Cover Rags 2 Riches Founder, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Know how this homegrown brand has helped in reducing waste and providing sustainable livelihood

Some 14 years ago, a community in Payatas used to make foot rugs out of retaso (scrap fabric) to earn a living. They spent hours and hours, painstakingly weaving them within their shabby homes. As they did not have direct access to the supply of raw materials and the market, they would call it lucky to even get paid PhP10-16 a day after a hard day’s work. This social injustice was what moved the founders of Rags 2 Riches (R2R) to establish a fashion and design house that aims to resolve such systemic problems with a long-term solution. Today, R2R continues to develop products handcrafted by around 200 artisans from all over the Philippines. In an interview, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, one of the founders of R2R, shares how their social enterprise has contributed to making the world a better place.

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We started using overstock fabric serendipitously. We realised that instead of incidentally using scrap fabric, we should intentionally use it. There is a misconception that using scrap or unwanted fabric is cheaper than using new fabric. Truth is, upcycled fabric may even be costlier and more time consuming to use because it takes a lot of time and design effort to use textiles that are damaged, off-coloured and in quantities that are not predictable. A huge percentage of textiles are already wasted even before they go through the production process, more is wasted in production, and many more as consumers dispose of them. The fashion industry is a huge contributor to the global environmental crisis. We decided to make it our core value to not just create livelihood opportunities for artisans, but to reduce waste in the process. 

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The perception and reception of Filipinos to sustainable products have changed throughout the years. At first, it was hard because the expectation was that pieces made by artisans using waste materials should be cheap. Artisanal pieces are made by hand, taking more time and effort. It was tough to address the perception, so we consistently communicated our story.  

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Right now, we are the official sewing studio of the biggest IKEA in the world which is in the Philippines. Our artisans are sewing things there out of IKEA textiles and we upcycle the offcuts too! 

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My inspiration in life and in design is connectedness. Everything and everyone are connected. That means that for every decision I make, whether in life or in business, I try to extend my imagination towards the very end of its ripple effect and see what kind of positive impact it can still create.

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Beyond work, I enjoy things like movies and travel. I remember seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night in MoMA and it was a magical experience for me.  My most memorable trip was to New Zealand. I also love movies with happy endings and allows me to enjoy the moment. Some of my favourites include Marvel movies (all of them!) and musicals like In the Heights.


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