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A business with a heart

Fashion designer Ely Gonzales with the Rags2Riches Team

MANILA, Philippines - Susamarie Estabillo recalls making rugs in her dilapidated home in Payatas and glumly, she remembers thinking about the meager profit she makes from those. For a rug that she would weave for hours, she’d only make P1 or P2 because the rest of the profit would go to the middleman.

Still, she went on to make those rugs because she could use the little income to add food to the table and sustain the other needs of her five children.

Susamarie or Ate Nhing is a plain housewife while her husband is a scavenger, one of the thousands of impoverished families living in the garbage mountain of Payatas.

She wished she could make more from making those rugs or find an alternative livelihood to help her family.

And then Rags2 Riches came along to her life.

Rags2Riches, the phenomenal non-government organization that empowers women in Payatas through sustainable rags livelihood, is an initiative of Ateneo graduate Reese Fernandez.

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It is a social business enterprise that creates high-end designer fashion masterpieces and home accessories where at the heart of it is an enterprise that empowers women of poor communities, by providing livelihood that recycles scrap cloths discarded by garments factories around the Philippines.

Rags2Riches has provided sustainable livelihood to poor women that eliminated the need for a middleman which takes most of the bulk of the profit.

From an income to P1 or P2, the indigent mothers are now earning P15 to P30 per rug and thus, are able to sustain more or help their families cope with poverty.

Ate Nhing herself is a success story who  decided to give back by mentoring poor mothers and introducing them to this livelihood. As the leader of the nanays in Payatas, she was able to recruit more members from her community. From 3-5 rugs, their weekly production increased to 70-90.

Today, Ate Nhing has savings in the bank, money she could just imagine before and so are the rest of indigent mothers who are now earning decent incomes.

Fernandez, also the Rags2Riches president explained “our goal is to empower communities from marginalized sectors, improve the lives, and secure the future of families in these communities through building socially responsible and sustainable community based enterprises.”

She said this is an effective tool to slowly lift the poor from poverty and make them productive and sustainable.

“Rags2 Riches is hindi siya tipong outreach na lalabas ka from your comfort zone because in fact you’re in one country.  It’s an illusion na meron kang sariling mong lugar in the country kung saan tinutulungan mo ang ibang tao kasi inevitably when we help other people, you’ll help your own country, you’ll help yourself and your own future,” Fernandez said.

“Mundo din ito ng mga anak mo in the future so I think hindi lahat ng tao nakakarealize nun na yang magnanakaw in the future na pwedeng saktan ang anak mo is a kid you could that have help before or the son of a mother that you could have help hindi dapat nangyari yun. So everything affects you whether you like it or not. So parang ganon, sa tingin ko kasi ganon talaga siya,” she added.  

“So kaya yung pagtulong sa mga nanay it’s really more of galing na galing talaga ako sa kanila. So yung level of respect is very important and feeling and knowing na you don’t know everything. And with the nanay’s they know a lot of things actually more than you do. Pero kapag pinaghalo ninyo ang talents and passion ninyo together then you can do something that will really work.  So I think that’s the magic formula of Rags2Riches,” she explained.

Fernandez said they are gunning their products to be marketable and world-class. That is why they have designers like Amina Aranaz and Rajo Laurel who volunteer their services for the cause.  

Runway models, fashion directors, marketers, and entrepreneurs are supporters and advocates of Rags2Riches.

Soon, they will branch into other products and already noted Cebu-based fashion designer Kenneth Cobonpue will contribute his designs.

In the long run, Rags2Riches aims to inspire and influence other businesses to follow their lead of giving back to the community. They are also aiming to be more environment-friendly by engaging the market in creative recycling and advocating for fair trade.

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