Reese Fernandez-Ruiz’s company is making treasure from trash. By connecting a dumpsite-born cottage weaving industry with fashion designers, supplies and a market, Rags2Riches is empowering Filipino mothers to make riches from rags.
“We were, and are, driven by our values and our goal to uplift the lives of Filipino Artisans. Our vision guided us, motivated us, and made Rags2Riches a concrete and sustainable venture. ”
Reese Fernandez-Ruiz's company arose from a problem buried in a seven-story mountain of garbage. In Patayas, one of the Philippines’ largest dumps and home to 12,000 families, a cottage industry of female rug-weavers was under threat. Enterprising women had found ways to reuse scavenged fabric scraps to create rugs, which they could sell for a profit to feed their children. But over time, middlemen exploited the industry, controlling both the supply of fabric and women’s access to the market, leaving them with about 20 cents a day for their handiwork.
“We all came together because a social problem scandalized us so much,” says Reese. The daughter of a traveling missionary, Reese learned early that the key to helping impoverished children was supporting their mothers. Together with eight other professionals, she founded Rags2Riches, a Manila-based social enterprise that creates eco-ethical fashion and home accessories based on the handiwork and resourcefulness of these weaver women.
Well-established Filipino fashion designers inspire the Rags2Riches women with ideas for transforming scraps into higher value products. Mothers then make stylish accessories like handbags, eyeglass cases, and yoga mat carriers from either upcycled or organic fabric. They no longer have to scavenge through junk, since because of Rags2Riches they can get fabric directly from factories.
Rather than become faceless workers behind high-end fashion labels, the artisans are a part of the formal supply chain, with access to the market and the supplies they need to make a living. Woman artisans are also trained in business and life skills to encourage their success as entrepreneurs. An enterprising group of women formed a cooperative that now owns shares in the company, and today, their handiwork is sold in high-end stores, with weavers earning 2,000 percent more than they did just three years ago.