Trash talk & treasures • Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Jose Paolo S. dela Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 6, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As the good old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” In the Philippines, one woman made it her business to make sure that trash is, indeed, turned to treasure. Rags are sewn into riches and a people’s culture of poverty is transformed into one of hard work — and hope.

It has been six years since Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, together with a few like-minded friends, came up with a plan to create a sustainable livelihood project by turning unwanted fabric from factories into rags. They planned to accomplish this by teaching underprivileged women from the slums of Payatas to sew. And so, Rags2Riches Inc. was born to educate individuals, not just on weaving crafts from the seemingly unimportant “retaso,” but on how they may use these newfound livelihood skills to get a better shot at life.

Today, the doormats that have opened doors have become part of a bigger reality. Rags2Riches has grown into one of the country’s most successful social enterprises, churning out fashionable totes, clutches, wallets, bags and other fashion items. Big creative names have also been linked to it, with artists like Amina Aranaz, Rajo Laurel and Olivia d’Aboville, having collaborated with the fashion brand at different times.

More importantly, Rags2Riches has grown to support hundreds of community artisans around Metro Manila — all of whom have now realized that there’s more to trash than scavenging.

While the success of Rags2Riches is nothing short of phenomenal, the lady behind the project remains as passionate and driven as she was six years ago. “It is a job that keeps me excited every day. There’s always a new challenge, new possibilities,” starts off Reese, the founder-partner and CEO of Rags2riches, who was selected as one of the five inaugural Rolex Young Laureates in 2010.

Reese, a petite beauty with big dreams, seems to have achieved a good balance between doing good and ensuring profits. “It is possible to be profitable and socially relevant at the same time. It’s always important to have a vision paired with a good plan — and brace yourself for the challenges. It’s not going to be easy, but the results can be really fulfilling,” she says.

Reese notes that the biggest challenge lies mostly in the dynamic nature of the job. “We do not have too many people working for us. We do the research, look for clients, study product development…in the beginning, I remember it was a lot of me, running around,” she says with laughter. 

Fortunately, all that “running around” brought Reese and her enterprise places. Rags2Riches has received 20 local and international awards to date (including the prestigious Schwab Social Award for Entrepreneurship); and has been featured in international magazines like Vogue and Time.

And while she is aware that certain milestones have been reached, Reese and her growing troop of community artisans are in no mood to slow down. She might have paid her dues, but she doesn’t seem to mind paying a little bit more. “I’ve always imagined Rags2Riches to be a global enterprise. It’s not yet as big as I want it to be, but we are working towards that level right now,” she reveals with passion in her voice.


Photography by SHAIRA LUNA of At East | Jed Root • Creative direction by LUIS ESPIRITU JR. • Styling by JONA BUENAVENTURA • Makeup by PIA REYES for MAC Cosmetics • Hairstyling by DAVE LOPEZ •  Cropped-top by NIÑO ANGELES; pink high-waist pants and pink cut-out lace dress both by ERIC DELOS SANTOS • Jewelry by MILADAY JEWELS • Shot on location at SOLAIRE RESORT & CASINO’s BAYSIDE VILLA


  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with