“I used to work as an IT business executive for AT&T but I left that life after my father died in 2010. I wanted to be closer to my family so I decided to go back and work in the family business, which my mom founded in 2005 and that makes intimate apparel. I never had a smooth relationship with my mom and I thought that this would be an opportunity to get to know her better and sure enough I was able to see her in a different perspective. I have seen how she’s worked so hard not only for her family but also for her employees and how everyone at the company loves her. The average employee is 40 years old so most of them have been around for many years and some from the very beginning when the company started with only 10 staff. Now they have grown to 400 employees and 91% of them are women, 13% single mothers and a significant number are immediately relatives of each other. I think it means a lot that people recommend the company to their families.”

“The Philippines used to have lots of manufacturing companies for intimate apparel but they have slowly closed down both because of the economic downturn and of competition from countries with cheaper labor. Now we are one of the few medium sized manufacturers that still make underwear. The most challenging thing is finding skilled workers. Sewing a bra takes 25 operations and it’s very intricate. You need delicate hands and a really good eye and not everyone can do a seamless job. There is a lot of good Filipino talent in China, Thailand, and other countries in the region so we try to appeal to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and invite them to come back and join us. We get really good craftsmanship and they get to be closer to their families.”

“Our major market is North America and our main business is private labeling for big brands. We provide for Wonderbra, Hanes, Playtex, Forever 21, Frederick’s of Hollywood, and others. We are also in the Middle East and recently got some new clients from Australia. Understanding the market is very important because they are really different. Americans are more classic and sophisticated while Australians are more laid-back and beachy. For example, a triangle bra made of lace with no padding would sell in Australia but the US is more conservative in terms of look and all lace is covered. So it’s a bit of a younger feel in Australia and a more mature taste in the US. In the Middle East, they love color and lace and it’s mostly plus sizes. Now we want to expand to new markets, like Asia and Europe. It’s a competitive sector and we want to diversify our portfolio but my personal reason is that I want Asians to feel comfortable in their underwear.”

“The Asian body is so different and a lot of western products are not properly fitted for them so I created my own brand specifically for Asians, which is called Lily of the Valley. The Philippine market is very brand-conscious so the only way for my line of underwear to be different and stand a chance was to serve a clear purpose. Two years ago a friend of mine confided that she really dreaded her period and felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about potential leaks all the time. I started asking other women at the factory and organized focus group discussions and found out that 80% of them had similar problems but never talked about it because it’s considered taboo. And women being so resourceful, they would maybe wear two pads at once or wear cycling shorts to keep everything in place. But some would just stay at home, not exercise, and just lose focus – every month. So I decided to create “period panties” to make women feel more comfortable. Initially we were selling them at exhibits and bazars but it turned out that women were embarrassed to be seen buying period panties so now we sell on Zalora and they can buy them discretely.”

“I thought it would be easier to work for the family business and set up my own brand. People told me, ‘Become an entrepreneur and you’ll have your own time’. I found out that yes, your schedule is flexible but you end up working 24/7. It’s a question of choosing everyday, ‘do I want to work today and earn my own money or not?’”

“We plan to keep our Lily of the Valley brand focused on niche markets – really functional active wear and period panties – because they are underserved and that’s where we have a better reach and less competition from the big international brands. But what I really want to focus on is the breast care products that we are developing. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in Asia. The Philippines is among the top 3 Asian countries with the highest incidence of breast cancer and has the highest rate of mastectomies performed on those diagnosed. Right now there are only 1 or 2 companies that produce breast care products and they are meant for foreign markets. I am working on a product that is a better fit for the Asian body, more affordable and meant for tropical weather. When the breasts are removed, the sweat glands are removed too so you need fabric that skin can breath in.”

“I have been learning a lot about traditional textiles and I have developed a line of casual and sleepwear for GREAT Women, which supports underprivileged women in the textile industry. I am trying to push beautiful traditional fabric like pineapple to become more contemporary and stylish so that is incorporated into every day wear and not just limited to special occasions. This is how we can get young people to appreciate Filipino products. For example, this print in my t-shirt was hand-woven by women in the central Philippines. And it’s not just about the product you are purchasing but it’s also about getting connected to the story of how this product was made and who you are supporting by buying this piece.”

Company: QPELA & Lily of the Valley
Location: Manila
Founded: 2005
No of Employees: 400

Women-owned and led