Craftsmanship: Feel It and Do It

Her products speak of creativity and passion—laminated balls of different sizes and exhibiting rare “textures” of varied “harvest items” as she calls them – sago or tapioca, banana fiber, mongo, ipil, twigs, pandan fruits, twine, banaba seeds and even wood shavings. Who would have thought these indigenous materials could be made into decorative items to grace homes in the United States and Europe?

One can see passion in her eyes too as she speaks of the fledgling firm she recently established. Loids Arts & Crafts is named after Loida Pingol-Yadao, 46, the diminutive but feisty entrepreneur. Yadao’s more than 20 years experience working at Lahi Crafts, one of the Philippines’ top exporters of handicrafts, has gotten her started on this bold entrepreneurial venture. She’s still doing what she used to do at Lahi—product development and later, as designer-contractor. “I was barely 18 when I joined Lahi. In fact, I was the second employee hired by the company,” Yadao narrates. Somehow, her story is intricately connected with her former company, which closed down in 1996 due to labor problems. “Some even call me ‘Ms. Lahi’,” she shares. She knows how to run a handicraft business as she worked her way up from sales, merchandising, purchasing, product development to contractor. As the latter, she was producing items for the company. Even if Loids Arts & Crafts is only a few years old, her workers had been working for her for eight to ten years already. Yadao started with a capital of P10,000, P3,000 of which she borrowed from a lending firm. Loids Arts & Crafts has ten workers. Her partner Noli Pribado has been working with her for eight years now. The other loyal staff are “Nanay” Zeny Banez, who is in her 50s, her assistant in product development, Rudy Melanios, whose forte is hand painting, and Nitz Lopez, all worked for 10 years. “We’re striving to grow,” says Yadao, who admits that they are not yet direct exporters. The impetus that made her decide to set up her own firm was when two Filipino exporters contracted her to produce some items for export to the U.S. and Europe. A Dutch buyer, whom she met when she was still with Lahi, and who is familiar with the way she works, wrote her asking about her products. This new development emboldened her to try exporting directly. Yadao was fortunate to be one of those trained by the Unifem-funded project called WINNER (Women into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement). This project is executed by Development Network (Devnet) and implemented by TIPS (Technological Information Promotion System) to promote the role of women in the management of micro-small and medium-sized enterprises. She attended two training seminars in early 2002—one on management and productivity, and the other on marketing and the web. “I learned a lot and until now, I’m still referring to the workbook they gave us. But the session in Tagaytay really impressed me. I met other aspiring women entrepreneurs and established ones too. I got a lot of encouragement from them,” she says quite enthusiastically.

As one of the valued employees of Lahi Crafts, Yadao was sent to various training institutions for short courses in the 80s. On her own, she studied interior design at the Philippine Institute of Interior Design, after trying to finish commerce as a working student, but managed only a two-year secretarial course. “I also studied candle making, flower arrangement…all the arts and crafts.” Yadao remembers that she made a bag of cacha and her rich customer liked it so much that she increased her order of 50 to 1000. This started her on packaging design—she did boxes made of wire, tampipi (a box made of woven dried palm leaves), bayong, a bag of the same leaf material. When Lahi closed down, she had to make a living somehow. “I even sold tusino, (a local meat delicacy) and jewelry,” she laughingly blurts out, just so she can send her three children to school. Yadao is separated but hardly gets any support from her husband. Her youngest child, then five, died in an accident while under his care. She calls herself a “seasonal” interior designer because she is busiest during the Christmas season. Families want her to do their Christmas décor and gift packages every year. She and Pribado partner work as wedding coordinators too. She does the giveaways, while he documents the occasion on video. Part of her industriousness was due to a recent tragedy when her only daughter, Marie, contracted leukemia. This sent the workaholic mother to contend with her faith. “I’m Catholic but I wasn’t going to church,” Yadao reveals. Her daughter, who studies in a Christian school, convinced her to join her Christian fellowship. Their prayers were answered, both for kind-hearted souls to give financial and medical support, and health for Marie, who now looks like any other healthy teener. The small company has had its ups and downs. Some times, they have already shipped out, but have not been paid. Or the little profit they could make dwindled as they strove to meet the deadline by sending through air freight. Loids’ forte is making topiaries—decorative balls mounted on a stick in some sort of a vase or container. This evolved in the popular “fibre balls”, now in versions of glass mosaic. She used to cover bottles with all kinds of material and transferred these designs into the balls. Her showroom is filled with a variety of handicrafts—“pumpkins” made of colored wood shavings, ironcraft, shell products, candles, boxes of different shapes and materials, frames, etc. When she started, she didn’t even have a glue gun. With her order of balls, she bought a second hand Fiera and fixed her work area, her office and display room, and their private residence upstairs. Now, Loids Arts & Crafts, gives work (when she has orders) to some 200 squatter families nearby in an area called “butas” (hole). One of their local outlets is Rustan’s, a big department store known for its high quality wares. Her place of work gives a glimpse of Yadao’s tenacious faith in her business. It is half past noon, Sunday, but a handful of workers are sorting out grass, painting, and Nanay Zeny is quickly passing a ball of twine over fire to smoothen it. In Yadao’s office, on her bulletin board is tacked a copy of “RA 7882 An Act Providing Assistance to Women Engaged in Micro and Cottage Enterprises,” given by WINNER. On her table is a book by Joyce Meyer “There’s A War Going On and Your Mind is the Battlefield -(subtitle) God is Fighting on Your Side.” She feels confident, now that her eldest son shifted to business. He has a creative bent like her. She would like him to attend a WINNER training too. Yadao is one of the 600 women entrepreneurs trained by WINNER since its inception in 1999. About 40 per cent of the business enterprises in the country are run and owned by women. Her parting shot: “I’m proud to be a woman entrepreneur. Fighter ako. Winner ako.” (I am a fighter. I am a winner.) Yadao feels the future will be a success.