Take a quick trip in campuses around the metro and you would not go home without setting sight on a student wearing a Herschel Supply Co. bag. The Canadian apparel brand, which only started in 2009, has gained a cult following since its inception, thanks to its keen eye for design and quality.
Former Management majors Alexander Fong, Daniel Lumain, and Kristine Ongtengco, together with their good friend, European Studies major Emmanuel Mariano, wanted to emulate something similar, this time, showcasing the rich loom-weaving industry of the Philippines.
Young social entrepreneurs
The idea gave birth to AKABA Ltd. Design Co., a lifestyle company which designs bags made from hand-woven textile from the Ilocos provinces, local fibers, and cow leather.
In collaboration with GKonomics, one of the entrepreneurship programs of Gawad Kalinga, the group used P150,000 ($3,126.95) worth of capital from the organization’s investors to launch its own online store. The group works with and supports different indigenous groups in the Ilocos region, thereby providing livelihood to the weavers in their community.
“We’ve been long-time volunteers in Gawad Kalinga, and the organization is one of the things we all have in common. Having been exposed to the weavers of Ilocos opened us to a business opportunity,” Mariano said.
The first bag they ever sold was to a friend, what would have been considered a “pity buy.” But while Mariano admitted that it was a little underwhelming for them, he saw how their stocks have gradually sold out in the next few weeks, which affirmed that they were on to something.
Growing the brand
The whole project was only intended to fulfill the final requirement of the three Management majors. But, thanks to rave reviews and the legions of followers that the brand has gained over the years, the team decided to continue and further grow the brand even after graduation.
To gain additional funding for their thriving social enterprise, the AKABA team participated in different business competitions. They won in the “I Am A Changemaker” competition organized by the British Council in the Philippines, and then became a finalist in the “Social Entrepreneurship Venture Day Manila” of the Ateneo Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which earned them an additional P150,000 ($3,126.95).
Just recently, the brand has also gained itself investors from Singapore and Indonesia, with plans to expand its distribution channels by having brick-and-mortar stores in Metro Manila, California, and Australia.
This development pushed Fong, Lumain, and Mariano to quit their day jobs to focus on managing their growing enterprise. But, even then, Ongtengco and Fong continue to finish their post-graduate studies at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“Working part-time is a challenge since we’re still not yet meeting the growth that we would like for the company. And mixing it up with our other responsibilities has been trying, at best,” Mariano shared. “But working with people that you trust, and always having a good time while doing it, provides a certain energy that somehow keeps us going.”