Rags2Riches - Artisan Design House

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Rags2Riches - Artisan Design House: A Fashion & Design house empowering community artisans

Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

R2R is a fashion and design house empowering community artisans through providing an end-to-end solution (design, training, market access, ownership, strategic decisions, reliable livelihood, professional support) for artisans to get out and stay out of poverty through sustainable trade.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

WHAT IF we could create a World-Class Fashion and Design House to Empower Marginalized, Community-Based Artisans?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Rags2Riches (R2R) wants to address a specific social problem of inequality and unfair trade. It was built to be an ally and a partner of artisans from one of the largest urban poor communities in the Philippines, who were victims of unscrupulous middlemen and an unjust systemic structure around the creation, production, and selling of artisan-made products. R2R opens all areas of its value chain to create opportunities for community artisans

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

R2R wants to tackle the systemic issue of unfair trade for community-based artisans by creating an integrated end-to-end social enterprise that methodically tackles each part of the value chain. R2R designs beautiful products, trains and organizes community-based artisans into an inclusive supply chain, and directly markets and sells the R2R products through its own retail stores, online store, and partner-outlets. Not only are the Artisans justly compensated, they also benefit from R2R’s Quality of Life Program which bundles Financial Literacy, Savings Accounts, and MicroInsurance as safety nets. Moreover, the Artisans have active representation at the Board & Management Committees.


Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Schwab Social Enterprise, Forbes 30 under 30 (Social Enterprise category) 2015
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Nhing is a mother of 5 and her husband is a construction worker. 10 years ago, Nhing scavenged through the garbage dumpsite of Payatas, Philippines. She was exposed to a toxic work environment and her earnings were not enough to provide quality food and education for her children. Nhing joined R2R last 2008, and now, she is R2R's Production Officer, overseeing community production and she is now an expert in production. She has access to social services & built her family home. Nhing started as an artisan, and her development path is possible for all community-based artisans as well. R2R opens opportunities for artisans throughout the value chain. Our artisans get access to livelihood, social services, career progression, and leadership.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

R2R now has in its roster : 1,000 Artisans Trained, 200 Active Community-based Artisans, and 50 Full-Time Workshop Artisans; Most of the Artisans have availed of the Quality of Life Program which is Increased Earnings, Bank/Savings Accounts, MicroInsurance; The Artisans are also represented at the Board and Management Committee levels. In the past several years, R2R has built a renowned Social Enterprise Brand around the world and has successfully built out a sales and marketing strategy - being present in Anthropologie in the UK and the US, has its own 3 Retail Stores in the Philippines, and a burgeoning E-Commerce Store. R2R is a brand that is co-created, co-designed, and co-owned by Artisans. Having a brand built for and with artisans is a powerful tool for artisans to have regular access to livelihood, career progression, and a clear and solid path out of poverty.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

R2R is now at the growth stage to positively impact even more community-based Artisans. The ambition is to go nationwide with urban poor and rural, indigenous communities. Expansion plans include applying the Model to Multiple Products and Categories, becoming a platform for Artisan-Based Social Enterprises to get sustainable access to design & markets. On the Policy front, R2R President Reese Fernandez-Ruiz sits at the National MSME Council of the Department of Trade and Industry in order to share the application of the model even towards more communities.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our social enterprise model took time, patient capital, and dedication to build up community artisans from the ground up. Now that R2R has created a stable and inclusive Supply Chain System, the direction is to Increase Revenue via E-Commerce, Retail Stores, and International Partners. R2R’s Sales have doubled in the past 3 years, and 2015 is already at 65% of the required runrate to reach profitability, which should be hit by FY 2017.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In the Philippine context (and even around the world), there are quite a number of livelihood-oriented projects to help community-based artisans. However, most do not fully address the end-to-end chain that Rags2Riches would have. For example, an organization could have the store outlets but without the design and quality expertise; Another would have a stable of Artisans who can make the product but no outlets. Furthermore, the others would not have the Brand recall that R2R has consciously built through the years. R2R is one of the very few that is founded on the same country it operates.

Founding Story

We began our mission in 2007 in Payatas, one of the Philippines’ largest urban poor communities, home to half a million people. An informal cottage industry of rug-weavers grew from the many women who bought fabric scraps from unscrupulous middlemen. They would then turn these into handcrafted rugs and rags that they would sell, all while fulfilling their familial duties. Over time, middlemen controlled both the supply of fabric and the women’s formal access to the market. This resulted in an unfair value chain for the women who earned only .30 cents USD per day. We started Rags2Riches to provide these artisans with access to the market and the formal economy.


Therese Fernandez-Ruiz - Therese is the CEO and Founding Partner of Rags2Riches, Inc., responsible for overall strategy and partner relations. She has built up a great deal of goodwill and support for the R2R brand, particularly with R2R's current and prospective designers. She has also been the driving force behind R2R's most rewarding partnerships with local and international retailers & media. She holds a degree in Management, honourable mention, from the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. Therese is also proficient in digital marketing and e-commerce. Anabelle Coro - Anabelle is the Finance Manager of R2R. She is a Certified Public Accountant and has 25 years of experience across national and multinational companies in the Philippines, in Financial planning and analysis, internal and external audit, accounting systems and processes, funds and cash planning, capital expenditure proposal review, and project leadership. Stephanie Ann Cuevas - Stephanie is currently the Operations Manager of Rags2Riches. She started out in the company as the Community Enterprise Activation Officer, and rose from an officer to a manager in less than 2 years because of her passion for service, dedication, and excellence. Under Stephanie's leadership, Rags2Riches grew training communities from 300 to 900 in a span of 2 years. She was able to establish the first of its kind in the Philippines: the Artisan Quality of Life Program that aims to provide community artisans with access to banking, savings, insurance, and investments. She was able to do this through a partnership with the biggest and most successful Micro finance institutions in the Philippines, CARD Bank. Currently, 95% of the Rags2Riches Artisans have their own savings passbooks and are now on their way to having micro insurance and micro investments. Angela Poblador-Antonio - Angela is the Sales and Marketing Manager for International and Retail. She joined R2R last year (2014) and has 10 years of experience in luxury (Louis Vuitton), brand management, and sales. She holds an MBA for International Luxury Brand Management, ESSEC Business School Paris. Angela was able to professionalise R2R's retail operations, train store ambassadors, and reach new sales highs in the history of R2R for 2015. Joe Mark San Pascual Pardiñas "Matt" - Matt is the Sales and Marketing Manager of Rags2Riches. He is one of the first 4 people in Rags2Riches, trying to make a difference in the lives of 300 people back in 2009 when he joined the company. For the past 5 years, he was able to build meaningful and sustainable relationships with the most strategic corporate partners of Rags2Riches to date. Through his leadership, Rags2Riches reached new markets, established new partnerships, and in effect, created more positive impact in the country. He was recently named one of nine Young Market Masters Awardees for 2014, a prestigious award given to the most talented, creative, and passionate marketing practitioners in the Philippines. Christian Cera - Christian Cera is an accessories designer specializing in handbag and fashion jewelry. In his 23-year experience in design, product development, marketing and production, he has worked with various companies selling to both export and local markets. He is currently the Product Development Specialist and in-house designer of Rags2Riches and an instructor in School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA) teaching Bag Production. As the Product Development Specialist of Rags2Riches, Christian is in charge of coming up with new concepts and designs, and creating prototypes for each collection. He is one of the very few in the Philippines who has both the design and technical skills to create fashion accessories such as handbags. Through Chris’ leadership, Rags2Riches was able to produce designs and products that successfully reached the standards of retailers such as Anthropologie both in the UK and in the US. Cynthia Cabrera - Cynthia was one of the first women artisans to join R2R when it began, and has been one of its most outspoken advocates - both to communities in Payatas, and more recently to communities that R2R is expanding to. She is currently the Community Expansion Supervisor of Rags2Riches, committed to expanding R2R’s reach in different community, and implementing training modules and quality of life programs. Cynthia started out as an artisan and is now the R2R ambassador who brings more artisans into Rags2Riches. In her words, this is her way of “paying it forward”. Cynthia is responsible for the implementation of the most innovative and rewarding programs for our communities. Through her leadership and excellence, Rags2Riches was able to successfully implement the Quality of Life Program (together with Stephanie Cuevas), Financial Literacy Modules, Financial Enrichment Modules, as well as the regular monitoring of the communities’ production and improvement of their standard of living. Susamarie “Nhing" Estabillo - Nhing Estabillo, or “Ate Nhing”, as she is fondly known, spent many years as a scavenger in Payatas, one of the Philippines’ largest dumpsites, before joining Rags2Riches. Not too long ago, Ate Nhing used to take on any odd job just to make ends meet – from collecting and reselling discarded plastic and metal, to selling flowers on the street, or washing people’s clothes. Still, sometimes, she would have to buy half-eaten leftovers from fast food restaurants, called pagpag, just to feed her family. Rags2Riches gave Ate Nhing the opportunity to turn her life around: through the training and empowerment she received from R2R, she learned to become a skilled weaver, as well as a leader in both her family and community. Today, Ate Nhing is one of the most empowered artisan leaders in Rags2Riches. She manages the Rags2Riches workshop as the Workshop Supervisor, working directly with 30 full-time artisans. She creates her own powerpoint presentations, excel files, and operates R2R’s ERP system, NetSuite.
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]

Raw Materials, Manufacturing, Consumption.

Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Brand Representative, Designer, Factory Owner, Retail Representative - Specialty Store, Sourcing Manager / Supply Chain Manager.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Brands, Consumers, Corporations, Designers, Factory Workers, Retailers - Department Store, Retailers - Specialty Store, Retailers - Mass-merchandise Chain, Sourcing Manager / Supply Chain Manager, Technologists, Women.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Access to Essential Services (i.e. Healthcare and Education), Access to Finance, Access to Social Protection Services (i.e. Insurance, Pension, etc.), Accountability, Conscious Consumerism, Environmentally Sustainable Practices, Labor Rights (i.e. Collective Bargaining, etc.), Gender Equality, Anti-forced Labor or Anti-Human Trafficking, Recycling or Circular Economy, Physical Working Conditions.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Advocacy, Capacity Building, Training, Other, [please specify].

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

A Job is Not Enough: Low-Income Workers Cannot Secure Long-Term Well-Being, Consumers Aren't Motivated to Care: Neither Compelling Reasons Nor Easy Means to Change Consumption Habits, Sustainability is Not Yet in the DNA: Fast Fashion’s Current Model Disincentivizes Value-Driven Economies.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders, Disrupt Business as Usual: Target Key Players Who Can Influence the Bottom Line, Transform the Chain into a Web: Link Unlikely Sectors that Open New Pathways to Sustainability.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?


If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?


Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

Yes! I am part of Department of Trade & Industry to influence policy as well as open internships for young social entrepreneurs

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

Yes! We have collaborated with top Filipino designers, buyers, raw material suppliers, and various NGOs & foundations