CLAJIREE Enterprises

A decade ago, an earthquake devastated the northern part of Luzon. Especially hard-hit was the picturesque city of Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. Residents of the city, as well as nearby towns in Benguet province were faced with the daunting prospect of rebuilding their towns and city, their homes and businesses, and their lives.

Life was especially hard during that period, recalls Mrs. Trinidad Cayat, a resident of La Trinidad Valley. All of us were affected in one way or another. Not only was the cost of rebuilding enormous, but the people also lost their livelihood so there was really no money for rebuilding.

Mrs. Cayat used to be a social worker. She worked with women’s groups, organizing them and teaching them skills so that they can fulfill their part in rebuilding what was lost during the earthquake.

Then in late 1992, the young social worker realized that one of the best ways to help them was to put up a business so that employment may be generated for the women.

The women here are very skilled. Several factors keep them from becoming economically empowered. First of all, they do not have money for capital. Most of them also have to stay home to take care of their young children. Also, these women come from farm families wherein everyone, down to the youngest child, is expected to help out in farm chores. As a result, their time is limited.

The skill that most of the Benguet women had and did quite well was that involving fiber. Indigenous skills in weaving, knitting, crochet and other fiber work were highly prized and passed on from generations.

Armed with a PhP 1,000 loan from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Trin Cayat and her husband Francis started a new phase in their lives. They started a home-based small business that manufactured hand crocheted bedroom slippers, espadrilles and sandals as its main line, and crocheted caps, bonnets and bags as secondary products.

At first the business was quite informal. The couple made slippers only for friends and neighbors who heard about their venture and were willing to try out their products. They didn’t have any other workers then. Everything had to be done by them, from purchasing of raw materials, to crocheting, to assembling the soles, the vamp and other parts of the slipper, to marketing. Then the word spread that the Cayat slippers were not only pretty, comfortable but also durable.

By January the following year, with the DSWD loan paid up already and enough earnings to expand and go full blast in their business, Trin and Francis Cayat registered CLAJIREE Enterprises.

When we started, my husband and I really did not know anything about starting or running a business, Trin confesses. It really helped a lot that I was a member of a women’s organization that assisted women in these things. Somehow for me, it was easy to instruct women on matters of economic empowerment when I was a social worker. But when I finally went into business myself, it became a different story. That was when I realized how important it is, especially for micro-entrepreneurs like myself, to link up with groups that can assist individuals on the nitty-gritty of entrepreneurship.

Trin is a member of the Tublay Women Federation, an umbrella organization of 20 or so women’s associations based in Benguet. The federation was created by the province’s DSWD to assist women develop and pursue income-generating activities in order to help augment their families’ incomes.

Her being a member of Tublay opened doors for Trin. Through the sponsorship of the federation, she attended Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) seminars and workshops on how to start and run a business, the basics of entrepreneurship, marketing and product design.

The DTI and DOLE seminars I attended really helped my business a lot. Among the many improvements that I implemented were ideas and lessons learned from these seminars, particularly on the design of the slippers, says the busy entrepreneur.

In this instance, Trin recounts, she was able to request assistance from the Design Center of DTI in order to make her slippers more appealing to the eye. Color is one design aspect that she carefully watches out for.

In my particular product, it is usually the color which clinches a sale.

Consumers today expect choices in style and color. Studies have shown that color is the number one thing that draws attention to a product, especially with houseware, garments and personal accessories. In fact 60 percent of a buying decision is based on color. Color experts have advised manufacturers to give more attention to color and color combinations as these greatly influence appeal and emotions of potential buyers.

Thus, Mrs. Cayat’s slippers, sandals and espadrilles come in a rainbow of colors sure to attract every preference. She goes on regular buying trips to Manila to get the dyed cotton thread she uses for crocheting the vamps (or upper part) of the slipper, as well as the rubber and foam sheets for the sole, and the hemp for trimming.

As to the colors of the threads she is able to source, the entrepreneur admits that she is having difficulty buying the more popular hues.

I have so far encountered no problems in sourcing the raw materials. The supply of thread is dependable. However, I oftentimes have problems finding the colors that are more attractive to my potential buyers, Trin says. She further explains that dyeing the thread would be very expensive, even if a group of them would pool their resources for dyeing facilities.

In fairness to our local DTI, they extended to us all the assistance on this matter through the Design Center. We were even able to learn about the dyeing process through seminars which they sponsored. Unfortunately, when we found out that the cost needed would be in the millions of pesos, the manufacturers here had to back out.

CLAJIREE was among the first three manufacturers of the distinctive crocheted slippers in Benguet. At the start, neighbors, relatives and friends were its customers, but later the company’s clientele slowly grew. They soon found themselves supplying stalls at the Baguio City market Maharlika, as well as some department stores in Luzon. They also participated in trade fairs and bazaars in Baguio and in Metro Manila. Last year, Trin and Francis decided to rent their own stall in Maharlika where they can directly sell their products.

As their clientele grew, so did the number of their employees. Today, CLAJIREE has some five regular employees, and more than twenty contract workers, mostly women who crochet slipper vamps in their homes and deliver the finished parts to CLAJIREE.

Almost all of our contract workers, especially the women, are tied to the house, meaning they cannot leave their homes to work full-time at CLAJIREE’s production area. So we compromise and I allow them to bring home the work, as long as they submit the finished parts on time. Then they are paid on a per piece basis, explains Trin Cayat.

It was not very difficult for Trin and Francis to find additional workers for their business. Most of their neighbors were stay-at-home wives looking for additional income. The federation also assisted them in looking for suitable barangays where the women were available and willing to learn how to crochet. In both cases, Trin embarked on a training program to assure that the tension of the crochet weave was consistent, and to maintain the overall quality of their products.

So far, the company’s regular production of the slippers is at 3,000 pairs per month, but this can easily be increased if demand is up, which is usually during the summer and Christmas holidays when Filipinos troop up to enjoy the climate of the mountain city.

In 1999, CLAJIREE participated in the National Trade Fair in Manila which resulted in a foreign buyer placing an initial order of 3,000 pairs. After that, however, there was no re-order. Soon after, the Cayats found out that the foreign buyer set up his own slipper manufacturing plant in China.

Nevertheless, Trin is unfazed and feels that her workers are still not working at full capacity. One unfortunate experience does not get her down. The entrepreneur realizes that her product has a very big potential in untapped foreign markets. Some buyers out there, particularly in Europe, would find her products competitive in design, quality and price. That is why she has attended the WINNER seminar on international trade and e-commerce. (Editor’s note: Women Into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement-Technological Information Promotion System was invited by the Benguet-DTI and the Streams Foundation to conduct its training course on e-commerce and international trade in Baguio City in October and in November 2001. Women entrepreneurs from Benguet were the main participants in the training which familiarized the women on the potentials of the internet for marketing and R&D, as well the basics of doing business internationally.)

CLAJIREE is ready to go full blast now. My husband and I feel that we are now ready to find bigger markets. The WINNER training on e-commerce has made me realize that I can offer my products for sale to potential buyers in far places without having to spend a lot of money on fare and phone bills.

With the knowledge gained from the training, Trin was able to sign up for an e-mail address. She now has plans of buying a personal computer so she can have the convenience of doing e-business at home. Her college-age daughter will help out in this matter.

The Benguet lady entrepreneur has high hopes for the success of her business. With the support of her husband Francis, she is confident that, with a little more work and patience, her efforts are bound to pay off soon. It is time for the world to get to know the practical side of Benguet craftsmanship. CLAJIREE slippers will soon make its mark in the global market.