Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Making a Life -- Not Just a Living

Hello everyone! Finally, a blog post after so many days of inactivity.  I could list all the reasons for this but I’m sure you will distill them into one  - life gets in the way.   That is why I envy entrepreneurs who have established themselves and their business enough so as to actually be able to quit their day jobs and focus on doing what they enjoy and are passionate about.

That is why I think this blog post is apt to how I am feeling. 

Today, I am featuring husband-and-wife team Che and Dino Villaflores, the duo behind I-Ra Bamboo Crafts.  I-Ra Bamboo Crafts produces beautiful, handmade lamps, candle holders, room dividers, and other home accessories from a material that is indigenous and hugely abundant in the Philippines – bamboo. 

Che and Dino are both artists.  Che is into film and video production while Dino paints.  It was this common love for the arts and a desire to give back to their community that served as inspiration for them to put up their business.  As a newly married couple living in Angono, Rizal, one of the art centers of the Philippines, they would regularly visit Talim Island and there they would see local craftsmen creating furniture and home decor from stalks of bamboo, a material abundant in the island.  Saddened by how difficult it was for the local craftsmen to earn a decent living selling their pieces, Che and Dino thought of putting up a business that will not only provide a decent means of livelihood for the craftsmen of Talim Island but also allow them to live a life close to their passion which is the arts.    

With not much start-up capital to boast of, the couple nevertheless plunged headlong into the project and in July 2003, I-Ra Bamboo Crafts was born.   Che and Dino believe in the Filipino artisan and one of the main reasons for their having built this business was to be able to show the world what we can do.

A fusion of the old and contemporary, I-Ra Bamboo’s products make use of not just the bamboo stalk but even the little bamboo twigs (or “siit” in Filipino) that are usually thrown away when the larger stalks are cut down so nothing is wasted.   Che explained that their products personify the Filipino of today – forward looking but ever mindful and respectful of the traditions and values that have been passed on to us by our ancestors.   The bamboo itself symbolizes the Filipino spirit – strong and flexible,  able to bend when there is a storm only to rise up straighter and firmer than ever when the winds have passed.   Their products have a unique look and Che and Dino have made it a point to stamp their design style on each and every item that their company produces.  Che said: “We are simple people --- I-Ra is an extension of ourselves and our family.”   Their bamboo lamps for instance,  look like modernized versions of the Filipino “gasera” (gas lamp) that used to light Filipino huts in old days.   Even their bamboo candleholders, with their unique organic shapes, are reminiscent of the makeshift lanterns made out of coconut shell where a wick (often a discarded piece of cloth or rag) is soaked in coconut oil and left to burn. 

I-Ra Bamboo’s pieces were sold initially at a shop in Greenhills, Mandaluyong.  Che narrates that  at first, they were not ready for the “technical” things that came with running a business – the permits, accounting, the everyday little tasks that when ignored can add up to monumental problems.  After participating in various trade fairs and attending seminars to enhance their business skills, the couple went full speed and their modest workshop now provides employment and a steady income to several talented and skilled Talim Island residents.  Their pieces are being carried by two of the country’s well-known home decor and accessories stores, Regalong Pambahay (“Gift for the Home” in Filipino) and Kultura (“culture”).    Becoming suppliers for these two large stores was a totally different game, Che says.  There was the matter of advancing funds to produce the items ordered, delivery and then there’s the payment terms of 30 to 60 days.  She says that while having one’s products in these stores can really boost your sales, one should also be ready for the additional overhead costs like rent, utilities, materials cost and other expenses that come with big orders.  

Far from the din of the bustling city, on serene Talim Island, Che and Dino are making art.  It is a unique form though – one that is steeped in tradition, pride of culture and a deeply rooted desire to be instruments for social change.  I guess I would call it the art of living fully.

(To see more of I-Ra Bamboo Crafts, visit their page on Multiply or better yet, be a fan of their Facebook page!)

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