
The millennial and middle class’ willingness to splurge on Fashion just proves that it is scalable for a social business. Moreover, aside from the availability of patrons, we house talented designers, able manufacturers, underserved artisan communities, strategic marketeers, and a growing number of start-up advocates. Aside from having a strong potential for a local following, sustainable fashion brands are also mountable in the international scene as consumers are becoming more discerning of their purchases, making sure that their money benefits less fortunate communities or natural resources, hence the green fashion movement that started in the 21st century.
As said by Senen Mangalile, minister and consul general at the Philippine Embassy in London, Manila may not yet be an international fashion capital, but the country can become a leader in the sustainable design processes. “Philippines has a lot to offer in terms of creative designs, but also a model for sustainable partnership between designers and the local communities who supply some of the materials.” Of course, Filipino entrepreneurs realize this since the country has been a hub for social enterprises long before the word became fashionable. The number of new sustainable fashion brands has been growing every year, each with a vision to end poverty from the bottom up. A lot has been said about their passion to help but how do these businesses really give back?
Homegrown.ph has created three categories of Fashion social enterprises’ way of solving social issues from the bottom up.
The hardest yet most rampant way is via providing jobs and livelihood training to rather helpless groups.
Olivia and Diego
Olivia and Diego sells colorful and hip bracelets made out of old knitted shirts and office supplies. The founder, Yana Santiago, who grew up in Mindanao and finished Clothing Technology in UP Diliman, has always wanted to make fashion socially relevant in her province. Thus, her company empowers stay-at-home Moms in Mindanao by conducting design workshops so they can learn to produce jewelry, and have access to a larger market.
Another budding sustainable fashion of the same model is Tepina Clothing. The brand is a brainchild of the Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation (RSTF), a social organization based on the Island of Palawan. They create an alternative livelihood for women in the more poverty stricken rural areas of Palawan by teaching piña weaving technology- a natural dyeing and advanced handloom method using plain piña. The end products are premium-looking scarves and tops.
Today, the brand has been a staple in various exclusive showrooms in Manila.
Shoes by Kai
More than their locally-sourced products, Shoes by Kai advocates for the tradition of hand-made shoes, a practice the Philippines was known for before the influx of imported mass-produced footwear. Shoes by Kai is a testament to this because each pair is crafted with bare hands, and the consumers can have as much power as the maker on what the design of the shoe should be.
Anthill embodies the perfect merge of culture and modern flair. The products are perceived to be stylish by Filipinos from different regions, thus, making it a tourist destination in Cebu.
Unlike other social enterprises that try to keep up with current fashion trends using their indigenous materials, Anthill takes cultural preservation up a notch by making traditional trademarks relevant in contemporary times, as reflected in their summer skirts inspired by the structures of Panyo (handkerchief), Tapis (cover-up), and Tupi (folds), using only local plant products. Furthermore, they help continue the tradition of weaving, by connecting master weavers to younger generations so the youth appreciate and spread their culture’s pride.
Anya Lim, the founder, grew up playing with rag dolls, instead of Barbie, and having buri and rattan as materials for vases, instead of porcelain. “Everything at home was Filipino and had a story to tell and was made by talented craftsmen in cottage industries near our place,” thus stated her desire to create wonderful stories of culture, one traditional product at a time.
Sourcing local materials
The Yakan Village is an off-the-beaten path in Zamboanga City. Their community is extremely talented, crafting each bag, scarf, mat, and belt with much intricacy using unique weaving techniques.
Team Yakang Yaka (kayang kaya- an expression that means one can do anything) is a team of young advocates that purchases from the said village, and makes these products available to the modern Filipino shopper. Each purchase leads to a sack of rice given back.
Their traditional amulets, known to Filipinos as anting-anting, are hand crafted by the Kati-Kati Aeta indigenous community from Guimaras island. But more than the designs and the community’s talents, what the brand really takes pride in are the materials that they use, which are believed by the Aeta community to have intrinsic powers. The dried roots from special plants like Salindugok and Amigos bring abundance, health and love while special stones crushed into tiny pieces known as “Diamante Negra”, strengthens one’s aura. Special coconut oil known as “lana”, on the other hand, is believed to drain negative energies, and provide serenity. Furthermore, the streaks are chosen to represent the colors of each of the energy psychic centers or chakras.