Kai Yulo creates meaningful change with Lara’s Ark animal shelter, upcycled plastic designs at Peachy Pet, and the experience of (Super) Natural Wines.
“This building runs on 100% renewable energy,” Kai says, as we enter the airy, high-ceilinged atrium of the warehouse-turned-office-complex. To the side of the open floor plan are tiers of bleachers littered with multi-colored beanbags. It’s lunch hour and some employees are napping, while others are zoned into their screens. A few rooms down, vegetable seedlings grow in vertical gardens while outside electric cars hum as they recharge. We pass a gym and a dance studio, which is sometimes used for yoga classes.
Just off the highway, the TDG InHub building is used for managing all kinds of businesses from tech to logistics and travel. But the common thread of Kai Yulo’s work here is sustainability. Kai’s role in TDG is to help introduce emerging opportunities and disruptive brands to the Philippine market, including an electric vehicle brand, a cloud kitchen, and natural wines. She says:
“I’m also helping integrate ESG into our business model. Environmental Social Governance is essentially an evolved version of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), but it infuses sustainability in a more holistic way, rather than as an afterthought to business.”
Apart from big-player industrial work, Kai balances her personal projects that have grown into full-fledged, artfully curated, and carefully thought-out businesses. She takes a role that goes beyond volunteering at the Lara’s Ark pet shelter, while her small shop of fabulous pet wear, Peachy Pet, has already upcycled hundreds of kilograms of plastic bottles and leather scraps.
I met Kai in a summer camp when we were eleven years old. Even then, she was composed – almost stoic. A few years later in high school, she was the kind of kid that would effortlessly articulate grand ideas about the world around the Harkness table, always with her feet on the ground. She later got her Degree in Business Design in Barcelona. I remember coming across a booklet designed by her about the underground music community in the city. She was doing big things even then, and was interviewed as a student on Vice.
After graduating, Kai moved to Stockholm to work for a design agency and later transferred to their branch in New York. Then the pandemic hit. Faced with no flights, she traveled across states to Colorado, till finally booking a ticket back to the Philippines. She had planned to do her masters the following year, but decided to stay when her Lola—who she’s remained incredibly close with—faced some health issues. Grounding herself in Manila, Kai was able to take on projects close to her heart.
“I ended up investing myself in all of these projects, I guess as healing. Or at least that was the case with Lara’s Ark.”
Since coming home in October 2020, Kai has kept busy. While she’s always been a hustler, for these latest projects, compassion has been at the core.
How A Volcano Eruption Led to Being Lara’s Ark’s Official “Fairy Foster Mom”
In January 2020, Kai was in Boracay with her friend Aniela. They were on their way back to Manila when Taal erupted, and decided they had to do something to help.
“We saw videos of horses on the island with yellow mucus coming out of their nostrils. I rode horses my whole life, so it really hit me. We ended up writing our plans on a barf bag during the flight home”
Together with a motley crew of horse-crazy girls, vets, and volunteers, they coordinated the rescue of around 300 ponies who had been stranded on Taal Island. The ponies were first moved by bangka, then taken to their rehabilitation centers in hog trucks and trailers. Most were reunited with their owners or adopted.
It was here she met Tita Susan Lara of Lara’s Ark, who was on the ground doing rescue ops at Taal Volcano. Funnily enough, it was design that brought them together again when Lara started sharing adoptables on Facebook. A few months later, Kai was deep in developing the Lara’s Ark brand. She became the official “Fairy Foster Mom” and Digital Director, doing a little bit of everything from socials, interviewing adopters, looking through applications, planning adoption drives, and evaluating which dogs are adoptable and what kind of homes they would be good in.
One of her favorite parts of the job is fostering the harder cases — dogs with trauma who need some extra love before being ready for adoption. She has fostered about twenty-five dogs and adopted two of them, Karma and Tallulah. Kai credits her first baby Gaucho, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as a therapy dog that helps all the fosters with the adjustment process.
A Natural Progression to Upcycled Petwear with Her Love for Pooch and Planet
It was only a matter of time that her love for animals aligned with Peachy Pet, a sustainable pet wear brand. Kai first started with leather scraps as a way to mitigate waste, charming pet owners with lovely colorways like Sage and Marmalade. But her latest venture has been addressing a much more pressing issue — plastic.
Peachy Pet creates products out of the ubiquitous plastic bottle. About 80% of plastic bottles end up in landfills all over the world, where they take 450 years to decompose. Breathing new life into these discarded materials, Kai hopes to challenge pet industry norms and design her way to a more transparent, sustainable future.
She explains the process in detail. Starting with post-consumer plastic bottles, the trash is re-rerouted from landfills to a GRS or Global Recycling Facility, an important step for recycling in a way that truly is earth-friendly. The bottles are cleaned and shredded. After they’re made into pellets, the pellets are melted and then pushed through tiny holes. The process is called extrusion, which turns the plastic into weavable thread. Afterward, the thread is spun into RPET webbing, which Kai colors with pet-safe dye in sandy-colored gradients.
The advanced technology to upcycle plastic hasn’t reached our shores yet. Each step in the process needs a complex machine, so a large-scale factory is a massive investment. Kai Yulo recognizes this urgency. She shares,
“Long term, my goal is to bring this recycling technology into the Philippines. It wouldn’t only allow us to address our plastic waste problem, but it would also empower Filipino creatives with access to an abundance of sustainable materials.”
Kai Yulo Delivers Good Times with Bottles of Natural Wine
Together with her uncle, Rashid Delgado, Kai’s most recent venture is (Super) Natural Wine – natural wines that have entered the local landscape with flare.
It first started as a fun project during the pandemic. Rashid’s wife Wonhee, a renowned painter and entrepreneur in her own right, was the first to introduce them to natural wine — which is now the cool thing to drink in her hometown of Seoul, Korea. “We’re a very wine-drinking family,” Kai says, “and we kind of just fell in love with it.”
From a fun family project, it’s now a thousand-bottle initiative. They work directly with natural vineyards across Europe and also collaborate with other local distributors to grow the natural wine movement in the Philippines.
As we chat in the chilly wine cellar, bottles from the Czech Republic by Milan Nestarec catch my eye. They are orange wines I didn’t even know existed named “Podf*ck” and a discombobulating “Gin Tonic.”
So what are these spunky natural wines anyway? Kai answers, “Unpretentious, chuggable, delicious. Natural wine is a completely different experience from commercial wine. Grapes are grown biodynamically, without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. There are also no additions or subtractions in the production process since winemakers allow the grapes to do their thing.”
“The result is a wine that tastes alive — with character and quirks that make every vintage special. It’s how wine was originally made, and the way Jesus enjoyed it!”
Kai continues, “It doesn’t conform to the criteria of what ‘good wine’ is supposed to taste like, and I think that’s what makes natural wine so special.”
She tells us how there is a wide range, with each bottle expressive about the year or the “terroir” (earth in French) it was grown in. Some, but not all wines, pack an acidic punch, sort of like kombucha. The wines are a little more alive and when you open a bottle, the taste evolves as you go through your meal. Kai expresses how the wine is more fitting for our tropical climate where we eat vinegary foods or are often by the beach.
She walks off to pour us some glasses of a 2020 bottle of sparkling wine called, “Danger 380 Volts.” It’s bizarre, but delicious, and sneaks up in a way that gratifies with a flavorful rush.
Just like the pleasure brought by (Super) Natural Wines, the meaningful change done by Lara’s Ark, and the impact of Peachy Pet designs, Kai Yulo stands out from the crowd. What has always been striking about Kai is the way she hustles with a lot of heart, and a great sense of humor all the while. With flourishing projects spanning the environment, animals, and the F&B industry, Kai is just getting started, as she sets the stage for a remarkable transformation in the country’s sustainability landscape.