Beaming with pride: Get to know these young entrepreneurs who are putting the spotlight on Philippine-made products

Putting up a business is not an easy feat but these young Filipino entrepreneurs continue to overcome the many challenges of a business along with what this year has to offer. What drives them is the synergy of business and purpose: to promote local products. Learn more about their stories below.

Kenneth Reyes Lao, owner of Cacao Culture

It would be hard to believe that Kenneth Reyes Lao initially didn’t have any idea about the cacao industry before starting the business. Kenneth and his wife Shiela worked for an IT company before deciding to leave Manila for Davao, embarking on a new journey together.

"We wanted to have a business here (Davao) but we didn't know where to start," Kenneth said. "We weren't familiar with cacao at all and up to that point, we haven't seen a cacao fruit nor even had the idea that we can make chocolate out of this."

Kenneth and Shiela Reyes-Lao of Cacao Culture

Kenneth shared that it was the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that introduced them to opportunities in agriculture, which ignited their interest in cacao farming.

"There are a lot of very helpful programs from DTI and all we have to do as MSMEs is to go to our local DTI offices and find out more," he said. "The learnings we got from these series of training have been valuable in our sustainability and our growth as a small business.”

Five years later, Cacao Culture has become a thriving social enterprise that produces high-quality chocolate tablea—all of these while also promoting eco-friendly packaging.

"We want to promote the idea that the Philippines can make quality and world-class chocolates and we, Filipinos, can use this in our everyday lives, and by enjoying our local chocolate. We also support our local cacao farmers," Kenneth said.

Emmanuel Joseph Mariano, CEO and President of AKABA

What started as an initiative to provide livelihood opportunities for a community in Laoag, Ilocos Norte has turned into a booming venture that carried bags parading the identities of Filipino culture not only in the local scene but also in the international market.

"We raised funds for loom weaving training for 13 households. Their initial fabrics were then shipped to Manila, and we produced bags that we sold to our family and friends," AKABA President and CEO Emmanuel Joseph Mariano said, recounting how AKABA came to be.

Emmanuel Joseph Mariano of AKABA

Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Emmanuel learned at a young age that businesses can yield jobs that can help people provide for their families. Given this premise, he built his own brand at the age of 21.

Currently, AKABA has 15 stores nationwide. Their design is a fusion of modern aesthetic and handwoven indigenous weaves, namely inabel, hinabol, sinaluan, pis syabit, langkit, ramit, t'nalak, and lilaktob. Embodying the spirit of bayanihan, the local social enterprise shares its success by supporting 13 communities all over the Philippines.

Emmanuel said that the Buy Local, Go Lokal initiative of DTI has been helpful for local enterprises like AKABA in terms of business education through various seminars and learning modules on topics like finance, and product development, and through added exposure via DTI’s various channels.

Ma. Roma Agsunod, proprietor of Common Room PH

With an initial capital of P5,000 and their love and passion for art, Ma. Roma Agsunod and her sister opened a home-based business in 2007, which would later on become a shared hub where more than 100 young Filipino artists, designers, and makers can showcase and sell their handmade crafts.

"The concept was highly dependent on any side hustle that would fit our small budget. That's why we ended up upcycling our old toys at home into trinkets and accessories," Roma said. "From trinkets, our collections grew into dolls made from scrap fabric and more."

Roma Agsalud-Agsunod and Maan Agsalud of Common Room PH

Roma shared that she and her sister didn't have a degree in business when they established Common Room PH. They greatly relied on the guidance of their parents who used to operate an enterprise exporting handicrafts.

"The lack of capital or experience in business is not the only challenge that start-ups encounter. Sustaining the momentum when the business is in its growing phase is another," Roma said.

She added that in the case of Common Room PH, some hiccups they encountered along the way were settled when they landed a partnership with the Go Lokal! campaign.

"Their continued support gave the community the boost of confidence it needed to move forward with our plans. You will be surprised at how many organizations from the public and private sectors are offering assistance and support to MSMEs," Roma said.

Adrienne Charuel, owner of Maison Métisse

Advocating for sustainable fashion brought Adrienne Charuel, owner of Maison Métisse, to be committed in helping local weavers.

"I was doing some self-studies in natural dyes and found out that we had Philippine natural dyes and there was a tribe in Northern Luzon who does it," Adrienne said. "I decided to visit them and took a three-day workshop and discovered their beautiful embroideries."

"It also made it clear to me that I wanted to help empower this community by partnering with them, and contributing to improving their living and work environment," she added.

Adrienne Charuel of Maison Métisse
Image from Maison Métisse website

Maison Métisse's collection ranges from eco-friendly hand-sewn face masks made from Philippine pineapple cotton fabric, to clothing items, shoes, and bags mostly designed with hand embroidery by the Philippine Itneg Tribe and made from upcycled materials.

Adrienne shared that the DTI's efforts have been beneficial not just for her own brand but for other local MSMEs as well.

"The aid and knowledge through their programs have helped many of the artisans I have worked with. They are given the right tools to be able to make a livelihood and preserve their local traditions through their learning programs," she said.

The DTI started the Buy Local, Go Lokal campaign with the aim of encouraging more Filipinos to patronize domestically-produced items to boost thousands of local MSMEs—the biggest contributors to the development of the Philippine economy. Whether you’re an aspiring young entrepreneur yourself or a consumer, you can participate in the call to support local businesses. Find out more at