Whenever Mr. Kengkoy comes up in a conversation, be it with old friends or new ones, the always go-to question is: why the name? The lengthy yet very interesting story always seems to break the ice so I decided to write about this and share it to everybody. Hopefully, you’ll get to know Mr. Kengkoy better by witnessing its journey.
Two years ago, I was a determined business student pressed with so many deadlines which included starting an Income Generating Project. The only consolation is that I get to work with two equally determined friends who share my goal to accomplish more than just setting up a business. As a team, we simply wanted to develop a product that’s new to the market. At that time, the hype of strengthening the Pinoy Identity was bleeding into fashion and we wanted to take advantage of it.
HOW WE FOUND JUTE CLOTH (THE FIRST TIME)
Three months of devoted research and immersion led us to Jute—a soft, shiny and flexible fiber weaved together to create a textile unique to our region. Intuitively, we knew then that Jute has the potential so we continued our research but this time focusing on finding that specific textile.
We would spend our time after classes and weekends looking for that material. After a month visiting the towns of Tabaco, Daraga, Camalig, Santo Domingo and Legazpi in Bicol, all more than 2 hours away from where we live, we finally found where this textile is woven. The jute supplier stays in Malilipot, Albay.
Motivated by having a unique material, we were set to come up with an equally unique product.
WHY THE NATIVE BACKPACK
Native materials, including Jute, have this image that they can only be used to make coin purses and handbags mostly found in pasalubong centers. We thought why not reinvent Jute and create a mainstream product with it, a product that is relatable and isn’t dated. That is how we came up with backpacks. Not only are we proud backpack users but we also welcome the challenge of competing with established brands using our unique product.
HOW WE FOUND JUTE CLOTH (THE SECOND TIME)
When we started developing our products, we wanted to get the cheapest materials possible. That was the time we looked for the people who were weaving the materials. Considering the effort we exerted in finding the material in the first place, we thought this time, it would be a lot easier. To cut the story short, it actually took us on a longer ride. We are just so fortunate that a person from Malilipot, Albay accidentally spilled out the main source of the Jute supply. Right then, we found ourselves in Daraga, Albay with a community of weaving mothers who have spent their lives making Jute cloth.
We’re happy because we found them. But we were saddened at the same time after knowing that what they were getting from the middlemen were less than what is due to them.
From the onset we knew that choosing to start a socially entrenched enterprise would be a challenge for us. And that we were right. A lot of people even our family and friends questioned our capability to balance the profit oriented nature of the business with its social development side. They thought we were much too young and inexperienced to pull off something that meant more than profit. The only thing that motivated us and kept us going when struggles came one after another was the promise of proving that one is never too young, inexperienced or busy to choose to make a difference. So we refused to let the struggles and discouraging words get in the way of what envisioned our business would be—a proud and successful brand with a heart.
WHAT WE DO NOW
When we first met the mothers in the community, we knew we had to establish a relationship that allows us to help them. For a couple of consecutive weekends we visited them, dined with them, walked their lifestyle and listened to their stories—all meant to understand them better. As we grew more comfortable with each others, we start introducing them to programs that would later on make Jute weaving a sustainable livelihood for them.
Today we have our adopted group of Nanays (oh and a Tatay!) who exclusively weave and create the textile for Mr. Kengkoy Backpacks. We visit them during weekends and offering them a just livelihood. They are now working only during weekdays and for 6-8 hours daily. We also created a developmental plan for the community to empower them and train them achieve a better weave.
BUT REALLY, WHY MR. KENGKOY?
We’ve learned that many would spend thousands and go through a lot of research to come up with the perfect, most enticing name for their product, ours is a happy accident. A spontaneous suggestion made out teenage randomness on a silly afternoon break.
As candid and light as the backstory of our name is, we hope that you to will see that making a difference is not a burden. In fact, you can come up with your own ways to help out in the most random moments and we encourage to do just that.