Who Made Your Accessories? Women Who Are Making a Difference from Guatemala, Indonesia, Philippines

We have all known and heard of the widespread devastation from the infamous COVID-19 virus, and the ugly stains it has inflicted the Earth with. All over the world, life has never been quite the same with the world’s economy headed towards a decline, businesses having to shut down, and people having to be kept in the confines of their homes - among many other unexpected, negative shocks the Earth has since received. Yet, though we are all caught up in the same storm of COVID-19, not all of us are in the same boat. 


The awareness of sustainability takes an entire ecosystem and oftentimes, it’s easy to forget the invisible makers behind these brands that have been making an impact on the world we live in; our home. They too, are individuals with lives, stories, challenges and dreams. At The Green Collective SG, we are intentional about working with partners that empower and enrich the makers of their products. Let’s not block our ears from hearing, our eyes from seeing, our hearts from feeling; let’s tie our shoelaces, roll up our sleeves, and check on how our fellow makers from Style Cat, The Handmade Romantics, and Green Gaea are holding up in various parts of this hurting world.

  1. The Seamstresses of Style Cat [Philippines]

Tucked away in Bulacan, a town situated outside of Metro Manila in the Philippines, Ate (meaning ‘big sister’ in Filipino) Elsa, a stay-home mother and a full-time seamstress - along with many others - is able to work in the safety of her own home, away from the danger of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus because of the system developed by Style Cat. But hold up! How did this relationship even begin in the first place?



How did it begin? 

With a heart that yearns to lend a helping hand to the less privileged, social entrepreneur and founder of Style Cat, Yuki Higson, shares how she met Ate Elsa, 10 years ago: 


“We go way back! Back when I was in college, I was actively doing charity work in the Bulacan community and that’s how we met each other. We've gone through so much together, we've grown and together, we've developed many products over the years”



Ate Elsa working on her craft from home

Ate Elsa working on her craft from home

What has the impact been to the community? 

Together, the duo worked to develop many beautiful handmade products - many of which we see on the shelves of Style Cat. Most recently, the pair has been busying themselves with their latest product, earsavers. According to Yuki:

 

 “The demand of our ear savers has grown that Ate Elsa gets some of her neighbors to help with the sewing work. It's really teamwork. Also, the earsavers are made of upcycled fabric so when we get clothing donations, it also comes with toy and clothes donations for my community as well.”

Two-Rope Macrame Bags by StyleCat (Available at our Funan space and online)

Two-Rope Macrame Bags by StyleCat (Available at our Funan space and online)



How has COVID-19 Impacted them? 

However, ever since COVID-19 entered the picture, things haven’t been the same. Faced with a stoppage to the flow of logistics, the Filipino team had no choice but to hit the pause button on production. Essentially, this translates to a potential drastic fall in income for all of Style Cat’s beloved seamstresses - unacceptable for sustainable businesses. 

Thankfully, Yuki’s observant eyes picked up on how the prolonged need to wear masks - yes, even in the Philippines - have caused much pain and pressure on the ears of the people. 

Pivoting on the talent and expertise of the Filipino craftswomen, Style Cat immediately responded to the situation by shifting to produce ear-savers instead, allowing the women to continue earning while working from home, which were donated to frontliners in the Philippines.

2. The Weavers of The Handmade Romantics  [Indonesia]

Moving down south, we arrive at the hometown of Mba (a term to address younger ladies in Bahasa Indonesia) Wiwet, a young lady who is exceptionally skilled in weaving. Mba Wiwet and her weaving community comprising mainly of Indonesian ladies specialises in weaving the popular Auntie Chic-style bags that’s loved by many at The Handmade Romantics (THR). Have you ever wondered about the origin story behind your favourite Auntie Chic-style bags?

 

What has the impact been to the community?

In a visit to Central Java,  Stephanie Pandji, founder of THR was introduced to Mba Wiwet by a local artisan community. After their first meetup, THR decided to work with this weaving community because their cause aligned with the group of people making up the weaving community:


“Helping women to not have to choose between work and family is something that I feel strongly about. With this piece of work, we are helping mothers be around for their families and young children.”



By partnering with THR, ladies like Mba Wiwet will be able to assist in easing their family’s financial burdens while keeping an eye on their household. After all, Indonesian traditions hold that women are to stay home and look after the home affairs. Further, incomes of individuals in the family are typically pooled together to support the family’s daily needs, as well as education for the children in the family.

Mba Wiwet weaving The Handmade Romantic’s Auntie Chic-style bags to financially support her family

Mba Wiwet weaving The Handmade Romantic’s Auntie Chic-style bags to financially support her family

THR Auntie Chic Bag, available   online

THR Auntie Chic Bag, available online


How has COVID-19 impacted them?

In a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus which was spreading like wildfire in Indonesia, THR made the commitment to prevent the continuation of any unnecessary work by proactively expecting delays in production and preventing any delay of payments to the Makers team based in Indonesia. 

However, in light of the dire circumstances, THR firmly believes that more can be done to extend a helping hand to the Indonesian community at large. By means of crowdfunding along with 11 other brands within the collective, THR has been working towards medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) along with its allies to bless hospitals and clinics in the smaller towns where the maker communities live. In these remote towns, medical teams are often hindered and short-changed due to a lack of medical supplies and equipment. Hence, with the financial aid provided by The Handmade Romantics and its 11 other allies, more Indonesian medical staff working in the remote areas of Indonesia will be properly equipped to continue saving lives while preserving their own lives in this pandemic.

3. The Artisans of Green Gaea [Guatemala]

Moving out of the landscape in Southeast Asia, the ecosystem of sustainability stretches to Central America. Zooming in on the indigeneous land of the Mayans in the highlands of Guatemala, we’re greeted by the Kaqchikels (people living in Chuacruz, Nahualá and Chirijox), Tz’utujils (people living in San Juan La Laguna), and the K’ichés (people living in Patanatic and Quiejel):

Greetings from the Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil and Quiejel artisans

Greetings from the Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil and Quiejel artisans

Most of these artisans are housewives who are talented in various crafts. Stripped of work opportunities and food supplies, these indigeneous Mayans find themselves hard-pressed on every side as they struggle to find their footing in the quicksand of life. 



What has the impact been to the community?

Enter Green Gaea. Using fair trade practices and supporting local communities, Green Gaea is dedicated to helping these women and families find work, have better health, access to education, clearing land mines, access to clean water and to improve the overall quality of living for each artisan and their communities.

 

According to the founder, Anne Healey: 

“We are guided by the 10 Principles of fair trade which allows us to create high-quality products while respecting the fundamental human rights of our artisan partners.  By earning a fair price for their work, our artisan partners are able to contribute to their household, where the money they earned is mainly used for staples and education for their children.”


As a result, many of these women find fresh meaning of using their existing talent, while preserving their cultural blueprint. For example, the traditional indigenous Mayan method of backstrap weaving was used to create beautiful hand-woven bags and pouches, such as the versatile Travel Pouch. All profits are reinvested into bettering the lives of these women and their families.

 

Green Gaea’s  Travel Pouch , available in three colours

Green Gaea’s Travel Pouch, available in three colours

Going above and beyond

Beyond just providing the indigenous people of Guatemala with opportunities to make a living for themselves, Green Gaea also recognised the importance of education for the people. Over the years, workshops have been organised to educate the indigenous people on topics spanning from gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, literacy, global colour palettes and fashion trends, and even natural medicine. In support of the people’s education, the Maya Traditions Foundation also provides additional support through an education programme which awards scholarships to the artisans’ children.


Yet, pure education is not sufficient to better the lives of people. Recognising that heath is life’s best gift, a separate health programme was also launched to improve the physical and mental health of the artisans and their families by way of rescuing traditional healing practices. 

Further, In order to further support them financially, an ethical tourism program where workshops and artisan demonstrations are offered also seeks to further improve the financial situation of the artisans by allowing them to earn extra income so that they are able to better support their families towards a more sustainable livelihood.


How has COVID-19 impacted them?

Yes, even Guatemala was not spared from COVID-19. Due to the rural nature of the geographical landscape in the highlands of Guatemala, medical supplies and equipment have been scarce; even masks are considered a luxury to have. 


As such, Green Gaea has since gone the extra mile by embarking on The Facemask Project to provide facemasks to the indigenous community in an effort to curb and limit the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19 virus in the community.




How can you help? 

These wonderful makers are just a glimpse into the ecosystem that continues to make an impact, in their own communities and beyond  - there are many more stories of beautiful individuals that make being sustainable possible. There’s always more that can be done but it takes more than one man to change the world. At Green Collective, we carefully curate the partners and brands we work with - those with ethical practices that empower their makers and have impact that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are committed to ensure that any support that you give to our collective community benefits these maker communities directly. Get a gift or something for yourself to contribute, while also doing your part for the earth.