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Reese Fernandez-RuizUpcycling reshapes lives

Published in 2010clockTime to read: 50s
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Artisans living in Manila’s largest and poorest urban communities used to earn a pittance making rugs from scraps of material. Reese Fernandez-Ruiz set them to work using upcycled and overstock fabric to create high-end fashion accessories – and earn a decent living in the process.

locationThe Philippines

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz’s enterprise is like a fairy tale: more than 1,000 people have been trained and benefited from Rags2Riches’s (R2R) innovative scheme of uniting some of the country’s poorest communities and Filipino designers to create handbags and other accessories, which are sold through stores in upmarket malls in the Philippines – fashion goods that give dignity to the artisans, mostly women, who made them. While initially discarded fabric was used, this has changed to overstocked material. “We believe we can create more impact and more meaning with the least waste through conscientious materials sourcing and production planning. Our goal is for each item to live a long time and not contribute to the waste of fast fashion,” she says.

I don’t want to just create livelihoods and income. I want to create sustainable, eco-ethical products. It can be a win-win situation for everybody.

Rags2Riches, the organization that Fernandez-Ruiz co-founded, now has 44 team members. They have trained more than 1,000 artisans (up from 300 in 2011) to create the sought-after items. The artisans, exploited by middlemen, used to earn 2 cents for every rug they made; now they sell direct through R2R and receive decent wages and salaries with surplus for savings, housing and education of their children.

Since winning the Rolex Award, in addition to improving wages and equal opportunities for the workers, Fernandez-Ruiz has established an academy that provides the artisans with skills and quality-of-life workshops, and has set up a savings and micro-insurance programme.

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