Habi Footwear: Weaving a way out of poverty

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Habi Footwear’s story begins in 2012, in an urban poor community in Quezon City. Janine Mikaella Chiong, the company’s president and co-founder, was on an immersion trip and had spent considerable time with the mothers of the community.

She noticed that they were incredibly skilled at weaving rugs, but barely made a profit from their output — roughly P10 to P15 per foot of fabric. That’s when she reached out to them with a business idea.

“[We] decided to incorporate woven mats into footwear as we wanted to come up with a functional, affordable yet stylish shoe brand that will capture the market,” Janine said.

Enter Habi Footwear.

Since its launch in 2012, Habi has grown into a lifestyle enterprise offering not only espadrilles, sandals, and heels, but also bags, pouches, and corporate giveaways — all produced by women from impoverished communities.

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

Currently, the team has partnerships with four communities in Quezon City, engaging a total of 30 weavers earning as much as P200 a day for their output.

According to Janine, the Habi team measures success not only on the basis of 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. Today, the team has plans to expand their partnerships to reach communities in Ifugao, as well as a correctional facility in Mandaluyong.

“If you want to put up your business, don’t be motivated just by prestige or profit,” Janine said, speaking of the lessons she’s learned from running Habi and what advice she’d give aspiring entrepreneurs. “Wherever you are, find something that bothers you and do something about it in whatever endeavor you wish to pursue.”