OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS, we have been tasting different food items from various provinces and small towns. I have become quite an expert in determining sugar levels for “Salabat”(ginger brew )powder mixes as Reena has become a Cacao or Tablea expert having tried cacao (in raw, ground and other forms)from many provinces and towns.
Jeannie Javelosa, the third member of the ECHOtrio (what we call the founders of our social enterprise) has specialized in Coco Jam from Quezon and Native peanuts from Iloilo while she was doing a Great Women Project(GWP) Design Intensive session in both places.
The past year has brought the three of us to Bohol, Naga, Leyte, Iloilo, Davao Sur and this end January to Ifugao (I volunteered for this because it will be coffee harvest time). Besides the ECHOtrio , our volunteers like Tes Pasola, Renee
Patron, Dannie Alvarez, Lulu Tan Gan, Len Cabili and Rambie Lim have given time and effort to help local communities and women groups of the Great Women Project “level up” their products—from salabat and cacao to weaves and clothing materials.
This March 19, we will be showcasing the GREAT WOMEN BRAND(GWB) which will be the umbrella brand for all products that we have somehow tasted, touched, worn, or otherwise have come into contact with from grade school level until they were “up-levelled” to high school or college levels, in a manner of speaking.
Reena has taught Jeannie and me to taste all the food before we vouch for them and before they get to our shelves at ECHOstore. I have asked the two of them to taste our produce at ECHOfarms straight from the soil. We have tasted even edible flowers, arugula and cilantro, malunggay and other vegetables that Reena puts in our menu. Jeannie has taught us about weaves and where they come from, making us a little more proficient in telling our stories about culture and diversity.
For our Body Basics and Home Basics, we three had to go through samples upon samples of coconut oil soaps, lotions, sprays and what have you. I have not bought a commercial brand of soap for four years now. Each week is an exciting time to try new products and use and eat it even if needed (peanuts, cashew, chocolates, pili nuts, jams and jellies, sauces, mango ketchup, and other “new” products) before they hit our shelves.
But ECHOstore has also envisioned to share the bounty of our harvest ,so to speak , with other women entrepreneurs as well. This is why our ECHOsi Foundation(headed by Jeannie Javelosa) thought about engaging Beng Tesoro of Tesoro’s fame, Malu Gamboa or Milky Way fame and other retailers to help us help the women groups under the Great Women Brand. Soon , the products we tested under a much bigger brand for women will be found in the shelves of like- minded sisters in the trade. So Great Women Brand(GWB) will be a women-producer-vendor brand that has been influenced by the volunteer work of many kindred souls and will be found not just in ECHOstore but in many retail outlets as well.
The Great Women Brand (GWB) is our small contribution to better the lives of many of our skilled women producers who otherwise have no access to markets. It used to be that these women in seven pilot Great Women project areas just keep producing without any idea of who their target markets are. The situation is the same everywhere else we went. With the GWB brand, we will guide them on what products the market needs, wants and is willing to pay premium prices for, “de-commoditizing” their products which basically are muscovado, cacao, coffee , rice and native peanuts, to name a few.
For crafts, baskets and non-food items, the volunteers infuse design ideas for global and urban markets. The designers also ensure sustainability of local resources by guiding the women producers on the use of natural sustainable materials, rather than imports like polyester threads and artificial colors and dyes—which many of the producers think are smart moves because it makes their work easier and cheaper to produce. The mentors introduce a paradigm shift that “cheap is not necessarily a differentiator” and that sustainability is important in sourcing of materials to use.
It has been a productive twelve months and a few more weeks. Together with the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), ECHOsi Foundation has found a collaboration that will benefit many women artisans and with the introduction of the Great Women Brand, the efforts of all will surely result in many more products for ECHOstore, Tesoro’s and other retailers, which will last for a very long time using the lessons learned from many minds and hearts.