Filipino products are now finding their way into the closets of European royals.
Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium had been photographed attending events carrying not one but several different clutches by Filipino designer Amina Aranaz-Alunan.
Among her favorites are the Mira and Ginto minaudières, made from snakeskin, hard-shell, brass dipped in gold and adorned with semi-precious stones.
Another European royal, Dutch Queen Maxima, was also seen carrying another Aranaz creation. The Maharlika orange clutch is also made from snakeskin with kamagong wooden frame.
“The stylist of the Queen chooses the clutches that match her outfits. She is very enthusiastic about it because Mathilde supports products made from ecological materials. She finds the story behind the bags beautiful as well that’s why she uses them regularly,” said Amélie Vandenabeele, owner of A Bag With A Story, the official distributor of the Aranaz line in Benelux (Belgium Netherlands, Luxembourg).
Queen Mathilde owns at least five clutches from the Aranaz label, she added.
“Amina (Aranaz) and I are very proud that the head of the country is carrying these bags. That’s really a nice advertisement for the label.”
BAGS WITH A STORY
Two years ago, Vandenabeele saw a documentary of Rags2Riches and the weaving women of Payatas. She was touched by the story and decided to get in touch with the founder.
Rags2Riches or R2R is a Filipino label that creates bags from recycled materials, hand-crafted by women from Payatas community, the biggest dump site in Metro Manila.
The company was founded in 2007 by young entrepreneur Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, who collaborated with top Filipino designers like Aranaz, Rajo Laurel and Oliver Tolentino, to create world-class products made from ethically sourced materials.
“What inspired me to open the shop is the use of recycled textile because it is very good for the environment. In addition to that, Rags2Riches tries to alleviate poverty by allowing women to get paid for weaving, giving them a fair chance to work better and earn extra money,” said Vandenabeele.
In 2015, she made her first trip to the Philippines and experienced first-hand how the bags are made and how the company helps poor communities in Manila.
Vandenabeele started with a webshop in 2014 but last month she opened her first store and showroom in Waregem, Belgium.
“I think it is important that clients can touch the product and try them on particularly because they are special and unique. Every product has a story behind it. The quantity that they produced is also limited because they depend on the materials that they are able to source so not one product is exactly the same. You cannot really show in the computer how it is made,” added Vandenabeele.
QUALITY AND UNIQUENESS
The Philippine-made bags sold by A Bag With A Story have already made their way to clients in Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, France. According to Vandenabeele, her clients were pleased with the uniqueness of their purchases and she has not received a single complaint from them.
In addition to recycled textile and organic materials like semi-precious stones, mother of pearl, wood and sea-shells, indigenous materials like pina and abaca are also used to create the bags from the Aranaz and R2R collections.
However, since these labels are not well known in Europe, it is also difficult to sell them to a wider market.
“My clients are very enthusiastic because the bags are special and unique and not made from materials that you can find here in Europe. It is not very common to carry a clutch made of coconut husk, for example. But Belgians still prefer known brands so it is a bit difficult to introduce the bags to them.”
When it comes to quality, Vandenabeele believes that Filipino-made bags can compete with their European counterparts while also having the edge of being hand-made and one-of-a-kind.
“We are planning to import more brands from the Philippines as well, but what’s most important for me is that there should be a story behind every item. And that they are unique. The name A Bag With A Story says it all. There are already enough classic handbags out there and I want to offer something unique and special. And it will be worth the money.”