As of this month, social enterprise products Rags2Riches will be available in the North American market with its first branded store outside of the Philippines.
R2R is a 13-year-old fashion and design house that creates eco-ethical fashion and home accessories from recycled and overstock fabrics. Behind every accessory hides a Filipino artisan / o with a story shared with every purchase. And instead of customers, those who buy from R2R are called “lawyers” because wearing any of their clothes or bags helps tell that story and promote the company’s mission.
The brand’s new e-commerce site, in partnership with the ethical Canadian retailer Cambio & Cie., makes owning some of the Filipino handicrafts accessible, whether it is a breathable mask using textiles from weaving communities in the Philippines or a cushion made with reclaimed materials back to back .
R2R has already entered the US market through partners like Anthropologie, but r2rshop.com allows better control over prices and a variety of products with shipping costs already factored in.
“We are very happy to partner with Cambio & Co. as we need a compassionate and consistent partner and we know there will be so much learning along the way”, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, President and Partner founder of R2R, told the Asian Review. “It’s a way for us to share our story with the larger Filipino community – Filipino Americans, Filipino Canadians or wherever they are. “
It also comes at a time when Filipinos in the diaspora are looking to reconnect with the Philippines, and style and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“We have always envisioned Cambio & Co. as a bridge connecting the diaspora to the homeland, but R2Rshop.com goes even further. You don’t even need a bridge. You are right at the door. There is something really powerful about being able to buy directly with a brand whose leaders are all based in the Philippines and live in the same city as the artisans, ”said Gelaine Santiago, Co-Founder of Cambio & Co. Asian Review in an email.
Fernandez-Ruiz met Santiago – who, along with her husband Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer, founded Cambio & Co. in 2015 as an ethical retailer specializing in contemporary and conscious fashion made by talented Filipino artisans – during the latter’s trip. in the Philippines and the two companies have been working together for about three years.
The idea of a separate online store was in the works, but the pandemic sped up the process as R2R sought to diversify its market.
“For us international expansion is very simple because it also means expansion of impact,” said Fernandez-Ruiz, adding that while advocates can share the story of R2R in North America, at the same time, l The impact extends to the Philippines for artisans to continue to have stable livelihoods.
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The R2R business concept grew out of the visits Fernandez-Ruiz and the other founders would make to Payatas, a barangay in Quezon City considered one of the poorest urban communities in the Philippines with a large landfill. About 1,000 trucks a day arrive at the site, each carrying two to three tonnes of waste.
Amidst the misery and waste, however, stay-at-home moms discovered scraps of fabric and woven them into rugs for sale in local markets – in essence, creating something out of thin air.
However, middlemen intervened by sourcing waste from garment factories and raising prices when they sold them to the women of Payatas, or bought the rugs for a few pesos and resold them at a higher price for a profit. .
Instead of spending money and training as a form of charity, Fernandez-Ruiz and his co-founders saw that the hurdle could be overcome by taking artisans as business partners, and thus break the cycle of poverty in the country.
R2R eliminated the middleman by bringing mothers directly to garment factories and to the market. The company, which started in 2007, helped them sell the finished and functional rugs in bazaars and fairs, while also sharing the story behind them, which became an additional selling point and gave a human touch. .
“Our model is not to give anything away. It’s about the supply chain itself, about being fair and sustainable for everyone, ”said Fernandez-Ruiz. “For R2R, the reason we have lasted so long is of course the courage, determination, team effort and the partners who have supported us… to face them.
Thirteen years later, R2R’s offerings range from clothing like bespoke jumpsuits to versatile tote bags, and has collaborated with other Filipino designers for capsule collections.
Some 200 artisans in Metro Manila and other parts of the Philippines make the products by hand, and many reported milestones during the training, such as being able to open a bank account, send kids in college or starting their own business.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, lessons from the company’s history have taught them to be nimble and pivot to face any circumstances. One of the advantages is that R2R does not hold inventory to reduce waste and the clothes are made to order, even if they require a longer wait.
“When the lockdown began in March, we immediately rotated our production to create face masks and other essentials rather than the usual bags we make,” Fernandez-Ruiz said. “We have also created systems to ensure that we can still respect physical distancing, while still being able to maintain our livelihoods. “
R2R Shop now sells reusable embroidered masks ($ 21) in four different colors and hand-woven masks ($ 15) using textiles from weavers, such as Mangyan Weaves from Mindoro and the Mang Abel Ti-Abria community. in the province of Abra. Both types have pockets for filters and are handcrafted in the safety of their homes.
The company was also able to deliver to its customers during the strict quarantine in Metro Manila. However, as the pandemic continues, Fernandez-Ruiz has said it places an additional burden on artisans who may currently be the sole breadwinners in their household, so the company is exploring other ways to continue to generate income for these families.
“We are moving step by step. We are looking for more opportunities for people. It hasn’t been easy, but I think we’re one of the lucky few who can get through it relatively well, ”she said, adding that for the artisans still working at the R2R workshop, everything by distancing themselves socially, receive Medicare for additional protection.
She added, “At times like this, it’s when your culture is tested the most. This is the moment when you will really see if your culture and values shine through or if they are just writings on the wall. For us, it’s very encouraging to see our team members elevate each other.
By expanding the reach of R2R and making products using indigenous textiles for consumers in the Philippines, whether Filipino or not, Fernandez-Ruiz has realized the greater cultural appropriation and is canceling the cultural conversation. It starts with communication and transparency, she said.
“Most of the people who are accused of cultural misappropriation are the ones who don’t really speak to their partners or suppliers. They do not know the heritage, the history of a certain textile because they do not speak. It’s a weird thing to say, but talk to your partner and ask them about the history of the fabric and how best to represent it to the world, ”Fernandez-Ruiz said.
As for the future of R2R, the brand has a partnership with IKEA Philippines, which is slated to be its largest site in the world when it opens at the Mall of Asia by 2021 and will continue its goal of training hundreds of other artisans. . The North American store plans to carry R2R on Repeat, its loungewear line, across the board.
Fernandez-Ruiz also hopes that in a post-COVID world, consumers will continue to be aware of how they shop, especially when it comes to fashion.
“You could really see that fashion as it is now has never been sustainable and the pandemic has just brought that to light. From a consumer point of view, people are looking for more meaningful products because now their purchasing power is probably not as great as before or is threatened because they do not know the future so they want to be more selective … or that it’s going to something that they believe in, ”she said.