A year ago three design-loving friends Jules Veloso, Andrew Bercasio and Enah Baba founded Itooh Homestyle (pronounced “ee-too,” from the Pinoy expression “Ito, o!” meaning “This is it!”).
Knowing that the sale of home furnishings was forecast to reach $4.6 billion by 2020, and that people were shopping from home due to the pandemic, they built an online platform with a well-curated assortment of local and imported furniture that customers could easily add to cart.
“The pandemic has turned many Filipinos into digitized consumers,” notes Veloso. “There are now 40 million Filipinos transacting online, over twice as much as three years ago. There’s rising Internet penetration, growing cashless transactions, and increasing demand for e-commerce. These are all signs that we're probably not going back to the old era of offline shopping.”
So Itooh partnered with 15 brands initially, and made shopping for the home a convenient, seamless experience. To earn customer trust, they enlisted a team of interior design graduates qualified to vet merchants and curate their pieces well.
Most importantly, Itooh is a valuable resource for local, artisanal furniture. “We are committed to support proudly Filipino craftsmanship because we do have a lot of really good craftsmen here in the Philippines,” Baba says. “Right now over 40 percent of our merchants are local, and we're onboarding more as we partner with CITEM and the Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines.”
Itooh’s home categories include living, home office, home accents, dining, kitchen, outdoor, bed and bath, and kids, with the most popular being “living.” “Filipinos must love to entertain a lot because everyone’s looking for a sofa and accent chair,” laughs Bercasio.
Two of Itooh’s local hero brands, in particular, are Prizmic & Brill and Jed Yabut Furniture & Design.
Matthew Brill, an American from New York who came to the Philippines upon the urging of his designer sister, has stayed for 36 years and is the designer behind Pampanga-based Prizmic & Brill, crafting export-quality pieces from leather and wood (right now mahogany is what’s most available, he says).
“Our two bestselling categories locally would be the desk category — we have one particular desk that just outsells everything,” says Brill, “and bars. We saw a lot of bars, a lot of drinking,” he chuckles.
Bercasio says, “I’m super-excited because every time I talk to our customers they ask me if our (Prizmic & Brill) pieces are imported from abroad, and it's handcrafted locally, as almost all of these pieces are actually made by Filipinos who've been with him for more than three decades.”
Jed Yabut’s eponymous brand was launched just two years ago, triggered by the pandemic. One of the youngest members of Manila FAME, Yabut had been working as an architect in Japan, where he got an MBA from Waseda University, and Singapore, where he had bagged a dream job, until the pandemic hit and everything fell through.
So, Yabut went back to the Philippines and sheltered at home until he felt the need to be creative and pivot after a few months. He started sketching furniture pieces until he had 24 designs, and looked for Filipino artisans who could execute them. In Nueva Ecija he found a workshop that specialized in rattan, and Yabut lived there for four months, learning the craft from the artisans themselves.
Thus, Jed Yabut Furniture & Design specializes in rattan and wood pieces. “The bestsellers in my own shop and Itooh are also for living: the Kweba mirror, Alon chair — the No. 1 chair I’ve produced — and also the Bunot side tables and Kapa lamp,” he says. “Wood products right now are very in demand; a lot of people are ordering buffet tables.”
Yabut opened his own showroom in Taguig yesterday, and viewings are by appointment only.
And now, art
Now known as ShopItooh, the three friends plan to launch an art category in the fourth quarter of this year, headed by Bercasio in collaboration with a Singapore-based Filipino curator.
“If you go to Taytay you will see a lot of artists that don't have platforms or gallery representation, but are making really interesting modern pieces,” he notes. “So the goal is really exclusively dedicated to artists from all over the Philippines. Instead of going to a department store and buying a print for P50,000 from China, you get an artwork for P10,000 and it's a unique, one-off piece made by a Filipino.”
ShopItooh also offers design consultancy services in collaboration with Grupo Santamaria and other interior design firms. “We want to make it more approachable and something that Filipinos wouldn't be intimidated to get,” Baba says. “Filipinos think interior design is expensive, but actually you can save more if your space is well curated and the pieces make sense.”
A year on, ShopItooh has 69 purchase-partner merchants and represents 104 brands. Their site, which features nine home styles, from minimalist and eclectic to industrial, gets 3,500 average daily visits. “We want to make sure that you find a piece that you like, depending on your style,” Baba says.
They’ve also gotten into the market for secondhand furniture, re-upholstery and, thanks to the knowledge they’ve gleaned in the past year, want to create their own line of furniture pieces.
In collaboration with their partners ShopItooh has been furnishing hotels, resorts, restaurants, corporate offices, and addressing direct inquiries from foreign businesses, particularly in Europe. They recently filled an order for a container full of Filipino furniture for shipping to that continent.
“Our goal is to make sure that we elevate and shine a light on local furniture makers,” say Veloso, Baba and Bercasio. “Our vision is to bring the talent of Filipino craftsmen to the world.”
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Visit https://shopitooh.com for more details.
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