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Amid a global lockdown due to COVID-19, Rodge Julienne Santos and Sheangel Kakes Morales, students from the Ateneo de Manila University, founded Hello Habi as a pandemic passion project in 2020. While Rodge was passionate about fashion, Sheangel was equally interested in sustainability and ethics. Their combined efforts created Hello Habi, an online business that advocates for sustainable fashion. This micro-enterprise puts its advocacy at the forefront of business operations, raising awareness about adopting and living sustainable lifestyles by using its platform to educate consumers on slow fashion.
While the sudden growth of Hello Habi was unexpected by both co-owners, the small start-up eventually grew into an established Filipina-owned sustainable brand that continues to address the significance of responsible consumption and production. Despite the brand’s growth, Hello Habi sticks to its roots by practicing ethical labor. The business has truly made an impact on its employees’ lives by providing fair and livable wages while helping fund the education of one of its workers.
In a world of fast fashion, where shopping sites and e-commerce platforms offer new clothes at a click's reach, the allure of cheap and trendy garments is irresistible. We often prioritize price over quality, fueling a cycle of mindless consumption with far-reaching consequences for our environment and personal style. With trends fleeting in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves detached from the clothes we wear. Mass-produced and hastily manufactured, these clothing items are often designed to be worn briefly before being discarded. Pursuing affordable fashion has transformed garments into disposable commodities rather than cherished possessions.
But amidst this relentless pursuit of the latest trends, Hello Habi weaves together a new era for fashion. Hello Habi is a Filipino-founded slow fashion company that produces sustainable one-of-a-kind garments meant to be statement pieces. The company was initially founded by then-second-year students Rodge Julienne Santos and Sheangel Kakes Morales in 2020. At present, it employs three tailors and is headquartered in Bulacan, Philippines. Hello Habi's vision is rooted in advocacy to be a climate-friendly, fashion-forward brand that upholds slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion through ethical labor and fair wages.
Hello Habi creates unique corsets, halter tops, and scrunchies by upcycling flour sacks and repurposing denim. All materials are locally sourced from neighborhood bakeries and thrift shops. The production stage focuses on non-contribution to textile waste and avoiding toxic by-products of new fabric creation, ensuring that the environment remains a top priority by striving to protect ecosystems. Habi, shortened from the Filipino term habilin, which translates to given to a person entrusted in safekeeping, embodies the innovation that the company advances. Entrusting their customers to care for their tops for the long term, Hello Habi's clothing features trendy looks and a mission for conscious consumerism that transcends to their customers. As mentioned by Rodge, "Other than just selling clothing to our consumers, we really want to raise awareness about the advocacy and why it's important to adopt it in the long run."
Supernova is Hello Habi's most recent collection which upcycles old denim in order to create new pieces of clothing.
Hello Habi was the product of an unexpected venture in the fashion industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. As business majors, Rodge and Sheangel had a background in running a business but no experience when it came to designing clothes. Spurred on by Rodge's interest in clothing and Sheangel's minor in sustainable development, they pursued their entrepreneurial endeavor with only a meager Php 10,000 as capital. By chance, Rodge was able to recruit help from Thelma Billones, a local seamstress in her community, when she sought repairs for her sewing machine. Her family had lost their main source of income due to the pandemic, but Rodge's initiative would later lead to a transformational time for them. Thelma and her husband Antonio became in-house tailors behind Hello Habi's production line, while their daughter Maricris involved herself in the business' administrative side.
The founders were passionate about raising awareness of slow fashion and promoting sustainable clothing. Sustainability was an absolute principle, influencing their fabric choices and shaping their brand's purpose. Using platforms like Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, they sought to reimagine more sustainable versions of trendy fashion pieces.
Hello Habi aimed to use sustainably produced fabrics, avoiding materials like polyester. Using floursacks, known as katsa, had not been a new concept for Rodge. Growing up, she had seen them being repurposed as pillowcases by her elders. This inspired her to do the same with clothing. With help from her parents, they sourced floursacks from local bakeries, which was conducive to their limited financial resources. They eventually expanded by incorporating purchased denim from ukay-ukay, or local secondhand or thrift shops, as a material. However, while sustainability presented valuable advantages, it also posed limitations for the Hello Habi team. While donated secondhand clothing is a possible abundant resource for material, Rodge admitted that it would be challenging to establish a consistent quality and style given their limited workforce. Thus, their current operations remain focused on using katsa and repurposed denim.
The company's dedication to sustainability drove them to infuse their brand with a deeper purpose. The founders went beyond releasing collections and incorporated infographics on social media, educating their audience about sustainable lifestyles and the significance of adopting a slow fashion mindset in the long run. Yet while Rodge found fulfillment in seeing customers express their appreciation for their clothing pieces, it was seeing the impact of Hello Habi on the quality of life of the Billones family that continues to inspire her to keep the business running and innovate new products that sustain their livelihood.
Drawing from creativity and driven by inspiration, Hello Habi creates waves of positive change across multiple stakeholder groups. Hinging on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDGs) #12, Responsible Consumption and Production, the business has revolutionized the fashion and retail industries with its sustainable end-to-end production, from sourcing raw materials from local bakeries in her community and unsold denim from thrift stores to leveraging social media to educate people on sustainable fashion. Using scrap materials evidently contributes to the responsible production of the business as it allows for resource efficiency, where retail waste is reduced and then repurposed into fashionable statement pieces.
The collaboration between Hello Habi and local retail stores can not only serve as a foundation for more sustainable cities and communities but also as a blueprint for developing greener business models. With its unique selling proposition, Hello Habi is able to leverage sustainability as a strategy, its main competitive advantage, and the key differentiating factor against other micro-retail businesses and fashion brands. On a larger scale, Hello Habi can be considered an industry disruptor. The business proves that micro-social enterprises can adequately respond to the rising consumer demand for sustainable clothing while influencing global fashion companies to adopt sustainable strategies in their operations.
Beyond production, Hello Habi has also pushed for conscious consumerism and influenced its consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. Rodge herself went through this journey: from purchasing her clothes from fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara to learning about the adverse effects of the industry on its workers and the environment, which became more pronounced during the pandemic, and eventually developing a conscious consumer mindset where her every purchase is carefully thought out and considered. “Other than just a clothing brand, we want it [Hello Habi] to be a reminder of why it’s important to become more conscious about what we consume,” said Rodge. Driven by this agenda, Hello Habi also posts about slow fashion and sustainability on its social media accounts. Rodge hopes that through these efforts, the brand can inspire others to veer away from hyperconsumerism and pivot towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
However, amidst all these contributions to the UN SDGs, the biggest impact created by Hello Habi is on its smallest stakeholder group: the employees. The pandemic has severely impacted livelihoods as thousands of people were laid off and lost their sources of income. Thelma and Antonio were among these people, but the business provided them with the opportunity to have decent, dignified, and meaningful work. Through Hello Habi, not only were the couple able to regain a source of income and livelihood, but they also were able to send their daughter, Maricris, back to school. With the help of Rodge and Hello Habi, Maricris is able to continue her tertiary education while helping out in the business, thereby helping achieve Target 8.6 of SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: reducing the proportion of youth not in employment, education, or training.
Regardless of the target stakeholders, Hello Habi’s impact has produced a ripple effect within and beyond its sphere of influence. As an online shop, Hello Habi has proven to be a sustainability innovator and has shown that micro and small businesses can contribute to sustainability despite the limited resources at their disposal. Through collaborating with its suppliers, Hello Habi champions partnerships for sustainability. Collective effort within communities can start from a single entity like Hello Habi and, through that sphere of influence, encourage others to join or integrate sustainability into their daily lives or business strategies. The consumers, however, are Hello Habi’s biggest brand ambassadors and, consequently, ambassadors for sustainability. Through word of mouth and online publicity, Hello Habi creates ripples across age groups and geographic boundaries. As such, its social media account serves as an integral awareness platform for sustainable lifestyles and development. Hello Habi’s extensive impact is best summed up through this statement by Rodge:
“We have to be mindful that the resources we have are finite, they are very limited, and we want Hello Habi to be a reminder that there’s something good, something beautiful that we can create from waste.”
Hello Habi quickly established itself as a pioneer in the Philippine sustainable clothing industry despite being in operation for just over three years. By focusing on sustainability from the outset, Hello Habi entered the slow fashion market, which was relatively untapped in the country, positioning itself as a first mover. This strategic move not only differentiated the brand from its competitors, especially those in fast fashion, but also aligned with the rising global trend of more sustainable practices in the fashion industry.
In the Philippines, there is an increasing demand for slow fashion and ethically produced clothing. According to a study conducted in 2020, 60% of online shoppers in the Philippines reported habitually buying eco-friendly products (Coppola, 2023). Furthermore, an impressive 81% of Filipinos expressed their willingness to pay more for sustainable products, demonstrating a strong consumer preference for ethical and eco-friendly brands (Rakuten Insight, 2022). These social factors, coupled with the popularity of ukay-ukay or second-hand clothing and the younger generation's growing willingness to spend on sustainability, create a favorable environment for businesses like Hello Habi to thrive (Biana, 2020).
With approximately 9,600 followers on Instagram and 1,600 followers on Facebook, Hello Habi has successfully built a strong online presence and engaged a growing community of sustainability-conscious consumers. By sourcing flour sacks from local bakeries in Bulacan and collecting usable but hard-to-sell denim from local thrift stores, the brand not only supports local businesses but also promotes sustainable practices.
“We would ask the ukay-ukay and thrift stores for the items that they were having a hard time selling and use those for our products.”
This business model allows for economic stimulation through collaboration and support of other micro and small enterprises within the community. Hello Habi also opens the floor for discussion on the benefits of slow fashion through educating its followers on social media. Through their transparent communication and educational content, Hello Habi nurtures a sense of community and encourages customers to make more informed choices about their fashion purchases.
Sustainability serves as a key value proposition for Hello Habi's customers. The company's commitment to producing garments in a manner that is both environmentally friendly and socially responsible sets them apart from the competition. Customers who prioritize sustainability in their purchasing decisions are drawn to Hello Habi's products, knowing that their choices contribute to a positive impact on the environment and support local employment opportunities. By aligning with consumer values and delivering on their sustainability promises, Hello Habi strengthens customer loyalty and establishes a strong foundation for long-term success.
Another key factor contributing to Hello Habi's success is its ability to offer trendy, sustainable clothing at competitive prices within and outside the Philippines. The brand's commitment to utilizing old flour sacks and thrifted denim in its production process has made them virtually waste-free, reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional fashion manufacturing. By repurposing these materials, Hello Habi not only reduces textile waste but also creates unique and stylish garments that resonate with their target audience.
Hello Habi can also leverage various government programs and initiatives that support sustainable fashion and local entrepreneurs in the industry. For example, the Department of Trade and Industry offers valuable resources and opportunities through projects such as the Sustainable Solutions Exchange (SSX) Convention (Adobo Magazine, 2022). By participating in these programs, Hello Habi gains access to business experts, networking opportunities, and potential solutions that can further enhance its sustainability practices and growth.
Hello Habi's innovative approach to transforming old flour sacks and denim into trendy clothing has positioned the brand as a trailblazer in the Philippines’ sustainable clothing industry. With a strong online presence and a growing community of sustainability-conscious consumers, Hello Habi is well-positioned to tap into the increasing demand for slow fashion and ethically produced clothing. By actively promoting sustainable practices, leveraging government initiatives, and delivering on their value proposition, Hello Habi is not only benefiting the environment but is also contributing to the growth of the Filipino job market. As the brand continues to expand its reach and influence, Hello Habi has the potential to drive significant changes in the fashion industry and inspire other companies to also integrate sustainability in their strategies.
Beyond business objectives, Hello Habi positively impacts the environment as well as the communities around it, all the while reducing its carbon footprint through its slow-fashion approach. These benefits demonstrate the business’ holistic approach to sustainability.
To start, Hello Habi’s business model empowers local communities and supports access to education. As mentioned, the business collaborates with the local seamstress, Maricris, and finances her daughter’s education along with providing employment. This scholarship endeavor not only empowers an individual to pursue their dreams but also demonstrates Hello Habi's commitment to investing in the holistic well-being, personal growth, and development of their employees. Furthermore, Hello Habi also sources its textile from local enterprises’ unsold used denim or used flour sacks, which helps foster economic growth within the community.
Hello Habi is also a great advocate and promoter of sustainable consumer behavior. They strive to inspire consumers to think before they buy through their business proposition and social media platforms. By raising awareness about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and promoting alternatives such as upcycling and second-hand clothing, Hello Habi aims to create a community of conscious consumers. Through their efforts, the business empowers its customers to align their values with their purchasing decisions.
“Sustainability gives us a sense of purpose, how we want to move the business forward, doing it for a good cause.”
Aside from sustainable consumer behavior, Hello Habi also pushes for environmental conservation through responsible sourcing and slow fashion. As mentioned, the use of discarded flour sacks and thrifted denim significantly reduces textile waste and promotes environmental conservation. By repurposing these materials, the brand minimizes the negative environmental impact associated with the traditional fashion production process. In particular, ecosystems are conserved, especially aquatic life, given that Hello Habi uses far less water than a textile business that uses newly produced raw materials. Furthermore, as a slow-fashion business, Hello Habi operates on a sustainable production timeline, prioritizing quality and durability. This approach reduces carbon emissions associated with manufacturing, transportation, and excessive garment production. By embracing slow fashion principles, Hello Habi demonstrates that it is possible to create a successful fashion brand with a smaller carbon footprint.
Hello Habi's sustainable business model not only creates fashionable clothing but also generates significant social and environmental benefits while reducing its carbon footprint and promoting waste reduction. By empowering communities and working with other micro and small enterprises, Hello Habi contributes to the socioeconomic development of its employees and the local workforce. On a much larger scope, the brand encourages consumers to make sustainable choices and live more sustainable lifestyles, fostering a more conscious and environmentally responsible society. As Hello Habi continues to grow and extend its impacts across the nation and beyond, it serves as an exemplar of a business that successfully integrates sustainability, social responsibility, and enticing products into a single strategy that protects and promotes the interests of all its stakeholders.
“We wanted the brand to have a deeper purpose, not just release collections.”
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Rodge Julienne Santos, Co-founder
Hello Habi is a slow fashion online business offering unique pieces made with recycled and repurposed fabrics. While it thrives as a successful e-commerce business, the brand also advocates for fair wages and ethical labor, evidenced by how it treats its workers.