While online businesses are not a fresh concept, it was only when the pandemic hit that an influx of these ventures reached a new high. Prior to COVID-19, the idea of attempting to open up a small business using social media and e-commerce platforms was, frankly, not considered "cool."
There’s a sense of internalized shaming that many online sellers go through. During my own stint as an entrepreneur online, I would have moments of self-deprecating thoughts like how my efforts to earn more through a sideline online was actually pitiful and shameful to look at. Eventually, it would lead to feeling like I was being judged with the assumption I probably wasn’t earning enough.
The CEO of Kamila’s 4am Art, Millicent Dumalaog, or Mimi as she is fondly called, knows exactly what that feels like, too. For her, shame came in the guise of harsh comments from others with words like, “Magna Cum Laude, Valedictorian tapos nagbebenta lang ng Victoria Secret online.”
While you may have already picked it up from the previous statement, it’s good to note that the key to Mimi’s inspiring story is her educational background. She graduated last 2017 with flying colors as a Magna Cum Laude from the prestigious University of the Philippines Manila where she pursued a B.A. in Political Science. Prior to college, she also amazingly finished strong as the Valedictorian in her highschool class.
Along the way, she first established Kamila’s Online Boutique in 2016, which was initiated through Mimi and her sister’s desire to help sell their mother’s collection of Victoria Secret perfumes. Unfortunately, after graduating, Mimi’s excitement to help her mother earn a little extra was instead met with criticism. She faced a rather antagonistic crowd that gave her flak for ending up as an online seller in spite of her educational background.
“I was so ashamed—really, really ashamed because in the Philippines, there’s this thinking that if you’re a degree holder, especially if you came from UP, you should be going to big corporations or going your merry way towards the corporate ladder,” Mimi tells Preview. “I was bullied since I was in elementary school. When you come from a small town, the expectation is quite high. Those who were bullying me started talking about ‘the Valedictorian of San Jose who is now an online seller.’ It was as if it was a shameful thing.”
Fortunately, Mimi didn’t let the opinion of others get to her. Apart from developing her online business into an artisan jewelry shop, she's since risen above the stigma and is doing better than ever. Currently, the entrepreneur is also a proud MA holder under Nagoya University for International Development. She is now in pursuit of an even grander feat as she studies for her PHD in Nagoya, Japan. Even if it’s currently being remotely spearheaded, Kamila’s 4am Art is experiencing tremendous success—to the point that Mimi and the business have earned features online. On top of that, she also uses her platform for women empowerment, environmental conservation, and mentoring a community of small business owners.
While Mimi has already spoken up on the issue, and has talked about how she handled the hostility in her viral Facebook post last April 28, she sat in with us and shared explicitly how she rode and braced the harsh waves, and emerged at the top—stronger, brighter and as per her, more alive than ever.
What’s your opinion around the set notion of what the future of college students who graduate with honors should look like?
“I think it’s an internalized pressure kasi na when you graduate with honors you need to do so well in life, even if the definition of ‘so well’ in life only means money. A lot of people who graduated with honors—not only with honors actually—but degree holders, they think that it’s a source of shame when you don’t practice what you studied.
“My passion in life is to really inspire and empower people to pursue what makes them happy and to be better for themselves. I really believe that money follows when you love what you do. If you’re going to be motivated to put in your time and effort first, money will follow.”
What was the tipping point when you realized the success you have now is the only definition of success that matters to you?
“I think when I came to Japan a lot of realizations came to me. First and foremost, if I may share, I’m dyslexic. I really struggle with grammar, with writing, and with spellings and typos. This was to the point that I remember I was so ashamed whenever I posted in English. I really didn’t like having thoughts like, 'UP grad tapos mali mali English.'
“I was so humbled when I came to Japan since no one is measuring your intelligence based on your English. First mindset nila that was broken to me was you don’t need to be an English speaker to be considered intelligent. Intelligence doesn’t mean English speaking. That’s number one. So from then on, ang dami na rin nabasag na notion sa akin. I think that would be a tipping point. Secondly, when I started my business. After that, I saw that when people see you’re brave enough to do what you love, they would follow. I see my friends making Facebook pages now about the perfumes or lipsticks that they sell.
“To answer your question though, I think the tipping point was going to another country where your educational background and everything about you—your personality is not measured by where you graduated or what you’re doing with life. So I think those helped me grow as an individual and to be the person that I love.”
Where did your business mindset come from and what made you pursue an online business after college?
“I think it’s not a question that applies to me, because first and foremost talaga, it was a hobby. There was no intention for it to become a business. Parang the business became a necessity because I need to have a steady source of income to maintain the hobby ‘cause it’s going to be expensive. So, it started from there, and then I noticed the difference when my friends loved it and that there was a market for it. There were really no intentions in the beginning [for a business]. That’s why I had a lot of problems building the business. My business partner, Harry, was the one who helped me build a business out of the hobby.
“My business mindset, I think, came from before finishing college. I knew I wouldn't go to the corporate world. I felt it would be very limiting to me. I really didn’t want a monotonous job of ‘8-5’. I also recognized early on that I’m a creative, and therefore I will not survive in an environment where I cannot explore things—to which I think is the corporate world. The corporate world tends to follow a structure; you need to follow rules and instructions. Really, the motivation behind the business was so that I could grow something with my mom or dad and it’s something that they could do in their retirement. So, that’s one of the original motivations.”
Where does the name of your current remote business, Kamila’s 4am Art, come from?
“4am Art because I came from a poor family—mahirap ang buhay before. My parents are children of farmers. So they graduated and became teachers. Therefore, they really instilled in me the importance of studying if I wanted to find success in life. So, since I was seven, they would wake me up at 4 a.m. to study. After graduating college, I still wake up at 4 ‘tas yung call time sa office 9 or 10 a.m.. So, sayang yung oras! Sabi ko, ‘Teka lang, hanap ako ng something I can do at 4 AM without disturbing anyone.’ ‘Yun yung arts—kaya siya naging Kamila’s 4am Art.”
In your interview with Daily Tribune, you shared that your advocacy is Women Empowerment. How do you channel this through your work?
“Several ways actually! First, my research and dissertation in my masters is about women and migrants and their perception of public policy. As you’ve noticed in the Daily Tribune interview, I’m also helping in some projects such as Ms. Anna Matibog’s project for nanays in Laguna. Also, all of my team members are women. So far itong business partner ko lang yung nag-iisang lalaki sa team.”
“In the future, I hope to have my own community of nanays that I can hire to make art and to produce for the team. As a researcher, I really recognized the reason for why karamihan ng livelihood programs are failing. That is, if it’s not empowering the stakeholders, parang nagiging employees lang sila—parang walang ownership. I really want to have a project where I would empower them and their livelihood would be sustainable and be something that they [the nanays] would want to continue.”
Are there new/ongoing offerings (products/programs) we should look out for from your end?
“Right now, we are working on, though very slowly, a new venture. Nagstart na kami sa yoga mat and beach towels. We are going to produce clothes, more on athletic wear from recycled PET bottles. For now, our main aim is to be able to train other small business owners. I think we have 3000 community members already—a community of small business owners that we teach to leverage social media. This is so that they can grow their own business as well.
“The community of small business owners is called Kamila’s Penguins. The name ‘penguins’ came from the story that apparently penguins push each other to move forward. That’s how we want it to be for our community. If you have a community that understands, it’s a totally different support system. On the other hand, the start-up is named Our Ethical. The idea is that if there’s more small businesses in this world, then there are better alternatives for us rather than getting from companies with questionable practices.”
Any words of wisdom you would like to share with fellow entrepreneurs and readers?
“I just wanted to share, the moment you're working on something that you love, it’s really true that it doesn’t feel like work anymore. More importantly, I’ve never felt so alive now that I’m doing something that makes me happy day-in and day-out. It’s a totally different feeling than being so tired and dreading to wake up and do your work once more. So, maybe my parting words are to encourage people—don’t mind other people, because it’s your life. Also, just try! At least before you say no, just try and see what happens. Just try and you’ll never know what pans out.”
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