EXCLUSIVE: Reese Fernandez-Ruiz Gives North America A Taste Of Filipino Culture With Eco-Ethical Products From Rags2Riches
The social entrepreneur says, "It is not possible to grasp the beauty and complexity of our country and heritage just by our products, but we hope to be one of the catalysts to spark that interest"
If you told Reese Fernandez-Ruiz circa 2007 that one day, her dreams of building a social enterprise would unlock the possibility for other like-minded individuals to do the same and that she would be exporting her business to North America, she would have laughed and politely thanked you for believing in her.
That's because 13 years ago, "social entrepreneurship" was but an underestimated concept pushed to the fringes of many a business person's minds and relegated to whoever was willing to take it on. Sustainability, fair trade, community involvement—these were virtually absent from the vocabulary of 21st century capitalism, yet were already deeply ingrained in Reese years before they made it to the mainstream.
Reese was fighting to grow a lush garden in the middle of miles and miles of desert; faced with a seemingly impossible task, she persisted, and with the hardiness and idealism of youth to fuel her (and few helpful names in fashion to give her a leg up), lo and behold.
The first bud sprung forth from the sand, and it would be the first of many.
It grew, and grew, and grew, and it blossomed, and it came to be known as Rags2Riches: a social enterprise anchored on sustainable fashion (literally turning rags to riches by creating beautiful things from materials otherwise discarded as garbage), the promotion of Philippine craftsmanship, and providing relevant livelihood opportunities for partner artisans across the country.
Rags2Riches went on to become one of the first, if not the most successful brand of its kind, so much so that it's inspired other Filipinos to do similar things and build on the premise, including Gelaine Santiago, co-founder of Cambio & Co., a Canadian ethical retailer that highlights the products and stories of Filipino social enterprises.
Reese didn't just cultivate a garden; she built an oasis.
That brings us to right now. Reese and Gelaine aren't only two pretty peas in a pod, but are actual business partners on a shared mission. Cooking up something special behind the scenes, Reese reveals a truly magical milestone for Rags2Riches and for that matter, local social enterprises as a whole: she has successfully expanded the Rags2Riches Philippine brand to North America with an online shop operated in partnership with Cambio & Co.
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CELEBRATING MORE MILESTONES ✨ One of the earliest inspirations for @cambio_co was the social enterprise @rags2richesinc. They literally were the reason we began our journey, and I remember how inspired we were by a business using fashion to uplift artisans in such a wholesome way. At the same time, R2R's President @reesefernandez was one of my role models and truly made me feel seen as a young Filipina entrepreneur. - This photo is of @jeromegv and I meeting Reese for the first time in 2017 at the R2R workshop in Manila! I remember being super nervous and sweating bullets (though that could also be the Manila heat 🤣). I never would have imagined our partnership would grow and deepen as it has. - Fast forward to now, and 🎉 WE'VE OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED RAGS2RICHES ONLINE STORE IN NORTH AMERICA! 🎉 Our mission at Cambio has always been to amplify our social enterprise partners in the Philippines and grow their impact all over the world. This is the biggest expression of our mission so far, and I'm so honoured to do it alongside a brand and team I admire. - So now you can shop R2R North America online, with an expanded collection (that you couldn't access before outside of Philippines), and eventually exclusive product lines intentionally designed just for North America. Hit up the link in bio 👆🏽 #WearYourHeritage
That only means getting acquainted with a foreign curious about cute Philippine-made things, but more importantly, introducing them to the true purpose behind the business.
"We want to build bridges between the Filipino diaspora and the homeland, and this partnership does exactly that," says Gelaine. "By fostering a direct connection between consumers in North America and Rags2Riches, we also fulfill our bigger mission to amplify social enterprises in the Philippines and grow their impact around the world."
In this exclusive interview with Reese, we share more about her and her brand's most recent achievement in the gallery below:
Rags2Riches Expands to North America
Rags2Riches Expands to North America