Happily Walking Towards Change

by Angela Flores


Habi Footwear has had its share of accolades prior to joining British Council’s I am a Changemaker Social Enterprise Ideation Camp in 2013, but President and CEO Janine Mikaella Chiong knew then that they needed to evolve from a grant-funded model to a more financially sustainable model in order to increase their social impact.

Fast forward to 2016, the eco-friendly footwear that is made from upcycled scrap cloth and airplane tires by urban poor mothers and out-of-school youth has gotten exposure worldwide through export partnerships, some of which are business solutions leader, SAP Asia and US E-Commerce site, Qamay.

Angela Flores, Head of Contracts and Partnerships, talks to Janine to learn more about the business:

Tell us about your social enterprise.

Habi is a social enterprise that offers fashionable yet functional footwear (espadrilles, sandals, boat shoes, flats and wedges) made with the urban weavers of Quezon City. “Habi” comes from a Filipino word meaning “to weave”. We also chose this name because of the wordplay on “happy” since we want social responsibility to be fun.

From starting out as a thesis project in 2011, Habi has grown into a fully operational social enterprise and has trained over 50 weavers and officially partnered with 30.

The impact we hope to achieve is to become an enabler for communities to be self-sustaining through livelihood partnerships. We want to showcase the ingenuity of Filipino communities by coming up with products that highlight their talents and skills, particularly in sector of fashion and lifestyle.

We also aim to influence our market to apply a responsible lifestyle through our sustainably made products. As much as we can, we use materials that are durable, environment-friendly and locally sourced. 

How has the social enterprise boot camp/business planning training provided by the British Council helped you in your journey as a social entrepreneur?

British Council helped Habi streamline its business model during the Changemaker camp. Having been mentored by individuals from the development sector helped us fix what was needed to be fixed (particularly in the community development aspect) and improve the strong points that the business already had.

British Council also helped us gain a wider network, which had led to possible partnerships with other organizations like Netsuite and Leonard Cheshire. 

What are your aspirations for your social enterprise and the sector overall? How do you think the UK can assist in this agenda?

My aspiration is for all businesses to be socially oriented.

I think that the best way to achieve this goal is to document success stories. Many social businesses need better business mentoring and incubation, government incentives and access to financing. So many SEs stop before reaching its full potential particularly because of lack of resources, guidance and expertise, which I believe the UK can play a part in, given that it is a leading mover in social enterprise.