Zarah Juan on Designing Dreams
Like many great stories, Zarah's dream started out in the most random of places: a supermarket in Japan.
The inspiration to start her venture came out of nowhere. Zarah was settled in with her career as a flight attendant. She never expected that she would ever get into business. That's why she took the sign as a calling, as if life was nudging her to take the leap.
In an interview with Connecting Founders, she recounts her aha moment while serving as a flight attendant.
"I asked my colleagues ‘How come there are bags being sold in supermarkets here?’ They told me that those were simply reusable bags to carry grocery and that’s when it dawned on me that it was just we Filipinos [who are] still using plastic bags. I fell in love with the idea and when I flew back to Manila, I tried to make my own bag. I went to a silkscreen maker with my design and asked them to make something for me based on that. This is how I made my first 2 bags."
For Zarah, this wasn't just any other venture. She saw this as her life experiences coming full circle.
“I came from a very humble beginning. We grew up in an environment wherein talagang kulang. My mother thought of putting up a sari-sari store. Being the eldest, ako palaging nakatao doon. ‘Yun pala ‘yung defining moment ng buhay ko.”, she shares.
"I would go to nearby tailor shops and would gather fabric scraps. It gave me the opportunity to imagine and that gave me the foundation on how to put things together."
Her first few orders proved to her that this was more than just a stream of income. There was a growing acceptance for products made out of recyclable material. She immediately saw how she could make a business that delivered quality products but make a positive impact as well.
So with nothing more than two sewing machines, a few designs, and her dream, she left her comfortable job to pursue her venture full-time.
Since 2006, Zarah Juan has been leading the charge towards uplifting Filipino craftsmanship. Her brand has introduced a new ecosystem that empowers artisans and supports communities through mutually beneficial partnerships. The brand provides sustainable livelihoods while upholding Philippine culture and traditions.
She and her team of weavers and designers have produced bags, shoes, and accessories admired and celebrated by customers here in the Philippines and all over the world.
As her popularity climbed, so did Zarah's desire to create designs that were authentic and true to our local heritage. She started to involve tribes from all over the country by reaching out to their cooperatives and representatives in charge of livelihood.
She stays firm with her high-end pricing because she wants to share the financial gains with her communities. For her, supporting communities doesn't mean giving them the bare minimum -- a reality that other manufacturers practice. It means giving them enough to make ends meet and move their lives forward.
She has also made it a point to focus on the quality of her relationships, not just the quantity. In an interview with the Philippine Star, she describes her unique dynamic with her communities.
“We decided to focus on one community at a time for our sustainability program. Like the T’boli tribe, which is from Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The T’boli women are impeccable hand embroiderers. Though they create beautiful crafts, their source of livelihood is still not enough due to their geographical location. The Zarah Juan brand collaborated with T’boli Cowhead Cooperative producing beautiful embroidered shoes and bags."
While everyone goes wide, Zarah goes deep with her support and it's paid off handsomely for everyone involved.
Even after all her success, she admits that she can't take all the credit. She attributes a lot of her success to her strong relationships with the communities she has empowered throughout the years. She sees her work as more of a platform for these communities to speak their truth and share their talents. To her, she is but a humble servant to her customers and her communities.
Like a lot of us, Zarah didn’t expect her dream to become a reality. One order slowly climbed to one hundred orders. Before she knew it, her love affair with design and fashion set her on a path to positive and sustainable social impact.
Zarah believes that every dreamer needs a gameplan. For her, it consists of a clear process, a genuine passion, and a deep sense of purpose. It is for that reason that Zarah helped craft a guidebook for dreamers who are aspiring to start that passion project or take the leap into entrepreneurship.
Inspiration is not enough. You need to turn it into action so you can do the impossible. Download a copy of this guidebook, answer the questions, and use the insights to get closer to your dreams!
Download Zarah Juan's Process, Passion, and Purpose guidebook and
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