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Reese Fernandez-Ruiz Shares the Real Story Behind Every Rags2Riches Purse You Buy Off the Shelf

The brand's founder wants to put the spotlight on sustainable fashion.
Reese Fernandez-Ruiz Shares the Real Story Behind Every Rags2Riches Purse You Buy Off the Shelf

Fast fashion appeals to consumers because it’s quick to produce and comes out inexpensive. But because of its impact on climate change, people have started switching to sustainable fashion.

Sustainable fashion brands produce their wares locally, ethically sourcing materials from the country and giving their employees and artisans fair wages and benefits. These brands also utilize textiles that are biodegradable and use fewer resources like water and electricity to create their products. Due to the nature of sustainable fashion, it's important for brands to empower their employees.

One such brand that lives by sustainable fashion is Rags2Riches. It all started in 2007 when Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, a fresh grad at the time, realized that rug weavers in Payatas need fair wages and access to the formal economy.

According to Reese, the rug weavers were being exploited by middlemen who controlled their supply of scrap fabrics and their access to the market. Weavers would only take home a measly P10 to P16 for a day's work. "We were compelled by their stories, as well as the systemic problems of the community of artisans in urban poor areas of Metro Manila. We wanted Rags2Riches to be the kind of business that will always be inclusive and always be considerate of our stakeholders as well as the planet," Reese says.

While the artisans already knew how to weave, their skills needed polishing to produce quality products—especially the woven bags that Rags2Riches is known for today. The brand stepped in and helped them not only enhance their weaving techniques but also improve their financial literacy.

Today, Rags2Riches employs four types of artisans: home-based community artisans from urban poor areas in Metro Manila—usually mothers who can weave as they take care of their children; indigenous community artisans around the Philippines; in-house master artisans—they work full-time and are the ones who put the bags together; and artisans who work as managers, admin staff, and sales staff.

"We make sure that our whole organization is kind and inclusive," Reese explains. "We want to ensure that there are opportunities for growth for everyone, including artisans who want to transition from their homes to the workplace."

Rags2Riches established Artisan Academy, a program that empowers the artisans’ quality of living by equipping them with life skills through partner experts in the fields of financial literacy, leadership and business development. For full-time employees, the Opportunity for Full-Time Employment initiative offers artisans in-house workshops that tackle the entire production process of the bags.

Despite training a growing number of artisans, Rags2Riches doesn’t measure its success by the number of people working for it. Rather, it gauges success by the quality of the livelihood it's able to offer its employees.

“Even if we have trained hundreds of artisans, we measure our impact through the consistency and regularity of job orders. When we are able to provide job orders for community artisans every single week, we consider that to be our real impact." Reese adds, "We are happy and proud to say that we have never missed a month of job orders in our 11 years of operation. This means that our artisans have had a consistent source of livelihood for 11 years now.”

Rags2Riches bags, which range from P2000 to P4000, are priced not only with consideration to the consumers but to the artisans as well. The brand wants to ensure that the artisans will be compensated properly for the hard work and artistry they put into the pieces.

“When you buy an R2R bag,” says Reese, “you don't just support an artisan—you get an item that you'll love for a long time. It will be that piece that will remind you of the little things that matter, the stories that inspire you, and the values that are important to you.”

Rags2Riches continues to do its part to educate its employees and provide them with the means they need to put food on the table, send their children to school, and save for the future—all while creating beautiful, artisan bags that anyone will appreciate. As a consumer, it is important for you to patronize brands with advocacies like these. Spending on sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly products will definitely ease any guilt you feel for treating yourself.

The continued success of Rags2Riches comes from the collaboration of different people who have been with the store from the very beginning: to the hardworking partner communities who created the beautiful pieces, partner fashion designers who trained their artisans, and other vetted social enterprises, cooperatives, and organizations that ensure fair payment for the products of the artisans. There’s also BDO, who supported Rags2Riches and has been their partner for their financial needs since its creation: “We have been BDO clients almost from the beginning of R2R's life! We have a good relationship with our branch, making it easy to make transactions and receiving support on how we make our financials better,” Reese says.

Know more about BDO visit their website.

This article was created by Summit Storylabs in partnership with BDO.