We’ve always wondered how artisanal business communities operated. The way these communities attempt to lift locals up by empowering and providing them with business opportunities, while building a robust support network that enables these individuals to achieve their full potential – these are feats that amazed us.
The opportunity to learn more came in the form of our partnership with Rags2Riches (R2R). R2R is an organisation that engages local artisans to create eco-ethical sustainable fashion items for the environmentally and ethically conscious consumer. Read all about their incredible business model here!
At the beginning of the visit, we were brought to one of the community centres established by R2R and the artisans based in Tondo, Manila. This place used to be an old, ever-smouldering mountainous landfill. To imagine what it must have been for these artisans – many of them, mothers – to stay in such conditions, made us realise how life must have been incredibly difficult in the past. Thankfully, in the present, high-rise buildings now line the area to house over 150 families.
Ate* Cynthia, R2R’s community enterprise manager, greeted us with incredible warmth and hospitality. Immediately, we felt at home. She brought us to R2R’s common area where the community artisans have their meetings, attend workshops organised by R2R, and weave R2R’s products. It’s a simple hall, crowded by the artisan’s trusted looms, panels of half-woven products, and an undercurrent of excitement. This place, brightened by Cynthia’s warmth, is the cradle where every R2R bag comes to life.
(*A Tagalog word that technically refers to an elder female relative, but in social contexts, is used as a term of endearment and respect for an older female friend)
There were artisans doing different tasks simultaneously – like the gears of a clock, they never missed a beat. While someone wove a design onto a bag, another person was stitching labels, and another person cut out panels for different bag shapes. It was as if the R2R workshop was a cheerful beehive!
R2R’s community artisans are responsible for collecting and weaving scrap fabric discarded from factories in the area. In this way, they attempt to reduce fabric waste while providing fair employment to mothers in Tondo. The finished woven panels are then sent to the headquarters for quality control and further processing.
The Estelle Mini
During our time at R2R, we had the privilege of meeting five community artisans: Tina, Donna, Leilany, Angelita, and Teodora. They’ve shared very honestly about the things they are grateful for – and it was a truly moving moment for us.
The artisans mentioned how grateful they were to finally have the time to spend with their families over the holidays, beginning the new year right. Previously, due to poorer working conditions, it was difficult for them to find the time and energy to be with their families during the holidays – they were busy working most times.
Meet Ate Tina, one of R2R's community artisans based in Tondo
Tina, a veteran artisan, shared about how she’s grateful for the program offered by R2R. The programme gives her a sense of employment security, and more than that, she feels that she’s a part of a community that supports and builds her up. The financial management courses offered by R2R, along with community building workshops, empowers these local artisans with important business knowledge and a sense of belonging. Before R2R, these artisans earned less than $2 selling the same scrap fabric in the form of floor rags. Now, they are earning a stable income that allows them to support their families and meet their needs.
A snapshot of R2R's amazing business model that strives to empower local artisans while promoting sustainable and ethical fashion
After the sharing, we got a chance at weaving some of the panels used for R2R products. They used two tools for weaving: a wooden panel with nails as pegs and a crochet hook to weave in the fabric together. It took us almost 10 mins to finish one panel. Comparatively, the artisans took less than 5 mins to complete an entire panel. We laughed at our inexperience, and was also impressed with the skill of these the artisans. Such proficiency is only possible with immense investment and dedication to their craft, promising that they deliver quality products every time.
An artisan shared that before they had crochet hooks, they improvised and used forks to serve as makeshift crochet hooks. We rarely see such resourcefulness, and we were quite amazed at how they have the zest to do everything they can to get the job done!
In the afternoon, we went back to R2R’s headquarters and had the great fortune of seeing one of our Puso Pouches being made! The weaving was done immaculately, after which it got sown onto a cloth-and-leather panel to secure the bag’s unique shape.
R2R Pusô Pouch in Red being assembled at the workshop
R2R Pusô Pouch (teal)
Our visit humbled us immensely. We think we understand better now, how community-based enterprises are able to change lives while making a social impact. It all begins with the heart to help others in need, and empowering these individuals to do good on their own. Just like how R2R began with the idea of giving local artisans a sustainable income stream, and empowering them with the skills to create ethical eco-conscious lifestyle items.
We’re so glad to be partnered with such an admirable organisation, and we hope to continuously support them through the sale of their products! Hear from our artisans themselves through a virtual tour of the community center below:
Check out R2R merchandise here!