Designer and businesswoman “without the business suit” Renee Patron has a clear vision—and the self-confidence to see that through.
She is the creator of Banago, a woven bag line made out of local banig. Whoever thought this mundane everyday sleeping mat would become a global trend, giving jobs to Filipinos in rural communities all around the country?
“I left New York and just returned to LA in February after four months in the Philippines setting up the business and training our workers. In the last two months of the trip, my team and I were able to train about 50 barangays in the art and craft of our products,” says Patron.
Best of both worlds
Patron was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Cebu at a young age. “My parents decided it would be a good idea to send us to school in the Philippines to live with my relatives while they worked to support us,” she recalls.
Patron and her sisters attended Cebu International School. “I realized kids going there came from well-off families and different cultural backgrounds, while we were middle class. I grew up in a very creative and open-minded family and we did not have the lavish lifestyles of most of my schoolmates.
“I would travel back and forth to Samar quite often, which is more provincial. My family is from the town of Guiuan. With all the traveling around the world that I have done, this is probably my most favorite place in the world. So at a young age, I was exposed to lavish lifestyles and a very simple life with my relatives in Guiuan.”
It was there that Patron was able to see the different lifestyles and culture of her relatives.
Observing the contrasting lifestyles, Patron, at a young age, was exposed to the social, cultural and economic differences. This stretched her mind and understanding in ways that helped her later in life.
Growing up in fashion
After graduating from high school, Patron returned to LA and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM).
Growing up, Patron was exposed to fashion. “I was very young, probably five; my mother would have to stay home to take care of us while my father went to work. So to earn, she would take sewing jobs. She would sew the patches that went to the factories and onto men’s suit sleeves or shirt collars.”
Patron would play with the leftover scraps that her mom left beside her sewing machine. “I would get in trouble for trying to sew on her machine, I definitely remember that!”
The birth of Banago
In early 2011, after a little over a year of working with Pret A Porter in Paris, Renee learned that her grandmother had had a stroke. She returned to the Philippines for a month to see her grandmother. “I started to reevaluate my life, what was important and just everything in general. I felt like I was able to do almost anything in my career with the knowledge and experience I have gained after 15 years in New York, LA, Japan and Paris. I started searching for the next thing that actually meant something to me, and I wanted to use all that I have gained to help others.”
That was how Banago began. It remains her current and most fulfilling business venture. “I found amazing products that were made in the neighboring islands and towns in the Philippines. I did research on different crafts that local artisans already made that I could incorporate in my designs.”
Patron soon realized that this business could help more people than she envisioned. “I quickly learned that every stage of the bag making—from harvesting the wild grass to weaving the mats, then embroidering with palm leaves—created income and livelihood for an entire community.”
But even if she was flexible in the business, Patron faced challenges. “You can imagine what a difference it would be doing business in New York, then training the locals in the provinces. That was a challenge. But once they started to see how the business was growing, things just came together. I think they started to understand how this really is helping a lot of people around them.”
The future of Banago
What makes Banago an exciting brand to watch is that Patron has all the resources and passion to make her vision become a reality. “I see Banago as a lifestyle brand because that is where it seems to be going naturally. I am working toward expanding categories in fashion, home decor, swim and resort wear, accessories, footwear.”
Patron grows her brand carefully, consistently working with people who share her ethics and outlook. “I also want to stay true to everything we have worked for so far.”
Banago has already achieved success as an international brand in Japan on its first season. “Now we have been focusing on the US market and launched our resort collection at Mercedes Benz Miami Swim Week last July. I would say the next plan would be to get it to Europe.”
It seems that after all these years in fashion, Patron has found the passion where her experiences and ideas come together. She says: “I am finding myself everyday in developing this brand, so I will work to expanding the brand from here on out. It’s my baby, after all.”