RIIR handbag by Filipino designerFour years ago, in one of the Philippines’ largest dumpsites and home to 12,000 families, women searched through garbage for fabric scraps to weave into rugs.

Today, thanks to Reese Fernandez-Ruiz and other young Filipino professionals, the women of Payatas are now weaving fashionable handbags for top designers, using fabric remnants delivered directly from factories.

The local craftswomen no longer live in poverty and the Rags 2 Riches label, sewn into each item as RIIR, now has cachet and respect, which has changed how the women see themselves.

The for-profit social entrepreneurial Rags2Riches Inc. also provides the women of the co-op with skills-based financial and health training so that they can maximize their career potential and take steps towards long-term financial and personal well-being.

Fernandez-Ruiz points to a telephone call she made to a well-known local fashion designer, Rajo Laurel, asking him to enlist the women’s skills in turning their rugs into fashionable products.

After four years, R2R has already empowered 450 women across 21 communities in the Metro Manila area and continues to expand its social impact and eco-ethical footprint in the country.

Fernandez-Ruiz was named a Rolex Young Laureates in 2010.

(WATCH the Rolex Laureate video below)


  1. As a lifelong sewer, I love this story. I have often wondered how we in the affluent world can move our excess clothing to other countries in a logical way. Ie tons of clothing go to landfill because it is not allowed in blue boxes etc

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