Janine Chiong, Habi Footwear

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“Habi Footwear started as a college thesis project in 2012. As business majors, we were required to set up our own enterprise. Before graduating, we won the Bid Network Challenge in the Netherlands and secured seed funding from a Dutch angel investor. This helped us get Habi off the ground. It also made us realize that Habi had a real potential so I decided to focus on it full-time. My other two co-founders have had to get full-time jobs due to parental pressure but they are still very much involved and have their own roles. Bernadee takes care of community development; Paola of product development; and I am more on sales, marketing, and daily operations.”
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  • “We source our fabric from women weavers in Payatas, a district in Metro Manila. They weave upcycled fabric into rugs and originally were earning only 5-10 pesos per rug. We figured that by improving the quality of the fabric, it could be used for more than just making rugs and could allow them to earn more. We worked with the weavers to refine the material and use it to make shoes. We consulted with shoe designers and have partnered with manufacturers that were willing to make shoes with this new material. We don’t own our factory but we are careful to work only with those that have good labor practices. Weavers now earn an average of 50-80 pesos per rug. Our goal is to maximize their potential. We don’t highlight the poverty aspect. We prefer to focus on their skills and ingenuity.”
women entrepreneurs
“We sell through our online store and on Zalora. We distribute in the US through Qamay, a San-Francisco based e-commerce platform focused on eco-friendly products. We are also in talks with two distributors in Australian and Japan. We have a good social media footprint and are very active in sharing our stories with media so this helped us get more visibility. They all found us either through instagram or our website. We like getting to know our partners, their involvement in the social space, and how they are planning to distribute our products. We want to make sure that there is alignment because they will be representing us. They also need to truly understand our products so they can sell them appropriately. We don’t want people to sell our shoes as pity products. We want them to sell Habi as a dignified brand.”
women entrepreneurs
“Making sure that we are supporting the right kind of development for our weavers has been the biggest challenge. It’s ensuring that they are sustainable and that they are using their income well. Regardless of how much they are earning, if they don’t use it well it might not be the right kind of development for them. We do our best to measure it but it’s really difficult. We track health and education and if they have insurance. We have partnered with the Manila Business College to provide scholarships for some of the weavers’ children. Our goal is for our weavers to earn more than the minimum wage as we grow bigger and as they commit more time to it. We focus on the depth of our impact and want to make sure that their lives have significantly improved through working with us. We are learning as we go.”
women entrepreneurs
“One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is not enough to be passionate. You can do only so much with the fire inside you. You have to be practical. You have to know where the business is going and how to do it. If you can’t take care of your accounting, don’t know how to market your products, and keep fighting for the design that you like even though the market is not really responsive, it’s not going to work and that fire could die down.”
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  • “Another lesson I have learned is that it’s okay to be strict with the people you work with. At the beginning we were very careful about not passing on to the weavers any negative feedback on their products and we kept on buying too much because we wanted to support their incomes. Now we are more practical and we have changed our approach. There has to be a balance between being professional and familial. They can see us as friends and family but they also need to see us as business partners. Striking the right balance has been a trial and error but I think we are finally there.”
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  • “My advice to young entrepreneurs is ‘Hang in there and don’t be afraid to approach the bigger people to ask for support’. That’s what we did. I went to the Netherlands as a 20-year old college student to pitch to a group of angel investors and I managed to get seed funding. Don’t be afraid to get out there. Join competitions; share your story; tell people what you do. This is a great time to be a social entrepreneur. And never be afraid to share the mistakes you have made so others can help you improve.”

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