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How do you make a socially responsible handbag?

By Thomas Goldsmith Published Nov 18, 2020 5:00 am

"The perfect bag is sustainable, made in a socially responsible way, and beautiful."

These are the words of Martine de Leeuw, who, alongside Sheri Scott-De Leon, owns Not a Daydream, a non-profit socially responsible bag-making organization in Manila.

We spoke to Martine about how the company is supporting the women of Tondo, and how fashion as an industry needs to evolve with the changing climate, both socially and environmentally.

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Not a Daydream was originally created in 2018 by Martha Wielens, who returned to The Netherlands this year after a visit to Tondo inspired her to help the 70,000+ inhabitants who “live in the poorest conditions with little sanitation or safe drinking water.”

Describing their mission as “empowered women empower women,” Martine explained how the company was determined to aid some of the poorest females in the Philippines. “We are able to provide our women with an opportunity to professionalize their bag-making skills and generate a profitable income, and most importantly, empower them with a life-changing job, while their kids are enrolled in school.”

 Martine de Leeuw and Sheri Scott-De Leon of Not a Daydream

Their first bag was the Boracay Beachbag.

“We combined beautiful handwoven fabrics from Ilocos with practical details and modern colors,” Martine explained. The bag is not only stylish but also practical, as the insides are made using water-repellent material—perfect for island hopping or globetrotting.

From the success of this bag, Not a Daydream now has five bags that have helped expand their mission and global awareness.

This is because Martine believes that the company’s bags empower not just the women who use them, but also the women who make them, with an emphasis on embracing and showcasing local culture through the weaving patterns.

The handmade bags are inspired by the natural landscapes and colors of the Philippines and each one has a story behind it.

The Binakol weave has “interlocked geometric patterns that result in optical art designs that have a dizzying effect, said to ward off evil spirits, while the Santiago weave is popular with its fun fashion status with large pineapples woven throughout.”

With bags sold in both the Philippines and Netherlands, Not a Daydream is already a reputed global brand.

 Martine and Sheri with the team of mothers they’ve trained to be bag makers as a means of livelihood

Being socially responsible is part of the DNA of the company. All the sources are carefully chosen for their sustainability. All the proceeds— regardless of the company's production, logistics, tax, and overhead costs—go to the women and the foundations they partner with.

One of these partners is BYSMP Bless The Children Foundation Inc., an NGO supported by Chalice Canada. BCFI offers special programs to children with different abilities and they have programs here in Manila.

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We asked if fashion has a responsibility to give back. Martine believes that it does: “The industry is at a crossroads with brands across the globe becoming more sustainable.”

And it is this dedication to sustainability and being socially responsible that has put Not a Daydream in the spotlight. The Boracay Bag was nominated in the “Most Socially Responsible Handbag” category at The Independent Handbag Designer Awards 2020. An honor, Martine says, confirming that the company is ready to go to the next level.

Looking to the future, the upcoming years are bright for the company with plans to expand their movement. They hope to support more organizations and provide more opportunities for women to create a steady stream of income.

­— Reprinted with permission from Art+ Magazine, No. 68 issue

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“Not a Daydream” bags will be available at the next Katutubo x Bench pop-up event on Dec. 4 to 6 at The Curve Tower in 32nd Avenue, BGC.

Check out their website to purchase their amazing bags and to support the women of the Philippines.