Having worked with well-known brands like Neiman Marcus, Target, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barell, industrial designer Ana Bernardo has made quite the career for herself in the global market. Despite finding success internationally though, her true passion remains with the local Filipino artisans who she believes harness as much talent as their big league competitors. It’s in this perseverance to marry her love for design and the recognition of untapped native craftsmanship that PULO came into fruition.
Abbreviated from its full name, Purveyors of Local, PULO is a curated lifestyle concept store and social enterprise that showcases the works of local craftsmen through basic yet necessary home products. Where other brands may lean towards the visual intricacy of their commodities to sell, PULO isn’t afraid to keep their designs in their most basic silhouettes. “It makes [them] vulnerable but also very dignified because the other aspects of it such as the weaving and finishing gets to stand out more,” Ana explains. “I enjoy working with utilitarian pieces for the home because it is these little pieces that we take for granted because we use them every day but being able to make people look a little longer in a basic product that is well made and plays with textures makes it rewarding.”
More than their abaca baskets, rattan bar carts, or their clay and lahar tea sets, however, are the individual stories behind the making of their products. It’s in presenting these narratives of dedication and hard work that Ana believes allows PULO to stand out from the other home lifestyle brands already present in the country. Not to mention, this readily offered transparency easily hones a certain trust between PULO and its eco-conscious customers. “PULO as a brand takes pride in compassionate storytelling. We like showing our consumers on how these natural fibers are gathered and processed into the piece of design that they are holding,” Ana tells Preview.
Get a peek at their products below as Preview talks to Ana about PULO’s conception, creative process with their partner communities, and more!
What is PULO and how did it come about?
"PULO is born out of necessity. Although I enjoy designing, it is the process of making handicrafts that interests me the most. It is the raw exchange of ideas and capabilities with the artisans that makes me feel grounded in all things that I design, thus making every product more meaningful. PULO is ultimately a product of a collaboration of my design and the narrative of the artisans who have always been generous in sharing their craft. "
Could you tell us the story behind the name?
"The name PULO means island in Tagalog. Philippines being an archipelago, the name signifies our aim to make our islands more connected and for our partner artisans to share a common ground, which are design and craftsmanship. I believe that things are stronger together and working together to bridge the gap on skill sharing is what we're trying to accomplish. Our islands may be far away from each other but I believe that design could make them a little more connected. The name Purveyors of Local is our brand promise to always support local artisans."
What materials do you use and where are they sourced from?
"We have a myriad of products that are locally sourced from communities where these materials are abundant because this system creates more jobs for the community. Our main materials are Rattan, Abaca, Bamboo, Bariw, Buri and Local Clay. Our secondary materials are wood and natural stones. We also try to work with recycled fabric from the textile industry and mix them with natural materials. We make sure that the materials we use are either abundant and easy to grow or recycled."
Could you take us through the creative process of designing and producing your products?
"Our design process usually start with the artisan capabilities. As a designer, I'm not comfortable in imposing my design with the artisans who have been doing their craft for generations. I usually start by stating my intent in developing products with them and then asking the artisans if they are willing to walk me through the whole process of making the product. This makes me more aware of the current strength and limitations of the material and the production process, both of which play an integral role in producing a holistic design. I usually consider their initial work as starting point for development and then slowly work towards a new product that is in collaboration with the artisan. I like sharing the ownership of design with every community we work with."
What would you say is PULO's primary aesthetic?
"PULO's primary aesthetic is basic but detailed. Stripping off a design to its basic silhouette makes it vulnerable but also very dignified because the other aspects of it such as the weaving and finishing get to stand out more. I enjoy working with utilitarian pieces for the home because it is these little pieces that we take for granted because we use them every day; but being able to make people look a little longer at a basic product that is well made and plays with textures makes it rewarding. It is through this that I feel I was able to honor the otherwise humble material and artisan that made it."
Describe the lifestyle that fits your brand?
"I would say it's the conscious lifestyle. Our product all carry a story on how it's made and sourced, I think people who enjoy knowing where their products are from would enjoy it."
You've worked with a number of international brands before. How did you marry your experience with these brands into PULO's conceptualization and product design?
"I picked up the system on how they organize product development. Top international brands all have an efficient process on how they want their products made and how it will go out in the market. It is the same efficient system from initial communication to development and then feedback that I try to work around our artisans only that we get to start to the very beginning of gathering, replenishing the material, processing it, and then producing it so that it will be sustainable."
How does PULO stand out from the rest of the concept stores?
"I think PULO stands out because we like talking about how our products are made and who made them. More than the products that we produce, PULO as a brand takes pride in compassionate storytelling. We like showing our consumers on how these natural fibers are gathered and processed into the piece of design that they are holding. I like being able to show a detailed production and design story; it is the narrative that I enjoy talking about the most."
PULO is also a social enterprise. What communities/organization are you working with and what's your partnership like?
"PULO is partnered with a cooperative in Bataan that helps us support our artisans through medical, financial, and educational programs. We also try to work with the local government units that govern our communities on sustainability and continuous job generation for our artisan and their communities."
What's next for PULO and where do you hope to take it in the future?
"I hope to take PULO to more communities to work with and enable skill sharing among each other to create strong Filipino products. We're an archipelago and I believe that we have a lot of things to work around with. Ultimately, I want to remove the idea that local or native means substandard and that artisanal and handmade are not exquisite. I want to show that Filipino craftsmanship is resilient, dignified, and purposeful."