Filipina turns love of lacquerware into a business in Singapore


Posted at Mar 29 2013 11:43 AM | Updated as of Mar 29 2013 07:46 PM

MANILA - The Pinoy Star, a community magazine in Singapore, recently published its list of 10 Top Filipino Entrepreneurs in the country.

One of the winners is Digna Cruzem-Ryan, founder and managing director of The Spirit of Asia, XPNG (S) Pte. Ltd.

The Pinoy Star has given permission to republish the interviews with the winners.


Successful homemaker and businesswoman, Digna Cruzem-Ryan is especially known in the museum circuit as the laquerware lady.

After years of extensive research in far-flung Southeast Asian destinations with her Australian husband, Neil, she developed great passion for antiques, textiles and gems and Myanmar lacquerware.

To satisfy her discerning palate in unearthing tradition, history and culture, along with her wish to support its propagation, Digna launched "The Spirit of Asia" in their penthouse apartment in Cairn Hill Rise in 2003.

Her showroom served as an outlet for traditionally handcrafted products meticulously created by the hands of master craftsmen, utilizing techniques passed down from generation to generation.

With a stringent eye, she monitors the details embedded int the workmanship of every lacquerware item, ensuring that only those highest quality are included in her collection.

Digna recovered her intial 200K in the first two years. she jests, "I am able to pay rent, myself and I have a little bit to party."

She has since expanded her collection to include Myanmar traditional textiles as well as Philippine cocowood and abaca fibre products. Responding to the demanding times, The Spirit of Asia currently sits at a 2000-squarefoot warehouse in MacPherson.

What's the biggest misconception about The Spirit of Asia?

My business is not an antique business. I sell contemporary products which are handmade by village-based artisans using time-honored techniques.

What challenges do you battle with in business?

First was to make people aware of Myanmar lacquerware. Imagine, not many people are aware of Myanmar. Its not Burma. On the business side, especially with the economic downturn, the challenge lies in creating a clientele for something that is outside people's daily necessities.

Where does the satisfaction lies in this kind of enterprise?

I'm happiest when I help my clients understand the pieces -- not just traditional usage but also the meaning of shape, form and decoration.

So, what's the big picture?

To make Singapore a lacquerware hub of Asia.