There’s more to fashion than the glitz and glamour. For some businesses, typically referred to as social enterprises, the local fashion industry can serve as a platform to help underprivileged communities by training and recruiting them to become regular employees, and providing them with skills, opportunities, and a sustainable livelihood. Social enterprises focus on specific advocacies such as poverty eradication, rural development, education, and human rights, among others—projects for which their profits are often invested on.
Plenty of social enterprises reside in the Philippines, from food and agriculture to skincare products and retail, so there are always opportunities to make a purposeful purchase.
We’ve rounded up 10 social enterprises in the fashion industry for folks who want to engage in fashion for a cause. After all, wouldn’t you want a chance to make an impact in someone else’s life the next time you buy a nice pair of shoes?
1. Zarah Juan
Zarah Juan is an independent designer known for her artisanal bags and shoes. This widely-recognized entrepreneur started her business as a solo creator and eventually ventured into establishing a social enterprise that provides jobs for marginalized communities, partnering with local weavers, artisans, and suppliers.
Some of the communities that Zarah has managed to work with are the T’boli tribe from South Cotabato, the Bagobo Tagabawa from Davao, leather suppliers from Bulacan, and abaca vendors from Bicol. She takes pride in the fact that her brand fuses cultural awareness and social impact. Every item reflects the collective effort of the communities she collaborates with.
2. Crystal Seas
Founded in Davao, Crystal Seas is a social enterprise that promotes Mindanao artistry through fashion accessories that incorporate locally-procured traditional materials from the region such as handwoven textiles, shells, and metalcraft.
Crystal Seas’ primary objective is to provide sustainable livelihood for persons with disabilities, out-of-school youth, ethnic tribes, and women while promoting the culture of Mindanao. “Our relationship with [our partner communities] is not transactional, but transformational,” founder Carmaela Braceros Alcantara told Cosmo.ph.
3. Alima Community
This award-winning, artist-led enterprise based in Iloilo invests on “immersive collaborations through slow, enduring, and sustainable approaches and strategies.” Partnering with Ilonggo women artists, Alima Community currently has three brands under their belt, namely: Rofil, referring to jewelry made of wild vine and endemic seeds from Barotac Viejo; Kataw, accessories from beach trash and sea debris from San Joaquin; and Himbon, upcycled nostalgic totes from San Joaquin.
Alima also offers creative workshops and programs under The Nest Program, which is aimed at instilling the idea of “art for the self [as equal to] art for society” for attendees and trainees.
The Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous and Ingenious Little Livelihood Seekers, or ANTHILL, is an internationally-acclaimed fabric gallery based in Cebu “with cultural tradition/identity and ethical fashion at the heart of its cause.”
Established in 2010, this enterprise has managed to partner with various suppliers and indigenous weaving communities from across the country. They have a wide array of products to choose from, from footwear and clothing to bags and accessories.
5. AKABA Ltd. Design Co.
Also an award-winning enterprise, AKABA specializes on high quality bags made of indigenous handwoven textiles. They collaborate with cooperatives to train and hire underprivileged communities and indigenous groups in Ilocos and other regions to provide them with sustainable livelihood.
Apart from providing their communities with healthcare and financial assistance for education, AKABA also offers above-the-minimum wages. Quite admirably, their long-term goal is to capacitate the communities enough for them to organize their own cooperatives and ideally partner with AKABA, which will provide the communities wider opportunities to collaborate with other partners.
6. Kinamot nga Buhat
Kinamot nga Buhat is a jewelry label based in Tacloban best known for their Haiyan Unity Bracelet, woven by Haiyan (Yolanda) Typhoon survivors from the region. Kinamot nga Buhat focuses on providing “a fair and regular income to marginalized women in Tacloban” by employing them to produce handcrafted jewelry.
Their name translates to “handmade” in Waray-waray, succinctly describing the very nature of their primary products, which are made to “mirror the Waray aesthetic and psyche.”
7. Habi Batangan
Habi Batangan aims to revive the dying art of habi weaving of rural Batangas by reintroducing the age-old technique to more local artisans from underprivileged communities through social programs and training, led by the Nanay Weavers of Ibaan.
Founded in 2016, this social enterprise primarily seeks to “bring sustainable change in the lives of women from underprivileged weaving communities in rural Southern Luzon” by marketing the lovely scarves and other woven products created by the weavers.
8. Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co.
Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co. is a society-centered enterprise that partners with indigenous peoples in producing handmade accessories. By giving indigenous peoples an opportunity to market and invest on their skills while also ensuring that these communities’ cultures are preserved and promoted, they “envision sustainable and empowered Indigenous communities with a sense of pride and dignity in their culture, craftsmanship and heritage.”
Founded in 2014, Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co. has managed to partner with several communities and other enterprises, most notably the Aeta Community in Guimaras who were able to craft the fashion line Maruyog Charms, released under Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co.
Established in 2007, Rags2Riches has been a staple brand in social entrepreneurship, pioneering in eco-ethical fashion crafted from recycled, organic, and indigenous materials. The fashion and design house works with impoverished communities across the country, often providing livelihood to women artisans.
Rags2Riches also provides skills-based, financial and health training for the communities that they cater to. Rags2Riches is best known for merging traditional and contemporary artisanal techniques, and takes pride in serving as “proof that style and sustainability can coexist.”
10. Filip + Inna
Filip + Inna is a clothing brand that marries native Filipino artistry with chic modern style. With artisans from 19 different indigenous groups from across the country, including the Mangyan, Maranao, and Tausug, Filip + Inna gives a distinctly Filipino flair in contemporary fashion while still preserving ancient techniques of weaving, embroidery, and beadwork from different communities.
Currently, the enterprise has three collections out: the Ma-i, a visual feast of patterns; Balat, which incorporates leather; and, Mindanao, showcasing styles unique from the region.