The annual Artefino fair is the latest event to be canceled due to the pandemic.
Held every year in August since 2017, the fair gathered dozens of entrepreneurs selling products made by local artisans from all over the country under one roof. The three-day event featured items like jackets heavy with beadwork by tribes from Mindanao, intricately embroidered slippers, one-of-a-kind bags and jewelry, as well as handmade items for the home.
Cedie Vargas, a cofounder of Artefino, told Lifestyle that they would be launching an e-commerce site in August that would allow people to view and buy items by regular fair participants. “We won’t be limited to a three-day selling event because once it’s up, people can check it out anytime.”
The convenience of a devoted e-commerce site will be welcomed by tech-savvy shoppers, but buying handmade items—or any item aside from groceries or medicines—is still a tactile, experiential one. People will still want to touch with their hands, examine closely and try on for themselves many of the items sold at Artefino.
Vargas agrees. “People will want to talk to the sellers, ask questions, so once it’s safe again, we intend to hold a small pop-up where customers can check out new items for themselves,” she said. Until then, they plan to hold webinars like the one held last week.
“Artefino: Better Together” featured four entrepreneurs who are regulars at the fair: Mara Sebastian of Sustainably Made by Marsse, Unyx Sta. Ana of Zapateria and Reese Fernandez of Rags 2 Riches (R2R). Moderating the panel was another entrepreneur, Anya Lim of Anthill Fabric Gallery.
The four women talked about the adjustments they have had to make amid the pandemic and how they were navigating around the situation.
Sebastian, whose business consists of wooden kitchenware, home accessories and furniture made from sustainable trees from a tree farm in Pangasinan, said that the work-from-home setup was not feasible in their case as they deal with heavy items and some machinery.
Their workers are rice farmers. During the low season, they are able to work and have income to look forward to. The pandemic halted all operations at Sustainably Made, but Sebastian said workers were given cash donations, a sack of rice and mangoes from the farm. Those who were unable to return to their homes in other towns were provided lodging on the farm.
“We had to close shop but we kept our communication lines open to accept customer inquiries or orders,” Sebastian said. “We saw this as a time to strengthen our online presence (Facebook, Instagram). We also wanted to leverage on the online platforms of our retail partners like Rustan’s and Kultura, and communities like Artefino.”
She pointed out the importance of nurturing relationships with local government units and considering the Department of Trade and Industry’s Small Business Corporation CARES (COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises) Program. The program provides subsidies of up to P200,000 for micro enterprises and up to P500,000 for small enterprises with zero percent interest.
“The money can be used to pay employees or to help jumpstart the business,” Sebastian said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Inventory of skills
Sta. Ana of Marikina-based indie shoe brand Zapateria said that when the lockdown forced the closing of nonessential businesses, she chose to step back and survey the situation before moving forward.
“The safety and well-being of our people, our 15 artisans, was the most important consideration. We kept a skeleton crew for product development, but basically we took our time,” Sta. Ana said.
From time to time, they would have “online huddles” to check how everyone was holding up. “We assessed our inventory of skills and realized we could do make than shoes—like bags, for example. More importantly, we want to make the shopping experience even more personal.” Sta. Ana said this could be achieved by personally responding to online inquiries or even through voice calls.
Reese Fernandez of R2R works with different urban poor communities to create bags, pouches and throw pillow covers woven from fabric strips.
“The pandemic has seen the rise of solo breadwinners . . . social and financial safety nets are disappearing,” Fernandez said. Husbands who used to do manual labor (construction, carpentry) lost their jobs, so the family income came from wives who were part of R2R.
“Staying in business now is not just about us but also about the people who depend on us,” she said.
Strategically placed around Fernandez during the webinar were some of R2R’s new products like a structured handbag, a large tote that she uses to carry items from one area of the house to another, and an oversized throw pillow with a grid design created via computer. They also started making reusable fabric face masks.
“Our goal is to be a life and livelihood partner for our artisans and to help open opportunities for them,” she said.