What country are your bags manufactured?
Please explain how your bags are socially responsible?
Social responsibility really is at the heart of this clutch bag design. I originally started a small social enterprise to teach young women my jewelry making skills. Through GKonomics(http://gkonomics.com/ a platform who's mission is to 'To help the poor through social entrepreneurship') I was partnered with a wonderful group of young women from an underprivileged community in Tacloban (a city that has become forever associated with the natural disaster of Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013). As my brand evolved and grew, I wanted to incorporate more Filipino indigenous textiles to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship further which resulted in me designing clutch bags. This Sophia clutch bag was born from a desire to specifically showcase the work that the women from the social enterprise in Tacloban could do. So that's where the beautiful woven chain hand strap comes from. This is work they can do at home, which means they can earn a sustainable income without having to leave their young families. All the other elements of the clutch bag have a socially responsible element too, by providing economic freedom and a sustainable source of income through traditional craft. The cream fabric used is called T'nalak. This is an indigenous material handwoven by the Tboli people of Lake Sebu, Mindanao. Tnalak weaving is a way of life for most of the tboli women, handed down from generation to generation. The woven rattan is a pattern called Solihiya (traditionally used in furniture, itÃÂ¢Ã¢ÂÂ¬Ã¢ÂÂ¢s my favourite design of weaving and where the inspiration for my brand name came from!) this is created by a small group of women artisans, from Mindanao too. And finally, the brass clasp is handcrafted by a husband a wife team from their brass workshop also located in Mindanao.
Do you work with local/native artisans to design your bags?
I have designed the bags, but I use traditional tnalak fabrics that are designed by the artisans who are weaving them. I also work very closely with the workshop in Mindanao where the bags are constructed. Over the past two-and-a-half years I have worked with Rey the manager there to tweak my initial designs to continually improve on them.
Working Conditions. Are the manufacturers/artisans that are being employed being treated humanely, of age, and working in safe and acceptable conditions? Please explain.
Yes, I have visited the ladies in Tacloban numerous times and have a very close relationship with them. I have been invited into their homes many times which is where they make the woven hand straps. They are basically small concrete homes, but they are now living in much better conditions to the slum area they were living in before they were rehoused to this community. I am also in regular contact with them on Facebook messenger. I have a middle woman Danika, now a very good friend of mine, she is based in the city of Tacloban. She works with a lot of NGOs and charities in Tacloban so she and GKonomics (the platform who introduced me to the ladies in the first place) helped me at the beginning with working out a fair wage for the ladies and we continually reassess this. With the current situation though we, unfortunately, have problems with actually getting supplies to the ladies. But the fact that I am in close contact with Danika and with them means we are keeping a close eye on the situation, and currently working out ways I can help them if needed. The workshop where the bags are constructed is managed under a well known multi-purpose cooperative called Klowil MPC. The cooperative aims to generate livelihood for the Tboli Abaca farmers and weavers, so I know that all the weavers and artisans are paid a fair wage, there are no children and working conditions are good. I am unable to visit the weavers or workshop in person as to where they are located is in a restricted travel area for any foreigners. This hasn't stopped us from forming a trusting relationship though. We are in contact via Viber regularly and Rey the manager also updates me regularly, sending photos and videos. Again this current situation has provided a few obstacles as the workshop has to put a stop to any production as they are all needed to make masks and improvised PPEs as the government hasn't provided any for their province. I'm thankful I've been able to help them through and donate towards the incredible work they are doing. Having these strong authentic relationships is so important to me and the absolute key to my brand.
Why did you choose this country to have your bags made and what made you decide to give back? How have your bags impacted this community?
I lived in the Philppines for three years. What's so special about the Philippines? Well, apart from the friendly locals, the beautiful nature, an abundance of beautiful beaches, delicious fruit... I could go on....! The thing that struck me when we first moved there and has continued to inspire me is the incredible craftsmanship found in everything from homeware and furniture to accessories and fashion. Living there also meant I was able to see first hand the huge disparity between the rich and poor. This along with the strong artisanal culture motivated me to pursue opportunities for creating my own social enterprise which then evolved in to designing bags so I could incorporate more Filipino craftsmanship and showcase it to more people This is the reason I want to give back to the country that was my home for three years and continues to hold a special place in my heart.
Soli & Sun, Sophia, clutch bag, T'nalak (abaca), Rattan & brass, $165