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Addressing poverty through fashion

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Habi Footwear is an enterprise that grew out of a thesis project involving women from a community mired in poverty.

“We had an immersion in an urban poor community where we scanned possible opportunities for livelihood and got to know and live with the mothers. It was a great experience and it opened us to endless ways in which we can work with them,” Janine Mikaella Chiong, president and co-founder of Habi Footwear, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

“After figuring out which skills to start with, we decided to bank on their skills in weaving rugs after finding out that they earned too little from their output (around P10-P15 per foot).”

To maximize the income and the skills of those women, Ms. Chiong said they “decided to incorporate woven mats into footwear as we wanted to come up with a functional, affordable yet stylish brand of shoes that will capture the market.”

Habi has come to be known for this inventive footwear since its establishment in 2012. Through the support of different people — from business partners to customers — it has grown into a lifestyle enterprise that purveys not only espadrilles, sandals and heels, but also bags, pouches and corporate giveaways.

“Our aim is to address poverty and lack of empowerment and livelihood opportunities for women in communities,” Ms. Chiong said.




The Habi team consists of Ms. Chiong, who is also in charge of the sales and marketing; Bernadee Uy, head of finance and community development; Maria Paulina Savillo, head of product development; and Allister Roy Chua, operations manager.

Habi’s expansion means more financially rewarding opportunities for its partners. Currently, it has partnerships with four communities in Quezon City, and it engages a total of 30 weavers on an output basis, around half of whom earn as much as P200 a day with good output.

“We have also started to partner with other communities in Ifugao and the correctional facility of Mandaluyong,” Ms. Chiong said.

She considers teamwork, passion, and transparency as keys to a better work environment. She also said that it is important that the right product is backed by the right team and released to the right market.

For the Habi team, success is measured not only by financial and developmental sustainability but also by the impact on the quality of lives of their community partners. “We try as much as possible to really gauge their well-being and productivity within the company,” Ms. Chiong said.

When asked to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, she said, “Just start. Don’t let ideas stay on paper. If you want to put up your business, don’t be motivated just by prestige or profit. Wherever you are, find something that bothers you and do something about it in whatever endeavor you wish to pursue.”