A Social Enterprise Weaving Joyful Stories: Rags2Riches Partner Spotlight

As a Philippines based fashion and design house empowering community artisans, Rags2Riches (R2R) is proof that style and sustainability can coexist. Co-founded by social entrepreneur Reese Fernandez- Ruiz in 2007, R2R partners with local artisans across the Philippines to create eco-ethical fashion and home accessories out of upcycled, overstock cloth and indigenous fabrics.

Their stock consists of a range of Women and Men's bags, including shoulder, sling, crossbody, backpacks, clutches and wallets. Every year R2R releases new collections to reflect lifestyle needs and the use of artisan created materials. Within the first two years alone, the brand had trained around 1,000 artisans (mostly women) and created sustainable and reliable opportunities for them to improve their lives.

R2R’s existing retail partners are primarily located in The Philippines with a few spread out throughout the rest of the world, such as Anthropologie (US & EU), K’ness (Switzerland), A Bag with a Story (Benelux), and American Nomad. With a supply chain driven by two guiding principles of design and governance, R2R’s business model focuses on collaborative design, empowerment and inclusive progress and conscientious commerce.

Reese is the force behind the ethical brand, having been recognized in Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in 2015, she is propelling R2R to be a brand to watch.

1. What was your inspiration to start R2R and what is your proudest moment thus far?

Our inspiration was really the artisans - their lives, crafts, determination, and joyfulness. It is so hard to choose one moment that we are proudest of because there are so many artisans and so many moments that we'll forever remember and look back to! But perhaps if I could mention one, I would choose that first time (of many) when we saw all of the bank account passbooks of our artisans spread out on our table, ready for distribution. It was the start of something new and unprecedented in our communities. Only a small percentage of Filipinos have bank accounts due to various barriers to entry but our artisans who used to not even have enough money for a day's worth of food, now have surplus to save and think about the medium to long term.

2. In which direction do you see the future of sustainable brands going? And how do you see the future of your own brand?

The ultimate dream is for one day, we take "sustainable" away from the qualifier of brands only because sustainable is the only way to go. But we have a long way to go from that scenario. In the meantime, socially conscious and sustainable brands should share beautiful stories but also amazingly designed products with uncompromising quality. As for R2R, our goal is to expand our market to more cities and countries because our business model and supply chain are built to be inclusive and create positive impact by just simply operating. This means that as we grow the market, we grow our impact. We see R2R as an opportunity platform for artisans to truly be included in the supply chain of fashion and for other social enterprises to reach and learn from the market.

3. How do you as a brand ensure ethical production and transparency throughout your supply chain?

From the onset, we built R2R to be an end-to-end inclusive supply chain and it was an incredibly challenging one to build! Every single decision and policy we made along the way considers the well-being and future of our artisan communities. Weaving the principles of ethics, empowerment, and transparency into every single thing we do is definitely harder than just creating policies to follow, but we believed that it is worth it. We believe that in order to truly ensure sustainability, we have to integrate them into our systems with the right incentives and support.

4. How do you approach new seasons and trends as an ethical fashion brand?

It is very tricky to create newness especially when we believe and stand for "Things That Matter"! This is why our design process and go-to-market approach is incredibly intentional. We create new products and design new seasons not just according to market trends but according to actual lifestyle needs. We design products with the least waste possible (and we make use of whatever remnants we can find) and with the maximum usability. So if you see an R2R bag that looks classic and stylish enough to go from day to night, or an R2R bag that can transform into 4 other bags, those are the design babies we gave birth to with maximum usability and longevity in mind!

5. What excites you about partnering with Kanekta?

We love our social enterprise and artisans and we are excited to partner with like-minded and like-hearted companies and platforms like Kanekta that can spread this love to the world!

Discover and shop their wholesale collections through Kanekta starting late Summer, 2017. To learn more about Rags2Riches and Reese’s story visit https://rags2riches.ph/