Rags2Riches began in Payatas, a place that used to be one of the largest dumpsites in the Philippines, and home to half a million people. You can imagine how this company started–they had no money (and they claim they had no talent, but I beg to differ). But what they had was the right intention: to start a for-profit enterprise from sustainable trade which main goal is to empower and better lives. They did this by making beautiful products from something ordinary: a foot rug. Yes, a foot rug. You’ve seen these in common bathrooms–it is made of retaso or scrap cloth, woven into a bathroom or house rug. This can be found in practically every Filipino household, because it is cheap and useful. I never would’ve connected two and two together: foot rug = fashionable bags, wallets or accessories. Who would’ve thought?!
I got to know all about Rags2Riches when I went to their Open House last weekend. I learned about their history and process, and how from its humble beginnings grew a company that now employs 900 artisans (who now enjoys a 200% increase in household income), who works with five of the Philippines’ top designers (Rajo Laurel, Amina Aranaz-Alunan, Olivia D’Aboville, Oliver Tolentino and Kenneth Cobonpue), with 25 retail partners all over the world. R2R was even featured in Vogue UK as a global Filipino brand (it has gotten that big). Apart from that, we also learned how the products are made, which I thought was the most interesting part of the event.
This is what our day was like: we started early (8:00am) and assembled at Rags2Riches’ showroom in San Juan. We had a delicious breakfast (thanks to Legendairy), then took a bus (we were a big group) to Paradise Heights, Tondo. When we got there we learned how to weave. We were, of course, taught by the best–the skilled artisans themselves taught us step-by-step how to weave, and weave well (they have very high standards). It was such a unique experience as we really got to learn the proper way of doing it, as well as some tricks of the trade. Lunch was provided by Bistro 3846 and refreshments by Bayani Brew. And we all got to take home yummy treats from Theo & Philo (I got a Milk Chocolate Adobo bar). I proudly mention these brands because these are social enterprise brands, just like Rags2Riches. These brands strive to make a difference by uplifting lives and practicing fair trade.
It really was a fun day. A little hot, but nothing we couldn’t handle. I was happy to be amongst friends–Amina was there as well as her sister Rosanna, who just got back from London. Bianca Gonzalez, who serves as the brand’s style advocate was also there, as was talented artist Olivia D’Aboville, who designed a line of furniture and rugs for the brand. I also made new friends that day. I got to chat with Rags2Riches’ inspiring founding-partner and current CEO Reese Fernandez-Ruiz (who also recently got married). I sat beside her in the bus on the way to Paradise Heights. She has such a big personality. I really admire her because she really took on this role to make a social difference, and that’s not something you hear about every day. I am so glad I took the time out of my weekend for this. This really was such an motivation to start something positive and good, which doesn’t necessarily have to be big and grand. It can start small, and ripple its way into something significant.
This happy bunch was ready to learn how to weave. This was inside the recreation center at Paradise Heights.
The Aranaz sisters Amina and Rosanna learn how to weave.
This was when things got tricky.
Rosanna too. I love the color of her cloth!
Instead of a crochet needle, this is what they use. Nanay Ineng shared how she found it difficult to use the crochet needle that was given to us. She liked using this makeshift fork better–it is more efficient, she said.
My finished work. By the way, can I just say, I was sitting down in this photo. I found it funny that someone from Twitter replied to this photo, “she’s that tall?” I didn’t get it until I realized that Nanay Ineng does look like she is 7 feet tall in this photo haha.
Rags2Riches is available at:
To know more about the brand, check out their website: http://www.rags2riches.ph