I am thrilled to be featuring a handmade shop from the Philippines to start off the year. Habi is not just a maker of fine, hand crafted eco-friendly footwear for men, women, and kids. It is also a sustainable, social enterprise that upholds responsible fashion.
Habi Footwear is founded by Janine Chiong, Paola Savillo, and Bernadee Uy. What began as a college thesis turned out to be a very successful business as today, a growing number of re-sellers carry their brand from online and brick-and-mortar shops overseas (e.g. QamaySF).
In this interview, Janine Chiong – President and CEO and Head of Sales & Marketing, talks about how their brand supports sustainability and better the lives of poor families in the country.
What’s the story behind the shop name?
Habi means “weave” in Filipino, thus we figured that it would be a great brand name. Other than that, it’s pretty easy to remember and has a positive sound to it. Our branding is positive, colorful, and happy. Our tagline is: Walk Happy. Walk Habi.
Can you share with us the process of creating these items?
Our products are made with upcycled woven material, which we source from skilled communities here in Manila. Particularly, we are in partnership with urban weavers from a place called Payatas, and this partnership serves as a great source of empowerment and livelihood for them as well.
The woven materials are then transferred to our manufacturer in Marikina, where the rest of the shoes are assembled. We’ve added other sustainable materials (for our flagship espadrilles) like recycled airplane tires and woven abaca lining.
I love the fact that upcycled / recycled materials are used in the creation of your footwear line. Could you tell us more about this, as well as the use of other sustainable materials?
Yes, the woven upper lining is actually made from upcycled scraps from t-shirt factories. Our community weavers cut them into strips and weave them in a wooden frame (watch the short video of the process below). Aside from this, we also make use of jute (a plant fiber) in our espadrilles lining. Lastly, we make use of upcycled airplane tires for the soles of our classic espadrilles, thus making it durable yet sustainable.
What are your top 3 favorite picks from your shop?
My personal favorites are the classic espadrilles in Black and Gray/Yellow. I also love our latest collection, Luxe, which features casual sandals perfect for everyday wear.
What do you love most about what you do?
What I love most about what I do is the relationships and friendships that I’ve formed because of it—from my passionate business partners to our talented community weavers. I take pleasure in simply exchanging thoughts and ideas with people who believe in the same vision as Habi – to create partnerships for the betterment of society.
Is there anything you dislike about it?
I can’t pinpoint anything I dislike, however, I can say that building a brand is not easy and sometimes, it can wear you down. We’ve had our ups and downs. That’s why it’s always important to keep yourself grounded on what your goals are, and have a great and supportive community around you.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was transitioning from being a college project (which Habi started as) to a full-fledged business. Certain factors we had to consider were financial constraints, community issues, and legal registration. However, we were able to overcome it by taking one step at a time, and learning from the mistakes we’ve encountered as we delved into growing Habi further. This includes learning how to systematize operations more efficiently and dealing with our stakeholders more professionally and not in a “charity or dole-out” manner.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in almost everything around me. But I also re-energize myself by traveling around the country and abroad.
We love the fact that Habi promotes responsible fashion. What future projects or collaborations can we look forward to for the up-coming year?
We are in the process of releasing a new line for the summer, which will feature other indigenous woven materials that can be sourced from the Philippines like T’nalak, Inabel, among others.
Your message to customers and friends:
Live the life you deserve to live. Don’t just let your ideas remain inside you, share it and you never know where it can lead you.
Thank you so much, Janine!