They launched a crowdfunding campaign towards the end of 2013. Roughly two years later, this young start-up now sells a variety of Philippine-made products worldwide. They take their loyal customers and craftsmen along with them as they continue their ascent to start-up success. Meet the people and products behind Gouache Waxed Canvas Bags. Their words and their works are a testament that Filipino craftsmanship is truly world-class.
One of my biggest goals when I put up this website is to regularly feature homegrown brands and social enterprises. Not many friends know how I got interested in doing this in the first place.
It all started when I met Gouache towards the end of 2013. This 2016, I now start with #PassionProducts, a new blog series focused on in-depth brand features. I think it’s only fitting that I start this series with a feature of Gouache.
Back then, I was looking for a bag that I would trust enough to house most prized possessions: my camera and my laptop. I had to close down my bank account and sell brownies in school to purchase these gadgets. Naturally, I was paranoid and protective. The last thing I wanted was to choose a substandard bag that could potentially damage them.
Being maarte, I wanted a bag that would suit my style. Being broke, I needed a bag that would suit my budget. And then I met Gouache, which turned out to be everything I needed and wanted in a bag.
This is the Gouache Camera Bag in Navy Blue. It doesn’t look bulky, but it snugly stores my Canon 600D, three lenses, a MacBook Air, my phone, chargers for all three gadgets, brochures, maps, receipts, and my planner. This means that inside this inconspicuous bag lie my entire mobile office–everything I could possibly need for both work and school.
I love the kind of job that allows you to explore different places and meet new people. But I learned that being on the go requires you to develop your own system of working from anywhere. (The most extreme experience I had was covering a concert. The article had to be out on the day itself, so my friend and I published the article on the street outside a crowded Starbucks.)
In unpredictable environments such as these, the Gouache Camera Bag has helped me in two ways: the pockets helped me develop my own system of organizing my work essentials, and the padded dividers kept all of them safe.
The oil-tanned leather and brass buckle look classy and rustic against the shiny waxed cotton canvas. These two materials have built up Gouache’s trademark look, but they are considering experimenting with other kinds of textile for their future designs.I think of Gouache as a versatile cross between classic and grungy. It’s classic enough to be worn with blazers and button-downs, and grungy enough to be worn with your laid-back travel outfits.
Another one of my favorite products from Gouache is the Gouache Lunch Bag. Like the Gouache Camera Bag, it’s more spacious that it looks. It’s spacious enough to fit my lunch, drinks, and desserts, and it still has space for more food (a.k.a. more happiness).
It’s like a functional and eco-friendly version of the classic brown paper bag. It has a brass buckle accent and a long strap that transforms it into a sling bag.
This lunch bag doubled as my handbag for quick errands. I like going out with snacks and water, so I just quickly shove my phone and wallet inside with them.
I’ve found schoolmates in UP who use the Gouache Lunch Bag as their everyday school bag, too. (One friend was using this to school, and she didn’t even know that this was supposedly a lunch bag.)
My brother David got the blue one. Instead of using it for food and drinks, he stores his clothes, notebooks, and pencil case in it, too. I think this only goes to show just how versatile and spacious this bag could be.
There are many other products from Gouache, but these two are my favorites. Having checked out the rest of Gouache’s products, I could say that two common traits across their different items are their versatile style and uncompromising quality.
Of course, these are important to any customer. But Gouache goes beyond touching the lives of their customers. They are also changing the lives of the people who make these bags. To know more about the Gouache community, I spoke with Louie Poco and Ann Enriquez, the hands-on duo behind Gouache.
It all started when Louie couldn’t find a bag that would suit his style and budget. They later found out that other photography hobbyists and professionals had a similar need. They started a crowdfunding campaign with The Spark Project. The goal then was simply to produce a few waxed canvas bags. They exceeded their target amount, and used the money they pooled from the crowdfunding campaign to create other designs and to build their own website.
When they started this business, they only catered to local clients and enlisted the service of five bag makers.
Now, they ship worldwide with distributors in Singapore and in the United States. As their start-up grows, the number of craftsmen they employ increases, too. They now have around 25-30 bag makers!
The craftsmen behind Gouache come from a long line of bag makers who have been perfecting the craft for generations. However, because of recent typhoons, they were displaced from their original spots in the Rizal and Marikina areas. The competition from global brands greatly affected their livelihood, too.
Both Louie and Ann recognize the craftsmanship of their bag makers. “These are families of bag makers who have been practicing their trade for decades, and they are good in their craft,” they said.
“They just need design input and entrepreneurs to connect them with the market. We currently work with five families of bag makers. Our goal is to give them a sustainable and stable source of income by providing them tools and machines allowing them to be more efficient.”
They also provide them with a constant flow of projects, training on project management, and medical support.
So far, these goals have been met and even exceeded. Due to their success in crowdfunding and their business, Louie and Ann have been asked to speak in different events. Gouache is usually a crowd favorite in Metro Manila’s most popular bazaars. Clearly, they’ve come a long way from people simply looking for a camera bag that would suit their style and their budget.
But when asked about the most fulfilling thing they’ve done through Gouache, it all goes back to the community of bag makers.
Aside from our growing numbers, the bag makers have made their living conditions better: one has already built a two-story home and another has been able to build perimeter walls or “bakod” to enclose and protect his house.
When they were starting out, Louie and Ann were more focused on the creative side of the business. They experimented and explored bag designs. “But as the business grew, we realized that we actually had to focus more on managing our production workshops, keeping our bag makers motivated, and making sure we meet our deadlines,” they said. The same goes for the changes in the craftsmen they work with. “They now have more efficient tools and a more sustainable lifestyle. We’ve also experienced better professionalism, communication, and management skills from them as they have improved in meeting their deadlines.”
One more thing they’ve noticed is the blossoming pride that the craftsmen have for their products. With the quality of their work, who wouldn’t be proud? It’s one thing to have a more sustainable job, and another thing to look at an item and have a sense of ownership for something you’ve created.
This is the kind of mindset that Filipinos often lack, as we glorify imported items and overlook those that are locally made. So when asked what other advocacy they put forward in their community apart from sustainability, Louie and Ann replied:
“Filipino pride. To make them realize that Filipino craftsmanship is world-class. In our community, we want to instill pride within the bag makers themselves, which gives them passion for their work.”
We’re giving away a Gouache Lunch Bag in Asphalt Grey! The winner will be announced on February 29. The price will be shipped to the winner (as long as his/her address is in the Philippines!) 🙂
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Gouache Waxed Canvas
Address: Unit J- 225 Katipunan Avenue Extension
Barangay Milagrosa Quezon City, Metro Manila Philippines
Outdoor Photos by Zeus Martinez (@shootinanylight)
Makeup by Gela Martinez (@gelamakeup)
Thank you so much to Louie and Ann from Gouache for making this feature possible.