Producer Spotlight: Rags2Riches

Posted on February 22, 2013 by Alexis Galvez | 1 Comment

Hope everyone is having a great week!

Today we're looking at rising young entrepreneurs in Manila, Philippines. Rags2Riches started when a group of nine entrepreneurs from disparate paths came together to solve a big social problem. CEO Reese Fernandez articulates the hard realities impoverished communities face and how the Rags2Riches eco-ethical business and out reach programs came to grapple with these struggles.

Can you tell us a little of what inspired the Rags2Riches eco-ethical business model?

Reese: Rags2Riches started in 2007 for a specific social problem in Metro Manila where a group of community members in Payatas were victims of unfair trade. Different middle men around the area made it difficult to access supplies so these community members made only 20 cents a day and couldn't make a living. Rags2Riches realized this was a manifestation of a bigger problem and we came together in the hopes of making a business that would lead us to better system. It’s serendipitous to be in fashion and lift artisans out of poverty through design and empowerment. We've been collaborating with local designers in the Philippines which has brought more value to the artisans' products without looking crafty or made from upcycled materials. Through this collaboration the products have evolved into high value home and fashion accessories. 

Were there a series of events that inspired you to become a social entrepreneur?

All nine of us have a personal story of how this all came together for us. We came from different paths but were unanimously disturbed by the social problem and wanted to do something about it. As we evolved and collaborated it brought us in the direction of fashion because a lot of the artisans we work with are urban based and are really amazing at what they do. These people are coming from different parts of the country, from different islands, different backgrounds and languages and they are reinterpreting their traditions and creating products that use techniques they probably learned when they were younger. And because of their interests and work, the natural inclination is toward higher end fashion and home accessories. 

What living conditions do these women in Metro Manila have to endure and what specific changes has Rags2Riches done to promote higher standards of living and working conditions for these women?

Most of them had a hand to mouth existence. We started in a garbage dump site community so a lot of them were scavengers or doing odd jobs. Their houses were really small. Some with a lot of kids would have to have their children sleep on the roof because they had no space inside. That’s how bad it was. I think the worst part of poverty is feeling like there is no way out. One of the most painful realizations is that it’s usually generational: if your parents are in poverty and your grandparents are in poverty, you’ll know your own children and grandchildren will probably be in poverty so there is no aspiration for the future. Even if there are aspirations you don’t know how to achieve them. Our community members are primarily women but we have a couple of men working. We don’t limit the membership to women. We feel we are one of the avenues for them to get out of poverty and have livelihoods, but of course we are not the only one.

We collaborate with other institutions and apply it to what we do. For example, we have something called the Artisan Academy, which is more of an adult education. We feel one of the missing pieces in child education is adult education, because parents see more value in their kids working. However, if parents are educated and empowered themselves they can do the work and will see the value of long term development for their kids through education, which can lead their families out of poverty. We have different modules that include: value formation, financial literacy, business development skills, and skills and technique training. We facilitate these programs and partnerships, but we don’t do everything. For example, we ask the Central Bank of the Philippines to give the financial literacy seminar with the Banker’s Association because they are the ones that have the expertise. 

Aside from that we have a project called the Quality of Life program, which started as a savings program. And this year we recently integrated with different social and health services usually unavailable for these community members. So our artisans will get out right labor cost  for making a product and also 20% that will be directed with a passbook. A passbook monitors your savings. We have partnered with the biggest micro-finance institutions in the Philippines called CARD so that each community member can have their own passbook, see their savings grow, and see their long term possibilities. 

Finally, what impact is the Rags2Riches business model making in the Philippines?

I think there are two main fronts. First, the mindset - when people thinking of eco-ethical products they think of really handicraft products that they’ll buy because they have a bleeding heart and they want to help, but they don’t associate it with products they would wait for just like a Birkin bag. It doesn’t connect that way. This mindset is changing because it is possible to have amazing products that you fall in line for and spend for with pleasure. You’re part of this positive movement and story through personal style. And on another front, I think it’s changing the business landscape here in the Philippines. Businesses from different revolutions have thought of themselves as vacuums but the reality is that we are all connected in a profound way that we may not always see. Business will come to realize that having responsibilities towards the world isn’t a bonus but an integral value. I think because Rags2Riches is thriving in this community and enriching what’s there we are a proof on concept that these ideas are possible. 

Thank you so much Reese and Bernadette for taking the time to connect with us! Looking forward to more updates on what you and your artisans are producing next! For more information about Rags2Riches click here and to view their products click here.

Posted in Manila, Philippines, Rags2Riches

1 Response


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