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Kultura and MSMEs: A partnership that breeds business inclusivity

02:22 PM October 14, 2019

For overseas Filipino workers, immigrants and tourists looking for souvenirs to take with them and remind them of the Philippines, Kultura is a treasure trove of all things uniquely Filipino.

They enter the shops fascinated with the wide range of artisan products before them: mother of pearl earrings, Barong Tagalog and Saya, dried mangoes, interesting condiments, bags made from indigenous fabrics, native ornaments, miniature jeepneys, magnets and keychains, and shirts that scream “I love the Philippines!”

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More than just being reminders of the Philippines and its more than 7,000 islands, Kultura’s products are also proof of Filipino artistry and are a testament to business inclusivity.

Growing with Kultura

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For some, Kultura is their last stop before leaving the Philippines. But for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with this unique retail concept, it serves as an avenue for growth.

One of the brands which have grown with Kultura is Island Girl, a family business that started in the export industry. However, the inconsistent orders from their trade partners compelled them to explore other avenues. Twelve years ago, it struck a deal with Kultura to carry their merchandise.

Some of the Island Girl products carried by Kultura. Island Girl is one of the MSMEs that have grown with Kultura. PHOTO COURTESY OF KULTURA

It used to do only jewelry for Kultura. But seeing Island Girl’s potential, Kultura challenged it to diversify its products to meet the demand of its clients. This compelled Island Girl to evolve, and start producing a bag line and a footwear line, which are now some of its best-selling products. More consistent orders have since come in for the company and the communities it works with.

When it started collaborating with Kultura, Island Girl was just working with five artisan communities that were in charge of their jewelry selection. Over the years, that number grew to 15 communities, which now produce bags, sandals and accessories. Island Girl even has a separate group devoted to work on orders from Kultura.

“Kultura has helped us, not by just being charitable, but by pushing us to be better,” said Island Girl co-founder Janice Chua.

While providing them direction to further develop their brands, Kultura also consistently collaborates with its suppliers to meet their customers’ demand.

In the process, the MSMEs are also able to hone the skills of the communities they work with.

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“More get to benefit from the work that’s done. Because the orders don’t stop, they just keep improving, and they become faster, the quality gets better and more consistent,” Chua said.

Cocobody is a line of personal care products that has grown with Kultura. PHOTO COURTESY OF KULTURA

Island Girl is just one of the many enterprises which have developed with Kultura. These include the Barong and Filipiniana clothing companies EN Barong Filipino, Tygie and Raffaella; bag merchant Jolisac; table and home décor lines Cricelcor, Burda and Tumandok; and personal care product provider Cocobody, to name a few.

Empowering artisan women

Microenterprises such as artisan communities, sari-sari stores, and home-based food businesses are mostly managed and operated by women. Business partnerships like that of Island Girl and Kultura provide sustainable livelihood and opportunities for women all over the country.

Monica Pulvera, a woman artisan from Island Girl, inspects a bag before its delivery to Kultura. Business partnerships like that of Island Girl and Kultura have provided a source of livelihood for women artisans all over the country. PHOTO COURTESY OF JANICE CHUA

“They are able to do it on the side, in the comfort of their own homes, without taking them away from their children, and they are still able to do quality work,” Chua said of the women artisans Island Girl works with.

While Kultura may be known to offer different souvenirs as reminders of the Philippines, it also has cultivated a partnership with various MSMEs that has promoted business inclusivity. PHOTO COURTESY OF KULTURA

Kultura also carries products from Invisible Sisters, a nonprofit organization that provides livelihood for women in depressed areas. These women earn a living by making bags and other materials from crocheted plastic. Kultura also supports communities and charities that sell products under their Crafts for a Cause line. Through this endeavor, it partners with different organizations and is able to help various sectors sustain their livelihood.

Gateway to global market

Kultura started out as a handicraft section of The SM Store, but in 2004, it became a separate retail affiliate, which offers products that tout Philippine heritage and contemporary culture.

It now has 10 stand-alone stores, three boutiques, and sections in more than 30 The SM Store branches nationwide. This breadth allows Kultura to become a bridge between MSMEs and the consumers, their gateway to the global market, highlighting Filipino artistry and ingenuity from the barrios to the world. A vast majority of Kultura’s partners suppliers are considered as MSMEs.

Its long-standing partnership with MSMEs creates an environment where the people and communities behind them could upgrade their skills and provide consumers with better merchandise. Kultura, through its network of stores, becomes the distribution channel for MSMEs, enabling their brands to grow.

Kultura’s long-standing partnership with MSMEs has enabled it to grow, offer uniquely Filipino products, and help provide livelihood to various sectors. PHOTO COURTESY OF KULTURA

“At every stage of production, somebody benefited. Somebody harvested the pandan, then they processed it. They dried it. Probably if you look at one item in Kultura, that passed through 12 different hands. There’s value there,” Chua said.

Kultura continues to be on the lookout for upstarts which aspire for their products to be featured in the stores. Interested MSMEs may contact Kultura even through its social media channels. Ivy Yap, Kultura’s Senior Vice President, however, stressed that their products will undergo an approval process and that the MSMEs should be committed to making products for the long term, be open to feedback, be consistent with quality and have timely deliveries.

“We are consistently improving our inclusive supply chain. We meet with various suppliers regularly. If there’s potential, we help them with direction how they can improve their brands further,” Yap said.

Partners for growth

MSMEs account for 99.6 percent of enterprises in the country, employing 70 percent of the workforce. They have been considered as the backbone of the Philippine economy. Despite their sheer number, however, MSMEs are vulnerable to challenges, especially without support from the government and the private sector.

As a business that started out as a small enterprise 60 years ago, The SM Group is well aware of this. This is why entities like Kultura, The SM Store, SM Supermarkets, SM Supermalls and BDO continuously serve as enablers and partners for the growth of MSMEs.

Picture frame and boxes from Tumandok Crafts handmade by a group of skilled local artisans using discarded materials found in farms and orchards. PHOTO COURTESY OF KULTURA

“We grew with MSMEs as our partners. Even to this day, SM is a market for MSMEs. They are our partners and they supply products to our department stores, food stores and the supermarket. Without them, there is no SM,” said SM Investments Corporation Vice Chair Teresita Sy-Coson during the National MSME Summit last July.

The growth of SM into a leading Philippine conglomerate has allowed it to give more avenues and access to MSMEs, paving the way for their advancement. Aside from hosting trade fairs regularly, SM also actively partners with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to give more exposure to MSMEs.

SM, through Kultura, is one of the main proponents of Go Lokal! along with the DTI. Go Lokal! is a platform that grants wider market access to MSMEs for free. SM also actively supports DTI and GoNegosyo’s Kapatid Mentor Me Program, which provides workshops and trainings for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. SM also provides ease of doing business to its trade and non-trade MSME partners and gives them access to capitals, assets and product development.

In turn, these MSMEs are also responsible for helping SM’s in-house brands such as Kultura to grow.

Kultura prides itself on offering everything that is uniquely Filipino. This is in display not only in the products it sells but also in the spirit of “Bayanihan” that is in play when both it and its MSME suppliers work together and benefit from their partnership of growth.

For more updates about Kultura’s uniquely Filipino products and partnerships with MSMEs, visit kulturafilipino.com.

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