The Business of Giving: Why kindness is the ultimate guiding principle

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Kaayo Modern Mindanao is a local clothing brand that weaves tradition and fashion trends in a very sustainable and conscious manner. The company was established in late 2017, almost 2018 by Marga Montemayor Nograles. “Kaayo” literally translates to “very” in English, but in Bisaya, it means “kindness.”

Marga has always been proud of her roots and her culture. She considers it a blessing to be able to help 8 indigenous tribes back in Mindanao

The creative entrepreneur

Marga used to consider herself a staunch businesswoman, having had a 15-year run as the exclusive sub-distributor of Havaianas in Southeast Mindanao. Now with Kaayo, it’s a complete shift, because suddenly she’s into design and production, and is so involved in the creative process. “I would like to think I am able to balance the two roles pretty well because the nature of my business is highly creative and it requires so much of my input and my vision. But at the end of the day, it’s still a business, something I have been trained to do,” shared Marga. She also added “I love that I’m in the fashion industry because I think it’s really who I am — I can freely express myself and at the same time, represent where I’m from. My work revolves around my culture and my heritage so it all comes so naturally. What I love most about our local industry is the coming together of everyone for a common purpose.”

Where it all started

Back in Mindanao, Marga wanted to help a mother and daughter in Lake Sebu. At the time, she would ask them to sew jackets for her every once in a while, and that’s how they earned a living. From that simple act, orders for more pieces of clothing kept coming, so the mother and daughter had to commission other women from their tribe to help with the sewing, beading, embroidery, etc. “At this point, all I could think of was how to make this sustainable. So I thought of a business model that can continue to support the livelihood of the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, hence the birth of Kaayo” shared Marga. The work that goes into Kaayo’s pieces takes a lot of time and attention, so the workers can never be rushed. As Kaayo’s business demands grew, it was so easy to get caught up and lose sight of what really mattered — and that is to help the indigenous tribes. “It’s really a social responsibility, something so much more than just a hobby. So when I lose my way I always go back to my guiding principle — which is the reason for Kaayo’s existence,” she quipped.

The Anywear jumpsuits come in different colors and have embellishments that are distinctly Kaayo

Call to action

When the pandemic hit and we all had to go into Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), Marga constantly worried about the tribes back in Mindanao, especially the women she worked closely with and their families. “Our tribes did not stop working because I told them let’s continue on. Giving them work so they can survive this crisis was top of mind for me, no questions asked. We started upcycling everything that we had on hand, and thats’s how the Kaayo Anywear collection came to fruition. We started making face masks, water repellent jumpsuits and tracksuits that people could use as protective outerwear. They were all embellished with Kaayo’s signature designs and patterns. It was important for me to create something that could be useful to everyone during this time. We have also donated these protective outerwear to front liners and hospitals in need of them,” shared Marga. Kaayo’s pivot to addressing the needs of the times came earlier on in the quarantine. This was a result of her desire to keep giving work to the tribes, and having the heart to help using her platform. Of course, with Marga’s husband, Karlo Nograles, being the Cabinet Secretary, she sees the bigger picture and understands the people’s needs firsthand.    

What is better than a designer handbag?

Kaayo recently launched its most recent line of products — water repellent bags. Using Tinalak cloth hand woven by the tribes, and plastic, these bags are clear and easy to disinfect. “I try to look for unique weaves and incorporate it into the bag which is made of clear plastic, so you see everything that’s inside.You can spray alcohol on it without fear of ruining the bag, and the size is just right, so it’s the perfect carry-all,” shared Marga. What makes the Kaayo Tinalak bags so special is its partnership with MovEd Foundation, established by Alex Edque. The proceeds from the bag collection will go to MovEd’s education and feeding programs. For every bag that is purchased, 15 sacks of rice go to a child and his/her family. “At first, I wasn’t so sure if the bags would sell, so our initial production was for only 25 pieces. Lo and behold, it sold out in one day. All of it! I didn’t even get to keep one for myself. So right away, we sent the proceeds to MovEd. Currently, we are still in full speed bag production.” And why could this bag be better than a designer handbag? “As an added special touch, each of the bags are uniquely numbered, and that special number code on the bag tells us who bought the bag and who benefited from that purchase!” Marga exclaimed.

Purchasing Kaayo’s hand-woven Tinalak bags not only helps the indigenous tribes in Mindanao who make them, but proceeds of each sale goes to a family being supported by MovEd Foundation’s feeding and education program

Work-Life balance

Keeping the work-life balance can be a little tricky, so Marga is a big believer in schedules as it is an important part of running an organized household. “In our home, there is a time for everything. There’s a time for work, for me and the kids at least because Karlo works at all hours. We make it a point to spend time together with our 3 kids, Mateo, Massimo and Nikka. Mealtimes are sacred because those are opportunities for conversations, sharing our thoughts, etc. The kids are back in school, and this online distance learning is a bit of a challenge. But I am so proud of my kids because they are navigating this on their own with little to no supervision from me or Karlo. Karlo’s work is a literal roller coaster, so it is what is. As for me, I truly love my job. And I know that if I continue to work hard, and keep myself in check, then everything will fall into place. The work we do always has to be bigger than us, and I want Kaayo to be more than just Marga Nograles,” she expressed. Marga chooses to be grateful everyday, no matter what kind of day she is having. “We teach our kids how to be thankful for the smallest of things and I think this is how we are able to manage everything that’s happening inside and outside the four walls of our house. We also rely a lot on our faith. We pray as a family everyday and I believe this is what gives us peace. We draw strength from each other, so for as long as we are together, I am confident that we can face anything,” she declared.

Marga with Secretary Karlo Nograles and their kids, Mateo, Massimo and Nikka proudly sporting the Kaayo Anywear collection

The uncertainty of tomorrow

Marga’s impulse is to work with what she’s been given, to manage with whatever hand she’s been dealt. She truly believes that there are no accidents in life and that everything happens for a reason. Being a political family, Marga and her husband Karlo, are no strangers to adapting to all kinds of changes. The COVID-19 pandemic really allowed her to re-evaluate so many aspects of her life, she quit overthinking and worked on herself inwards. “Again, having a social enterprise like Kaayo carries a lot of responsibility, so helping whoever we can with whatever we can has been a mission since this crisis started. With the help of friends, we have prepared and donated 3,000 meals to frontliners, distributed around a thousand pieces of Kaayo Anywear protective outerwear, etc. It hasn’t been easy, especially the logistics and getting to the people who hardly get any assistance, but we have persevered,” she recounted. 

Marga says that Kaayo’s mission and vision has not necessarily changed, instead it’s been amplified. The original goal was to help the mothers who were part of the tribes, and it still is, except now she wants to reach out and help more people.

Forecasting what will happen in the next five or ten years is something she admittedly has a hard time mulling over because of so much uncertainty. Challenges will be dealt with when they come, until then, she will keep looking out for opportunities to be able to continue helping the mothers who are part of the indigenous tribes back in Mindanao. Her goal is to get through each day — one day at a time. “Someday things will get better, and I have complete faith that it will happen in God’s time,” Marga concluded.

To purchase products from Kaayo and to support their charitable efforts, please visit: www.kaayoph.com

To learn more about MovEd Foundation, please visit: @moved_orgph on Instagram