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Nearly ten years ago, Filipino friends Jeannie Javelosa, Pacita Juan and Reena Francisco were at dinner, wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Each ran her own successful business, but was looking for something that would be less stressful, make her happy and allow her to give back to society.
The women founded ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle in 2008, a social enterprise with a retail presence selling natural and community-made fair trade products.
Its name reflects its vision: Environment, Community, Hope, Organisation. It helps small communities to improve their wares and fit market needs, to promote sustainable lifestyle and business.
The brand has seven stores, with subsidiaries such as ECHOmarket Sustainable Farms, which sells organic farm produce, and ECHOcafe, which serves ECHOmarket produce.
Ms Javelosa, 54, who has a master's degree in painting from the University of Pennsylvania, is also the face of Great Women, a brand of lifestyle products that promote responsible luxury, and is also a platform that supports women entrepreneurs in Asean countries.
She was also a 2012 finalist for the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards, a business plan competition aimed at supporting creative, financially sustainable and responsible women-led companies in all countries and industries.
What did being a Cartier Women's Initiative Award finalist do for you?
Taking part in the Award forced me to write a business plan, which was 30 pages long, where I had to detail our marketing plans, legal structure, direction strategy and financial budgets. And after doing all that, I had to talk about it to pitch our business. This was something that we never did, and I had to sit down and do all this paperwork.
Of the three partners, I am the least financially savvy, but now at least I can go through financial statements, and talk to venture capitalists. I didn't win but being a finalist allowed me to speak about enterprise in a structured manner, and everything that we projected on that business plan has happened.
What made you decide to be a social entrepreneur?
We didn't plan for ECHOstore to grow so big. We were just looking for something enjoyable to do. We realised nobody was helping the small producers sell their products and no one was talking about the sustainable green lifestyle. We had the retail arm, and now we include food products and we have a cafe too.
It was the same with Great Women. I hosted an event at a private museum where I am the curator. We put together a collection of items to show and sell, and after the show, we realised that we had started another brand.
"Great" stands for "gender responsive economic action for the transformation" of women. Great Women supports artisanal, fair trade products. Every product is imbued with the passion and spirit of women.
Having said that, I was already an entrepreneur even before these two ventures. I gave art lessons when I was 16, and was already selling my artworks earlier in my life
Tell us the story of someone you have helped.
There was this 42-year-old pregnant woman in the Philippines. Her husband, a tricycle rickshaw driver, was the sole breadwinner. He also had to provide for their kids, her mother and grandmother.
The woman knew that it would be hard for her to find a job at her age and being pregnant. So I suggested she join our weaving community. She did and started selling her bags at ECHOstore. With each piece sold, she would stick the price tag on her bathroom mirror. There were more and more price tags added, and soon she was putting food on the table too and became more confident. Through this, she realised that she was a creative person, and also became a leader in the weaving co-op.
Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
No, there are entrepreneurs and there are workers. You may have the passion, but unless you bulk it up with business understanding, you can't be an entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial spirit has to be there, together with the capacity to want, and the dynamism. Some people are better at working for others, and there is nothing wrong with that.
What is it like to be running businesses with your friends?
The three of us have known each other since school. We all have strong personalities, and we've learnt to concede to the one who is the strongest in their own way. There is professional respect among us, and we do fight, but we also agree not to fight for life.
What advice do you have for would-be entrepreneurs?
Know your product, know your market, be resilient, and define success in your own way, rather than how the world defines it. Know that you will fall. I fell hard long ago, when I was developing a business, and my partner didn't fulfill what we agreed on. She said I was the creative partner, and not the marketing one, and as a result I lost a lot of money. You need to really know your business partner, and remember, don't let another person tell you, "you're not that". I believed that business partner and got burnt. But you live and learn, and life is about constant learning.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I meditate and do yoga. I'm a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, and I've taught for 25 years. I love alone time, so I sit in silence and face myself. I enjoy being with friends. I have lots of acquaintances but I'm selective about who I choose to spend time with. Without yoga and meditation, I'd be a b***h."
"Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
No. There are entrepreneurs and there are workers. Some people are better at working for others, and there is nothing wrong with that."