I was doing fieldwork among the indigenous people of Ifugao when I learned that many of them were abandoning their land because there were no jobs in their area. That was what inspired me to begin teaching them out to knit and reach out to knitwear designers and other friends to help form Ricefield Collective.
What have been the greatest challenges?
We're at a critical point in our growth as we transition from a Kickstarter project to a full-fledged company. There have been many challenges, but the biggest one probably is being able to reach as many people as possible because we don't have the kind of marketing and advertising budgets as big brands.
What have been the greatest rewards?
Being able to produce quality designs while helping people lead sustainable lives. There have been many individual stories about us helping our knitters but the one that has touched me most recently was that of Lina, who has five children and was seriously thinking of going to Hong Kong as a domestic worker so that she can send money to her family, even though the recruiters charge up to a year's salary to process her papers. Because of Ricefield, she is able to stay with her community and family, and that's something that makes us both proud and happy.
What life experiences have shaped who you are?
I grew up in the Philippines then moved to the United States at 15. I've been fortunate to receive the benefits of a university education after moving, and being able to use whatever skills I have for the benefit of others is extremely satisfying to me.
Who do you admire and respect?
So many people. RecentLy, I've been bowled over by two entrepreneurs. The first is Leila Janah from Samasource and the newly formed Sama Group, who uses lean startup methods to impact a large number of people. I've also been deeply impressed with Nathan Rothstein, the CEO of Project Repat, which recycles T-shirts into blankets. His transparency and candor as he discusses his business is so insightful and refreshing. Finally, there's Reese Fernandez-Ruiz of Rags2Riches, a company that works with craftspeople in the slums of Manila to make amazing handbags.
What advise would you give aspiring Eco-Entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
Strive to maintain your ideals, but prepare to compromise.
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