Manila FAME is back to bring world-class design and lifestyle exhibitions to the metro. Best known for its biannual showcase of authentic Filipino craftsmanship, this year’s trade show will be featuring several of our brightest artisans, designers, and local enterprises. The event will run from April 25 to 27 at the World Trade Center.
We’re definitely excited for this event, and what better way to start the countdown than by meeting some of the selected exhibitors? Today, we introduce you to Viajecito, an exciting fashion line dedicated to the fashionable traveler. From beach totes and earrings to Mexican huaraches and splashkits, it has most of the essential summertime accessories that screams chic but practical.
We chatted with Viajecito’s Marketing Executive, Michaella Lopez, to learn more about the brand, how it all started, and what’s in store for Viajecito.
1. What's the story behind Viajecito? Who were the founders and how did you come up with such an inspired idea?
“Our founders are Pia Ugarte Garcia-Morera, Marta Garcia-Morera, and Marla Aquino Batallones. Marta is based in Madrid, Spain. Her parents go to visit her quite often, as her father is from a town just 45 minutes out of the city.
"[On] Christmas 2015 back in the Philippines, Marta's mother, Marilou, had come back from Spain, sporting a bag. With no sign of a brand, this bag was a large, bright coral pink tote. [It] had soft rope handles and a [detachable] linen-zippered lining, which she had purchased in a little tienda in Spain over the summer. ‘I'm seeing them in so many beach stores! It's exploding in beaches all over Europe. I really love mine!’—the clincher. The body was made of silicone rubber and pretty much indestructible.
"Pia thoroughly inspected Marilou's unique tote and saw how much this specific style of bag would fit seamlessly into the Philippine way of life. Beach, rain, weekend trips, beach, rain, more rain. Not to mention, it is quite fun.
Pia turned to Marta: 'We need this in the Philippines. Now.'
"'Let's find it and bring it in,' Marta said in reply. And they did!
"[In] May 2016, the Viajecito brand was created and brought in its very first shipment of rubber totes, [which] were oh-so the rage in Europe, into the Philippines. Since then, the team has been centered around creating an innovative, colorful, and welcoming brand. Pia, designer and head of product development, has been laser-focused on creating new, original products with Philippine sensibilities in mind. Products that followed the tote in the past three years have been the highly versatile: best-selling splashkit, huaraches, splashbucket, and [there will be] many others to come.”
2. What made you focus on making products for the fashionable traveler?
“If you like to travel a lot or move around from place to place, you need a certain level of practicality in what you bring. Hands-free, quick access, durability. Being a sensible traveler doesn't necessarily mean you have to sacrifice your personal chic. Viajecito aims to tick off all—or most of—those boxes. If we can help the most sensible traveler look a bit more chic, and the most fashionable traveler a bit more practical, then we've done our job properly.
"However, in the past three years, we've found our bags being used for so many other things—it's amazing! Diaper bags, laptop bags, coolers. It's incredibly cool how creative people can be. Maybe we should consider adjusting that and go beyond saying we are just for the fashionable traveler, what do you think?"
3. Your items are quite diverse, being locally crafted in places such as Mexico, Verona, and Venezuela. How did you manage to partner with local artisans?
“Like how everyone finds partners these days—social media! No, really! Our item production [actually] has two components. The mass-produced parts of our bags are made in Spain, Philippines, China, and Mexico. The handcrafted finishings such as weaves, linings, crochets, etc., are made by artisans in [the] Philippines, Colombia, and Mexico.”
4. Who designs your items?
“Pia, our head creative and co-founder. She has a background in fine arts, advertising, and marketing. She leads product development, follows the trends and makes sure we listen to what our customers are asking for to create popular pieces.”
5. What kind of materials do you use in your products?
“Silicone, Plastic, Katsa, Cotton, leather, [and] vegetable dye for our shoes.”
6. How do you ensure that the four main attributes of your brand—beauty, comfort, practicality, and accessibility—are reflected on the quality of your products?
“Through the feedback of our clients (super important!) for quality control, lots of crowdsourced questions and polls help us with design choices. We use the items ourselves, so we make adjustments as necessary. We also make sure our prices are accessible.”
7. Why decide to focus on establishing your brand online? What are the challenges you’ve encountered when youfirst started and how did you overcome them?
“We'd like to say it was a strategic move, but honestly, online was the most practical for us. Less costly, and that's where our market was and [still] is. We are very visual; Instagram is very visual. We have so much fun with it, and that's what's important.
"The real challenge was getting a following in Manila. Getting people to discover us and buy this new, rubber bag thingy without being able to touch or feel the material. Back then, embroidered straw beach totes were in style (still are!), so getting folks on the rubber bag bandwagon was our ultimate goal. We overcame the challenges by participating in lots and lots...and lots of bazaars. People saw them, felt them, bought them, loved them. Then they proceeded to get them for their sisters, mothers, daughters, and so on.”
8. What do you think are your brand’s strengths?
“One, the versatility and durability of our products. They are almost indestructible and you can use them pretty much anywhere, any season. Two, having been first to market in the Philippines is a huge advantage. When you see a rubber tote with rope straps here, you automatically think it's a Viajecito. I hope we're not delusional in that aspect. [Laughs] Three, the major passion that goes into our product development. Pia literally cuts, sews, and staples silicone and other random things every day. The entire team scours the Internet for new trends and whether it would work with our brand vision. Four, our openness to collaborate with other brands. We know our strengths, and we know other brands' strengths. Oh, the things creatives can do when they get together—It's a beautiful thing.”
9. What are some aspects that you think you need to improve on and how do you plan to implement these improvements?
“That changes on the regular. As we type this, operations mostly. Efficiency and being more organized as a startup. One tiny adjustment can make a mountain of difference in so many aspects. We work on this every single day. We're learning!”
10. Where do you see your brand in the coming years? What should we expect from Viajecito?
“New products, definitely. We aim to go for one to two new designs a year. We released the Splashbucket this year. Maybe one more? We want to be available in stores across the Philippines. We already deliver nationwide, but we would like to be in-store in provinces outside the Metro.
"International presence for sure. We're hopeful that our participation in this year's Manila Fame will help open some doors for us.”