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How Zarah Juan Weaves Indigenous Design And Culture Into High-Quality Bags And Shoes

It all started with eco-friendly bags and her desire to help the planet by encouraging people to use these reusable bags instead of plastic bags. Now, the once flight attendant is a full-time bag and shoe designer and entrepreneur, collaborating with different indigenous tribes in the country to create beautiful and unique pieces.

Driven host Tricia Centenera visits Zarah Juan at her store to find out what sparked her Support Local movement and what she has in store for the next weeks.


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Unique designs

Zarah shares that as a flight attendant before, she was exposed to a lot of different perspectives and cultures. This is how she got interested in how the Japanese walk around with reusable bags for shopping, prompting her to start doing here in the Philippines.

Soon, her eco-friendly advocacy grew and evolved when she met the Bagobo Tagabawa community in Davao in 2013.


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The colorful tribe of the Bagobo Tagabawa (Photo from @zarahjuan)


“The first time I saw them, I really fell in love with them. They’re kind hearted people, colorful, fun,” Zarah recalls. And seeing that they didn’t have much in the way of work and education, she took it upon herself to help them bring out their creativity and passion.

Now, Zarah Juan has become a brand featuring the unique beadwork of the Bagobo tribe, where each beadwork has a thread at the bottom that encases the whole design. Every piece is also designed independently by one of the 68 beadworkers under the brand, that’s why no two pairs of shoes and slippers look alike.


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Image from @zarahjuan


“I just designed the base where the community can express themselves. So it’s really pure collaboration. If you see the shoes, there are no two designs that are the same,” Zarah says. “That’s the beauty of this collaboration. It’s never just mine. It’s really theirs. I’m just a platform.”



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Arte Fino collaboration

Zarah is preparing for something new at the end of the month, which she will be debuting at the ArteFino show on August 30 to September 2 in 8 Rockwell. She will be showcasing her pieces alongside other talented Filipino designers like Jor-El Espina, an Ilonggo master of bridal and Filipino formal wear.

For her collection, Zarah is showcasing handmade wicker bags that marry different Filipino cultures and tribes. One of the pieces in the collection is this Carabao wicker bag, where the wicker is woven by a group of older men who used to supply an international brand, the woven fabric comes from the weavers of the Ilocos Region, and the headpiece is made by the T’Boli community.


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Because of the exquisite craftsmanship, the pieces could also double as home décor.

Zarah says that she continues to explore more tribes in the Philippines whose talent she can highlight. “I dream for our local products to become mainstream products…and for the young generation to embrace it also. We can also support indigenous by supporting what they produce, by supporting local.”


Catch Zarah Juan’s full episode on Driven, airing on Metro Channel, channel 52 on Sky Cable and channel 174 on HD. Catch premiere episodes on Thursdays, 8:30 p.m., and replays throughout the week.