Teenage girls’ piña bag business harvests award
Seventeen-year-old Jurnis Lanuza came across a sprawling pineapple plantation while on a class retreat in Tagaytay.
That sparked in her the idea to use piña fabric to make unique, fashionable and high-quality bags as part of an entrepreneurship project in her senior high school.
Thus was born Hiraya, a start-up enterprise put up in September 2016 by four 12th-graders from St. Scholastica’s College-Manila, led by their young chief executive officer (CEO), Lanuza.
Lanuza and her teammates—Denise Molina, Janine Borja and Isabel Paredes—now run a business that designs, produces and markets unique piña bags.
The 17-year-old entrepreneurs’ fashion label “Hiraya” means “reach your dreams” in Filipino. They sell the piña bags for $50 (small) and $60 (large) each by joining bazaars, putting up their online store and harnessing social media to promote their products.
“We hope we can not only reach our dreams of making this business a successful one, but also help our communities reach their own dreams. We want to do this through three Ps: Passion—for our products that promote a sense of local pride and social awareness; planet—to help the environment by promoting the use of pineapple by-products, profit —to make our business a sustainable enterprise,” Lanuza said in an e-mail interview with Inquirer.
“We have Facebook and Instagram to market our products as well as our very own website (hiraya.ph) so that we could have a wider reach. Both social media accounts and website were effective tools in reaching our target market,” Lanuza said.
Last January, Hiraya topped a national competition for high school student entrepreneurs held by the Philippine chapter of nonprofit Junior Achievement (JA), a US-based international nongovernment organization created to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.
Beating 30 finalists, the team swept major awards, including “company of the year,” best in “corporate social responsibility,” “CEO of the year,” “annual report of the year” and “human resources head of the year.”
Representing the Philippines, the team then flew to Japan in February to participate in the JA Asia-Pacific Company of the Year competition and scooped the FedEx Access Award, a special citation given to the team whose business idea is deemed to have the highest potential to create jobs, grow small business, expand into other markets and improve the environment.
Launched in 2011, the Asia-Pacific JA Company of the Year program aims to develop high school students’ abilities to organize and operate an actual business by providing economic education and business skills. This year, 19 student companies from 13 countries and territories (Brunei, China, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) participated.
Karen Reddington, president of FedEx Express for Asia-Pacific, said the FedEx Access Award illustrated how businesses and communities could benefit from today’s unprecedented hyperconnectivity. “Businesses that once would have struggled to expand overseas can now reach customers in distant locations and time-zones, as the students in the program now understand,” she said.
“It’s always gratifying to see how much the secondary school students in our flagship company take away from the experience,” added Vivian Lau, president of JA Asia-Pacific. “The students gain a tangible, realistic experience of the possibilities of the modern, interconnected global economy that I believe will benefit them in their future careers, whether as thinkers, employees or real-life entrepreneurs.”
Emilie Nolledo-Tan, the girls’ teacher and primary mentor for this project, is proud of the Hiraya team, which had only four months to prepare and less than two months to execute this project.
She has no doubt that the girls will be successful in entrepreneurship.
“They have the vision of creating an innovative product, the drive to execute and make the vision a sustainable business, and the heart to make a social impact on the community they work with,” she said in an e-mail interview with Inquirer.
How it began
To set up the business, Lanuza said the team needed P40,000 in capital, which they raised from their individual contribution and by using seed money earmarked by their school for this business simulation.
The growth journey has not been easy.
The team came up with the bag design and its features and had the manufacturer create them based on their specifications. However, it was a challenge to manage the fabric suppliers and manufacturers. The first supplier was unable to deliver and they had to promptly look for another. Today, the girls get their piña fabric from Aklan. They also encountered problems with their initial manufacturer before finding a reliable one.
The students learned the importance of having a plan B.
During Hiraya’s first month of operations, the girls made a profit of $225 and made a 29-percent return on their investment. But it was only the beginning.
These days, their manufacturer has upgraded its facility because of the business from Hiraya.
“The most important lesson I learned from our mentors is that to become a leader, you have to have a vision that is bigger than your own, one that’s worth following by your team,” Lanuza said.
Apart from Nolledo-Tan, the girls’ marketing professor Karen Sison helped the start-up business take off.
Lanuza said various mentors also came along the way, such as Edward Lee (chair and founder of leading online stock brokerage) COL Financial, Dean Pax Lapid (GoNegosyo), Luciano Zanirato, Nix Nolledo (cofounder of tech company Xurpas Inc. and brother of their teacher, Nolledo-Tan), Butz Bartolome, Jimmy Siybauco and Josefino Gomez.
“In an industry where priorities are constantly changing and business decisions need to be made in context, showing initiative, even when the outcomes are not ideal, is vitally important,” she said.
Molina, who acts as the human resource manager, ensures that everyone works together toward a common mission and vision.
“I make sure that we remain a cohesive company, driven by the passion to create sustainable products and help small communities,” she said.
As part of operations, Borja is quite flexible with what she handles.
She helps with finance, marketing and a little bit of production since she keeps track of the inventory.
She is also the editor of the business plan and its annual report, describing herself as “really meticulous when it comes to paperwork.”
Paredes is the finance head, seeing to it that all the finances of the company are well accounted for.
“The disbursements, expenses and sales are properly recorded. I also prepare the budget of the company and monitor profitability,” she said.
Nolledo-Tan said the team was incorporating Hiraya as a formal company “as there is interest in continuing it beyond the classroom requirement.”
Expansion plans are also in the pipeline.
With the experience from Hiraya, the girls have a preview of their future in the business world.
Lanuza indeed plans to find a corporate job to learn more about business practices.
“And I may look into franchising a business someday,” she said.
Molina, meanwhile, intends to pursue entrepreneurship.
“This experience made me realize so many things about myself and most of all who I want to be in the future. If given the opportunity right after college, I’d gladly be an entrepreneur. I am also interested in becoming a business executive and if I may be so bold, a CEO someday soon,” Molina said.