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Artesan Profile : Lumago Designs, Philippines

Artesan Profile : Lumago Designs, Philippines

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Lumago, means “to blossom” in the national Filipino language, and was founded by an American Social worker, Whitney Fleming, in 2011 when a huge typhoon devastated parts of the impoverished community on our city’s dumpsite, located next to the Banica River.  Subsequently, to find another source of income, a group of women from the community learned to make beads rolled from paper.  These dedicated and determined women took it upon themselves to start producing and designing jewelry, that Whitney would then sell to the local resorts. Unfortunately, demand for these products locally could not keep up and they had to reach out to other markets for the project to be sustainable. They decided to blossom and that’s when Lumago Designs, the social enterprise, was born!

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Lumago ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to conscious-buying and our customer base is most definitely people who share our beliefs in producing and consuming socially-conscious and environmentally-sustainable products.  It’s really great that the principles we embody at Lumago Designs appeals to a lot of people in this day and age and our products are sold with these ethically-conscious consumers in mind. Whenever someone sees our products and I’m able to tell them “it’s not seashells, it’s paper,” the absolute amazement on their faces never fails to excite me; their curiosity is stoked and they want to pick it up and touch it just to check!  Then I can elaborate on the story of the women, how it’s all made and our beliefs in what we are doing for the community.  People are always enthralled and enthusiastic to help and I love that.  My job helps me to see the best in humanity every day!

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Right now, we mainly connect with our customers through word of mouth and we don’t have our own store as of yet.  We have an online presence which we are currently working to improve, but to see the product in person can’t be beaten and to share the story with friends and acquaintances is very powerful and we are slowly spreading our story around the globe through these means. I think people in the developed world have a better understanding of the importance of recycling and making conscientious buying decisions to help others and our planet.  This is still a relatively nascent industry in the developing world, so spreading our message and sharing our story are a major focus of our efforts.  Larger cities here in the Philippines and other developing countries are quickly catching on though, as those who have more usually do want to help, and buying sustainable products from social enterprises is an avenue for them to do so.  Without that education, they may appreciate the beauty of our products but they don’t always comprehend the importance of the source, that is why it is so important for us to spread the values of social enterprise locally.

We sell our products mainly through wholesale to other stores across the globe, aiming to maximize our market distribution and penetration in order to enable our women to do this work full-time and, eventually, hoping to expand to train more local women so we can create a broader Lumago Designs community and help to invest in their families and futures.

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A lot of our materials come from the dumpsite itself.  We buy materials from local scavengers, like pull tabs from cans, plastics, fliers, magazines, newspapers and colourful receipts, so we are investing not just in our artisans but also in other families in the community.  Our leather is sourced from local secondhand stores, and we find abundant discarded bamboo locally.  We are also very fortunate to receive donations of discarded materials from like-minded local businesses and individuals.  Using recycled materials means that it can be difficult to source specific materials and fulfil orders that specify a certain colour, so we have to inform our customers in advance of this variability and hope they understand that it’s also part of the charm of our one-of-a-kind pieces.

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We regularly conduct workshops and design days with our artisans.  We invite designers from all over the world to come in, meet the women, and share their skills and knowledge with them. Whatever their background, whether it’s something we’ve never even anticipated doing, it’s always good to expose the crafters to new ideas, concepts, and people.  You never know what the women might take from the experience and is even valuable if the most they take from it is a different perspective on the world.  The women can use all of this inspiration for their designs, and frequently do, creating new designs throughout the year.  If Lumago decides to use the design, the artisan is paid a designer’s fee and also to teach it to the other crafters.  This is an extra incentive for them to get in touch with their creative spirit.  We can also create bespoke designs from designers or customers if they would like us to develop an idea they have.

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What we sell depends greatly on the specific venue, and is generally correlative with the income-level of the consumers.  We have attended bigger trade fairs in Manila in the past with our founder, but since she returned to America, we have refocused on expanding awareness locally in Dumaguete City.   We enjoy doing the fairs as they are always useful in spreading our message, getting feedback on our products from locals as well as tourists and meeting like-minded artisans who help to create a support network of great people doing their very best to change the world one tiny step at a time!  We hope to expand to many more as time and resources permit us.

Our biggest success is being able to help these women, enabling them to be creative while looking after their kids at home and having a sustainable income to support their families.  We think education and health is vitally important and being a Lumago crafter enables these ladies to send their kids to school and eat healthier meals, rather than spending their time scavenging in exchange for unreliable income and that is something we are proud of.Our biggest challenge as yet is getting our products out there and marketed in the right places to maximize sales and give these women and others even more opportunities to earn for their families. This is something we are constantly working on.

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We have so many exciting things planned for this year; it will be a welcome challenge to fit it all in! We plan to take part in more trade fairs in Manila and the UK.  We have been invited to join an Art show in Manila with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippines in May to showcase pieces from Dumaguete and the surrounding communities.  I have been speaking to many local and international designers to arrange workshops for the women in knitting, crochet, metalwork and gemstone jewelry.  We are also in talks with organisers in another city dumpsite on Negros Island to train women in recycled jewelry making. We have the launch of some new designs born from the minds of our artisans, set to début this spring.  We are also planning to expand our presence in the US later in the year and introduce Lumago to several stores on the West and East coasts.  Finally, we also plan to expand our online presence so our customers can start buying our products online!  

For more information about Lumago Designs visit: http://lumagodesigns.com/


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