Connecting a Community of Fashion Changemakers: A Conversation with Cambio & Co.
Hella Pinay is a champion of fashion with a purpose. We love to share meaningful fashion stories that go beyond aesthetics. Here, we want to inspire you to know that fashion can not only transform your look, but the world, too! This week, we interviewed Gelaine Santiago, co-founder of Cambio & Co., an ethical fashion brand connecting the global community with innovative and socially impactful brands from the Philippines.
Gelaine Santiago didn’t originally set out to create a business focused on the Philippines. Involved in the non-profit and social impact space since she was young, the inception of Cambio & Co. was serendipitous, inspired by a trip to the motherland with her partner and Cambio & Co. co-founder Jerome.
“We discovered a community of vibrant, innovative, and young Filipino entrepreneurs who were making amazing products while trying to eradicate poverty, combat sex trafficking, or take up the battle against textile waste in the fashion industry,” said Santiago.
Santiago realized what the entrepreneurs and communities needed was a platform to reach a bigger market. Despite having no experience in retail or marketing or sales, they dove in, and the company was born in 2015.
From the outset, the couple wanted to focus on products from the Philippines and originally started off with the name ‘Cambio Market’ to describe the global marketplace filled with fair trade, artisan goods sourced from all over the world. Eventually, however, the realized they didn’t want to see themselves as a marketplace selling things, but as a community bringing people together. In March 2018, the business was relaunched as ‘Cambio & Co.’, a brand to showcase contemporary, conscious fashion made with “Filipino soul - all designed and handcrafted in the Philippines by talented Filipino artisans.”
Artisans like Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, the founder of Rags2Riches, which sells eco-ethical fashion and home accessories woven from upcycled, overstock cloth and indigenous fabrics. Or the company TAYO, a company that empowers survivors of sex trafficking through the creation of handcrafted jewelry made in Manila. The company operates directly from one of the safe houses for survivors, which means the products are “literally made in a refuge, a place of hope, and healing,” according to the Cambio & Co. website.
In addition to making sure products are high-quality and aesthetically-pleasing, Cambio & Co. takes the added step of ensuring the products support local empowerment, ethical production and respect for culture. One example of this mindful approach is the company’s refusal to sell ceremonial garments, such as funeral blankets that have been used to make shoes.
“Our job is to share the stories of social enterprises coming from the Philippines, and our products are just a conduit for those stories,” said Santiago. “I’m also really passionate about ensuring that our storytelling is respectful and empowering - that our customers feel invested and see the value in the stories we’re telling, and that our artisans never feel they are being tokenized or pitied.”
Looking towards the future, Santiago is looking forward to developing Cambio & Co. beyond fashion accessories and into a lifestyle brand that encompasses clothing, footwear, and home decor. If you’re in Toronto, the company has also started doing pop-ups and events.
“I’m super thankful to Cambio & Co. because I’ve been able to re-connect with my roots in ways I could never have imagined,” said Santiago. “I’ve come to realize that diversity really is at the heart of what it means to be Filipino. We are a big halo-halo of cultures.”
Check out Cambio & Co. at www.shopcambio.com to join in on the community of conscious consumers passionate about making business better and sharing the Filipino story.
Dyanna is a San Francisco "jill of all trades" - attorney, budding rockhound, tea jockey, marriage commissioner, health enthusiast, and writer for her personal blog, Style & Fitness in San Francisco. She is passionate about sharing the stories of Filipina womxn's diverse, vibrant, and innovative movements. Her style stems from the vintage clothing her Abuelita collected from garage sales for Balikbayan boxes, and she strives to promote the tenents of slow fashion.