How do we build a world that works for everyone?
I was pretty anxious about this event. Our theme was sustainability, a concept that I was still in the process of understanding. I wanted to give justice to the theme. But it was impossible to learn everything I needed to learn prior to the trip. I reminded myself that the point of Life Stories is we all get to learn from each other's experiences (this includes the organizing team). My anxiety slowly turned into excitement.
What experience made you want to live and consume more mindfully?
I asked everyone during our first session. For me, it was hiking and backpacking around the Philippines. I felt fortunate to be able to travel to breathtaking places and be accompanied by people who knew how to honor them. I wanted to do my part so that others get to experience them too. After reminiscing about our first encounters with mindful living, it was Kylie Misa and Yvette Gaston's turn to share the story of WVN Home Textiles.
Sustainability means keeping traditions alive.
Contrary to the assumption, Kylie & Yvette weren't always passionate about handloom weaving. Their main goal is to empower the people they partner with. They spend a lot of time on the ground with weaving communities, many of which are small, family-run operations that have grown with WVN.
It's not about pursuing your passion, but that you have to be passionate in all that you do.
Kylie and Yvette support these local communities by offering product development and helping them to innovate. They build relationships by directly collaborating with the weavers and removing middlemen, thus allowing the weavers to benefit more. Today’s mainstream fashion industry relies on mass production where everything is produced quickly to meet the current fashion trends that change so often. Supporting handwoven items allows weavers to continue their tradition, and the buyer also receives a piece of art that is made to last.
We had the opportunity to meet one of their partner communities in Bangar, La Union. There we met Benita de Castro. She built the weaving house in order to provide a livelihood for her village and to preserve the inabel industry. Benita is in her 90s, but she continues to manage the operations, giving me my spare change as I purchase one of their beautiful creations.
We met the women weavers, and some of us even got to try weaving. Most of them shared the dream of getting younger people into handloom weaving, and through partnerships with enterprises like WVN Home Textiles and pioneers like Mrs. De Castro, this dream may turn into a reality.
Impact beyond what our eyes can see
For Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, Rags2Riches had a similar start. She had zero interest in home accessories, fashion, or "stuff" in general. It was hard to find a product or service that she could be personally invested enough to pursue. But she was (and still is) fascinated with systems, solutions, and creating opportunities where there are none. Eventually, she grew to love the products that helped make that possible.
For me, the items we make and sell are not just products, they are tools for sustainable development and symbols of hope.
She advised us to intentionally seek out what makes us tick, inspired, emotional, or even disturbed. Keep asking questions. And instead of alienating others, engage with them.
When people tell me that I have transformed lives, I feel uncomfortable. Because while that is true in some ways, it is not a one-sided thing.
Before this trip, Reese was one of the people I looked up to. She is after all one of the OGs of social entrepreneurship in our country. But now that I was able to meet her and work with her, I have gained more respect and admiration for her as an individual. The road she took is not easy, but she and her team are determined to create fair and inclusive opportunities for local artisans. They call them their partners to recognize how both their lives are transformed in the process.
Sustainability means different things to different people. Whatever experience made you think about it, whether it was coming face to face with your overflowing closet, or getting to know a local community and finding ways to work together, it’s a good starting point as any. It also helps to have people who remind you why you started in the first place.
What we do everyday matters.
When we make changes in our daily lives, with the intention of helping others enhance theirs (all living beings included), and other people start asking us why or how, then we can engage in conversations that can shift our laws, our practices, and our mindsets. Thank you to everyone who said yes to this event, you remind me of the good in the world. Let's pay it forward.