This dermatologist designs bags that pay tribute to her Zamboangan heritage

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Oct 24 2020 05:00 PM

Dr. Jocel Soria Buensalido and her Ode Philippines bags. Handout

MANILA -- Paying tribute to her Zamboangan heritage is the main reason dermatologist Jocel Soria Buensalido embarked on her maiden business venture, Ode Philippines.

Using unique Yakan fabric combined with pure, high quality leather, Buensalido masterfully created five different styles of ladies’ bags that she recently launched online.

The plan to go into business started late last year, when Buensalido brainstormed on how to go about creating the designs that were already in her head.

“But that doesn’t mean that it is my first experience with business,” the doctor told ABS-CBN News. “I have the good fortune to have been exposed to a couple of family members who have been in business for a while now.”

Her mother, who is a cardiologist, had many different kinds of businesses. Her eldest brother, who is now based in Canada, also tried out business ventures even while they were both in medical school. His business naturally progressed to bigger and more successful ones abroad.

“Now, I see myself following in their footsteps as I maintain my practice as dermatologist, but branching out to the other side,” Buensalido said. “This Ode Philippines is away from science, but towards the arts, by using my creative juices to come up with unique, fashionable and very functional designs in the products of Ode Philippines.”

Paying tribute to the premiere weavers of the Philippines was a no-brainer, too, for Buensalido, who was born and raised in Zamboanga City.

“This is an homage to the city where I grew up,” Buensalido said. “Hence, the name ‘Ode.’ But you can also think of it as giving homage to the Philippines, too.

“The diligence and creativity of those artisans in weaving this beautiful fabric always amazed me. What better way than to start with the tribe that inspired me the most – the Yakans of Zamboanga.”

Buensalido is aware the Yakan fabric can be presented in different variations. “I chose to focus on their vibrant colors and intricate design because I believe that the color and vibrancy are reflective of Zamboanga City, which is also known for its colorful vintas.”

Meanwhile, collecting bags has been Buensalido’s passion for years now. “I also am very artistic, with an inclination to making different stuff, from sketches and paintings to clothes and bags,” she said. “Combining all these things inherent to my personality led to Ode Philippines, especially when you take into account my roots.”

Dr. Jocel Soria Buensalido with her La Corona PPE bag. Handout

Her familiarity with the Yakan woven textiles and material is undoubtedly intrinsic. “The intricately woven Yakan fabric has always been a pride of every Zamboangena, myself included,” Buensalido said. “I have left the city to study and eventually settle in Metro Manila for more than 20 years now. Each time I come home to visit, I always make sure to go to the Yakan village.

“During my last visit in the village, I saw a coin purse made of Yakan fabric and thought that the coin purse didn’t give justice to the beauty of the fabric. In my mind, I wanted to elevate the Filipino craftsmanship one step higher, so that we can maintain our distinct Filipino personality but stand with the other world-class products of other nations.”

Seeing that strong business potential prompted Buensalido to pursue her earlier plan. “Being a wife, a mother of two and a dermatologist have always been my priority,” she maintained. “I also feel that I have so much inside that I want to share to our countrymen and the world.

“Creating a high quality bag that marries the beauty of the Yakan fabric and the elegance of a genuine leather, makes it unique and globally competitive. That urged me to actually work harder to make this dream come true. This business venture is dedicated to my hometown.”

After she completed her grade school and high school years at Ateneo de Zamboanga, proudly included in the first batch of female students of the school, Buensalido uprooted to Manila and started her medicine degree.

“My parents are both doctors, so I was inspired to be one myself,” Buensalido said. “I left Zamboanga City after high school and went to De La Salle University (DLSU)-Dasmarinas, Cavite, where I took up Physical Therapy as my pre-med course.”

She lost no time to continue on to medicine at DLSU Health Sciences Institute in Dasmarinas, Cavite. She finished her dermatology residency specialty training at Makati Medical Center and dermatology fellowship training at the National Skin Center in Singapore, plus dermatology mentorship at Detroit Medical Center in Michigan, USA.

“In choosing my specialty in medicine, I made sure to choose a field that will allow me to be in control of my time,” Buensalido explained. “I am a dermatologist by profession, married to a doctor as well. I have chosen to be hands-on when it comes to the care of my family.

“I have always made sure that the needs of my husband and children have my full attention and that won’t change. Now, I am a dermatologist during the day, a wife and a mom 24/7 and now a business woman in between. It sounds busy, but I find it fulfilling.”

However, the challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic posted itself at the start of the year. That delayed the production and completion of the bags.

“The good side is that I found more time to focus on the project, refine the products and come out with even better designs, including one that was specifically useful during this time of COVID-19,” Buensalido states.

Since it is her personal advocacy to preserve our heritage, Buensalido personally supervised the creative process of manufacturing the bags, as she also designed the products herself.

“My goal in creating the bags was to come up with designs that are versatile, high quality and unique,” he says. “It is my personal advocacy to help preserve our heritage and to inspire the younger generation of Yakans, to learn from their master weaver and to continue the Yakan legacy of weaving.”

The bags’ names are inspired by Chavacano, a Zamboangan dialect with Spanish influences. Initially, Buensalido launched five styles with vibrant colors and intricate design.

“We use authentic Yakan woven cloth and work with artisans to use the whole fabric to prevent scraps and waste, so prints on the bag may vary based on the part of the fabric used,” Buensalido said.

La Corona is the perfect companion amid this pandemic, with a detachable Yakan insert which you can wash separately.

Senorita is a versatile, circular bag that you can carry on your shoulder or across your body. It comes with two detachable leather straps.

The Bonita is a drawstring bucket bag that comes with a two Yakan printed detachable straps, crossbody and shoulder.

The Cintura is a stylist fanny pack that can be worn around the waist or shoulder with its Yakan strap, but also as a crossbody bag with another genuine leather strap.

The Mujer is an elegant handbag that comes with a detachable crossbody strap for hands-free carrying. The drawstring bucket bag comes with a two Yakan printed detachable straps.

“The bags are carefully handcrafted using genuine leather and locally woven Yakan fabric, so they are appropriately priced for the quality,” Buensalido explained. “Aside from using real and not just synthetic leather, I would point out that the Yakan fabric that is used on Ode products takes months to make by the master weaver of the Yakan Village in Zamboanga City.”

Recently, former Miss Universe, Catriona Gray, visited a Yakan weaving community in Zamboanga and had the opportunity to meet its master weaver, Zalma Ballati.

The Yakans are an indigenous tribe in the Philippines, staying in the Sulu archipelago in the southernmost part of the country. The Yakans of Zamboanga and Basilan are recognized for their remarkable, technicolor and geometric designs in weaving. The fabrics are used in their traditional ceremonies.

While Ode Philippines started with just five bags, creating more designs and expanding the business are definitely part of the bigger plan, according to Buensalido.

“To tell you the truth, our Ode bags would be fabulous gifts that family and friends would really appreciate, especially in this fast-approaching Christmas season,” Buensalido said.