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#LifeLokal: How Wenya became a side hustle to a full-on business

By Camille Santiago Published Feb 25, 2022 4:54 pm

For 10 years, Eica Co, a Dabawenya teacher, spent most her days working in a preschool. But one day, she felt she needed another creative outlet. Though she never really went to a formal fashion school, Eica started designing handbags because she couldn't find a round abaca bag in the Philippines. And so, her first product for Wenya, the Guiliana caryall, was what started it all.

"I started making some (bags) and then I posted it on Instagram. And then luckily, I was able to get orders. And then I said 'Okay, so I'll make some more.' And then I got more orders and I just kept making more, so inisip ko, 'Okay, business na sya," she told PhilSTAR L!fe.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the daily routines of many, Eica pivoted her brand to adapt to the new normal and started creating home and tablescaping needs.

"During the pandemic, a lot of people were staying home. And then people are trying to beautify their homes, they like tablescape."

"I was challenged to design other products I'm not really familiar with," Eica said. "But we were able to come up with the products together," she continued.

Selling clothing, bags, and tablescaping needs using native materials and fabrics from the Philippines, Wenya aims to create pieces that can be carried for years to come across all generations.

Eica Co, founder of Wenya

PhilSTAR L!fe: When did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur and what was the point that really made you go for it? 

Eica: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad used to have bag factory and then my mom used to have a garments factory. Even when I was like five or six, I would go with them to factory visits. So at such a young age, I already have a concept of production, or I have an idea of what business and being an entrepreneur is all about. 

But growing up, when I went to college, I realized I wanted to be a teacher. So for 10 years, I ran my own school. I had a preschool. I taught there. And then after some time, I realized that I wanted another other creative outlet, so I thought of designing bags. And there! That's actually when Wenya started.

I realized that I want to be able to tap more communities and help our communities preserve their craftsmanship and promote their craftsmanship.

What's the story behind the name Wenya?

Wenya is actually short for Dabaoenya. Because me I'm a Dabaoenya, I grew up in Davao. And then when I started to when I wanted to start a brand, I wanted to use a name that is unique and catchy and somehow represents me as a person because I knew that the brand that I will be making is all about the things that I want for myself that I would want to share with other people. 

Why did you decide to expand your bag business and add clothing and homeware?

I realized that I want to be able to tap more communities and help our communities preserve their craftsmanship and promote their craftsmanship. I was attracted to the local fabrics that we have here in the Philippines—we have Inabel in the north, and then habol Negrense from Negros, and then you have Yakan from Zamboanga. And as I was joining different pop-ups and bazaars, I was introduced to different communities. And these communities are now the communities that I now work with.

There's so many competitive brands in the world of fashion. How do you make your band stand out?

Actually with Wenya, we really focus on using traditional weaves and giving it a modern touch. So that's our main core. We want our weaves to be worn across ages. Kasi before the weave wearers were usually the older generation, you know, and the younger generation tend to veer away from wearing local because they say it’s so tita-ish.

Our main core is we want the younger generation to appreciate the local and the traditional weaves that we have. So that's why we incorporate the traditional local weaves and modern design to make it more current and more attractive, and relatable to younger generation.

How do you decide on the designs? And how do you walk the line between being unique and having a commercial appeal?

When I come up with the designs, I just make designs that I would want to wear myself. My style kasi is very classic and polished with some details. So that's reflected in our brand.

I think the main unique part about our brand is because we use the different waves and different fabrics for the details of our designs. 

When I design I don't really think of selling so much of what I make because we really make in small batches. As much as possible I want to I want minimal waste wastage of the fabric, really watch out for that. So we only need what I think is the minimum amount of quantity that we can sell. And then we test the market like that. And then kung okay yung sales and this design, that's the only time that we make some more or we accept more orders for there's minimal fabric. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your brand?

During the pandemic, it has encouraged us to expand and test other products like [for] home, we tried doing some home products. The [onset of the pandemic] was really challenging time. Our sales really went down for the bags because people weren't going out. And we were concerned about the income of our weavers, that's why we thought of other designs that will continue to provide them with livelihood. Instead of having them weave bags, we had them weave placemats. Those did well also because during the pandemic, a lot of people were staying home and people are trying to beautify their homes, they like tablescape.

Also during that time, our wood craftsmen in Bulacan, that community is the one that makes our wooden handles for our bags, when our bag sales decreased, we had to think of other products also that will continue to provide them with livelihood. That's why we had to make this dish risers and then egg stands.

I was challenged to design other products I'm not really familiar with, but we were able to come up with the products together. And then we're able to sell those luckily and that sustain them throughout the pandemic. And luckily now sales is picking up so we'll be going back to designing more bags. And yeah, hopefully we continue to support the communities.

How has social media or influencer marketing helped shape your customers' lifestyle choices?

I couldn't agree more that influencers really really do play a big part in consumers' buying habits and lifestyle. That's why we really carefully choose the influencers that we tap. We tap influencers who really love local products.

And then also another consideration for choosing our influencers that we tap is I like those who have similar lifestyle as ours. For example, those who promote like less plastic for sustainability. I like those influencers because we at Wenya believe in sustainability. That's why we make small batches for because really watch out for the fabric wastage. And also even our packaging, we geared away from using anything with plastic.

We try to contribute to sustainability and being able to promote plastic free, plastic free brand. 

I know that there's really so much to do and there's so much work to do to achieve sustainability. But I believe that when we start somewhere, somehow we in you know, we make a conscious effort to really choose to improve the lifestyle and we really direct our brand towards sustainability, I think that that's a big win, not just for the brand, but for for human beings like for our children in the future like that. So we do our best we try.

We want the younger generation to appreciate the local and the traditional weaves that we have.

How do you want your customers or your clients to feel when they are wearing your clothes or using your home products?

I want our clients to feel and look their best when they're wearing our items when they're wearing Wenya. I want them to feel extra beautiful, confident and comfortable. And as if when they're wearing when you as it's an Instagrammable moment. I want them to be like taking pictures.