How Igorot woman got rich from 'scraps of cloth'

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Jun 22 2014 09:39 AM | Updated as of Jun 23 2014 06:29 PM

Narda Capuyan, owner of Narda's Handwoven Arts & Crafts. Photo courtesy of My Puhunan Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines - Who would have thought a barefoot Igorot who sold goods in the street would start her own successful business that would earn her millions?

Narda Capuyan is the owner of the Narda's Handwoven Arts & Crafts, a well-known brand selling hand-made scarves, blankets and bags.

She grew up in Ifugao, Benguet. An Igorot woman, she faced discrimination and poverty.

"Wala kaming sapatos. Naglalakad kami mga one kilometer to school," she told ABS-CBN's Karen Davila on "My Puhunan."

She recalled as a young student, she would not have enough money to even buy shoes. Barefoot, she would go house-to-house, selling various goods.

"Tinuruan kami ng Tatay at Nanay namin na magtrabaho, para makatulong kami sa kanila... Wala akong sapatos, gising ako ng maaga, naglalako sa bahay-bahay," she said.

She admitted it was only during high school that she finally had shoes.

"Naglalako pa rin ako nun nasa high school ako kasi alam ko magkapera ka pala pag nagtrabaho kaya di ako nahiya," she said.

His father taught at a church, which allowed her to become a scholar in Baguio. At that time, it was rare for Igorots to go to college, even more for one to take up nursing.

While studying nursing, Capuyan met her future husband. She first saw him lifting heavy sacks of rice because he was working for a supplier at the hospital.

"Ito rin isang trabahador, siguro puede," she recalled with a laugh. "Masipag siya, kaya puede rin. Basta masipag mabuhay ka. Ganyan kasi ako, simple lang na marunong magtrabaho."

Starting a business

Narda Capuyan shows the weaving process to My Puhunan host Karen Davila. Photo courtesy of My Puhunan Facebook page

After getting married, Capuyan continued to work as a nurse, focusing on teaching family planning to indigenous groups.

"Tinuturuan ko ang mga nanay ng mga methods. Condoms, pills, pero pag end of the month babalik pa rin na buntis. Habang nag-lelecture ako, nag-knit ako ng sweater. Sabi ng isang nanay, kung ibigay mo sa akin yan, maghahabi ako, di ako mabubuntis. Sabi ko, ito... Bumalik siya at may magandang kumot na siya," she said.

Other women started asking her for threads so they can make blankets. But Capuyan did not have any extra money, since she only earned P180 as a nurse.

So she bought some cheap thread and scraps of cloth, and gave them to the women. They turned these scraps into nicely woven blankets and tapestries.

Capuyan admitted she started the business not to make money, but to give the women something to do. And more importantly, so the women would not get pregnant again.

She started selling the blankets at gasoline stations for P15, and were quickly sold out.

She went to Taytay, Rizal to look at a warehouse that was being sold. She paid P2,000 for 50 tons of old clothes.

The women would patiently remove the threads from the old clothes to be used to weave blankets, scarves, bonnets and other goods.

"Recycled ito, ginawang bonnets, legwarmers but export quality naman," she said.

The women also helped sell their hand-made products. Their first customers were the farmers.

"Mga asawa nila tumulong din. Ang maganda noon, kasi malamig sa Baguio, ang unang customers namin ay mga farmers. Mabentang mabenta ang mga kumot," Capuyan said.

Capuyan gave up her nursing career to start the business Narda's. Aside from blankets, Narda's also has scarves, shawls, bags, wall tapestries and clothes.

"Gawang kamay lahat... Ito ay atin, Pilipino, Cordillera ito," she said, with pride in her voice.

Narda's Igorot costume designs, with a modern twist, have also been showcased in fashion shows abroad.

Her company now employs 600, many of them her former patients.

Despite her success, Capuyan has not forgotten her roots. She even built an Igorot village to pay tribute to her heritage.

She offered some advice for would-be entrepreneurs.

"Wag dapat matakot. Maski wala ka capital, mag-umpisa ka lang sa konti. Mahalin mo ang ginagawa mo at mag-isip ka ng kakaiba para umunlad ang negosyo mo," she said.