This Homegrown Brand is on a Mission to Bring Local Textiles to the Spotlight

Martha Rodriguez hadn't planned on being a business owner when, in 2010, she came across a weaving house in Laguindingan that was on its last legs. To help its struggling weavers, she bought out all their remaining supplies of silk, and with it, made a bag for herself. But after she saw the outpour of support and interest in her new creation, her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. There was a lot more good she could do, she realized, by providing these communities a sustainable livelihood.

"There's a lot of neglect of Mindanao, especially in crafts," she says, but her bag line, VESTI, is out to prove that the region is rich in culture and history. With this social enterprise, she hopes to "inspire younger generations to have the same advocacy. I want them to know that they too can be designers and creative movers."

VESTI is on a Mission to Bring Local Textiles to the Spotlight

This is a homegrown brand that was built to champion Mindanao pride—a cause that's close to her heart, having been born and raised in Cagayan de Oro. "It's really about going to back to your roots and bringing it to an international scale—that's what I want to do," she says.

Rodriguez has a lot on her plate, juggling not one but two full-time jobs: Apart from its showrooms in Las Pinas and Eastwood, VESTI also consigns its products in various commercial shops. But when she isn't running VESTI, she works as chief of staff for Congressman Maxi Rodriguez. She splits her time between Manila and Cagayan De Oro, flying back and forth between cities every week.

VESTI by Martha Rodriguez

VESTI may have started with Mindanao silk, but it's since branched out with other indigenous handwoven textiles, like Yakan from Basilan and Zamboanga, T'nalak from Lake Sebu made by the T'boli tribe, abaca-made Pinukpok from Surigao, and Hinabol from Bukidnon. Even with her packed schedule, Rodriguez takes the effort to regularly visit all the remote communities in which these fabrics are made. "It's very important for me to really go to the weaving houses. When you build a relationship with the weavers, they will learn to trust you," she says.

On top of these travels across the country, she also pencils in trips overseas to participate in exhibits and find like-minded partners to distribute VESTI's products. The brand already has resellers in the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan. Some of these are small-scale collaborations, but they share Rodriguez's goal of showcasing the talent of local artisans. "The passion and heart is there, and I'd rather partner with people like that," she says. "You have to connect with your partners. Even if it's not necessarily about business, call and talk to them just to see how they're doing." Friendly gestures like these, she says, goes a long way in building bridges for any brand.

VESTI

Whether in foreign soil, or in the heart of a far-flung province, she makes a point of staying on top of the goings-on in her business. "My phone is like my bible already—I have to have it with me all the time to get in touch with my family at home or to update my partners," says Rodriguez, who is keen on communication apps like Viber. "It's important because I have to know that we are all on the same page." That round-the-clock connectivity is what keeps VESTI running like a well-oiled machine that can manage incoming orders, meet deadlines, and stick to a strict production schedule, even when she’s abroad. She regularly posts new products on her Instagram account as well.

Apart from bags, she plans to diversify VESTI's product range by adding shoes, clothing, and furniture to their collection in the future. Long-term success, for Rodriguez, is to be visible and reachable to both suppliers and customers. "The main advocacy of VESTI is really to help the weavers and artisans exit poverty," she says. "But in order to do that, VESTI has to be on a global scale that's marketed well. Our design and aesthetics should be at par with other well-known brands."