A couple of Filipino-owned companies were among the almost 400 international exhibitors that participated in the winter 2017 edition of NY NOW, the Market for Home, Lifestyle + Gift, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center earlier this month.
Mele+Marie and Ann Ong were both part of NY NOW’s Artisan Resource, a production sourcing market for overseas artisan enterprises to showcase handmade product collections and custom artisan production. They are among the hundreds of companies from 46 countries, showcasing home and lifestyle products.
Mele+Marie, the brand, is culled from the names of the husband and wife team of Melecio and Marie Oamil. The couple started their company 15 years ago and focused on jewelry. Through the years, their product line has grown to include clutch bags and minaudieres.
“My family is my inspiration in designing. This is the first time that we made something in 24 colors,” Mel Oamil told the Asian Journal. He is referring to the clutch bag line they brought for NY NOW which they will also showcase in Paris. It is called the Hannah bag, made of abalone shell and named after their daughter.
This is not the couple’s first time participating at NY NOW, they were also part of a collective group of companies from the Philippines that participated a couple of years ago. They decided to return again this year.
“We’re actually getting better feedback this year compared with last year. We have a few buyers already and they have placed their orders. We are also talking with representatives from boutiques and museums who want to carry our products,” Mel added.
The Hannah bag is a labor of love for the couple.
Mel shared that Hannah’s original shape has evolved. The final mold was the seventh, he said, the first one was straight and angular and there were no curves.
“We had to engineer the design and exact dimensions to make sure that it is not heavy for the buyers. Every bag has a character, hindi sila pare-pareho. Manipis siyang tingnan pero dalawang cell phones ang puwedeng ilagay sa loob. The previous bags we had were more on the heavy side,” he said.
The businessman/designer attributes their longevity in the business to their evolving design philosophy.
“We have an advantage when it comes to design. We keep on changing and we adjust with the times. Our products evolve, whether it is color or material. Ang mga buyers kasi laging naghahanap ng bago.”
Their neighboring booth, fellow Filipino Ann Ong agreed with Mel’s assessment.
“I really try to make something new every time I come here because it is one way to excite the clients. This is a highly-competitive industry so it is one way that the Filipinos can be set apart from other designers,” Ong said.
Ong’s hand-made products are made mostly out of salvaged wood and other materials such as twigs that have fallen due to harsh winds from strong typhoons that batter the country every year.
“The salvaged wood is very close to my heart. I have been recognized internationally for this kind of aesthetic,” Ong told the Asian Journal. “These are found objects that people just throw, I bring beauty to them, I bring life to these things. These are the kind of things that make my brand grow.”
Beyond growing her brand and exposing it to a more global market, Ong said she keeps on returning to the NY NOW show because not a lot of people get inspired by salvaged materials yet she has found buyers who appreciate the products that she has been showcasing.
“My buyers come from all over. I have one who flew all the way from Puerto Rico just to see me. That is why I keep on coming back here,” Ong added. “I really need to promote Filipino craftsmanship – that is really my journey. Along the way, I have met loyal clients who always come to see me, whether it is the winter or the summer show.”
Last year, Ong participated in seven shows including two shows each in Paris, London and New York and one with the American Music Awards in Los Angeles where she presented her brand.
Ong also won the “Best New Product” award at the NY NOW last year for her SustainAbility clutch bag made out of salvaged wood.
“I have always believed that creativity is a gift from God and I have a high frequency, meaning, I am very sensitive to a lot of things. When I see a stone, I know what to do with it. I know he strength of my artisans so from this strength, I create the designs, which need to have a purpose or a meaning in a woman’s life,” Ong explained.
Ann Ong creations, which cater to a very specific niche market, can best be described as statement pieces and every single piece has a story to tell.
“Through this, I help create jobs for the Filipino artisans, uplifting their lives in the process,” she said.
Divided into three collections – Home, Lifestyle and Handmade – NY NOW showcased thousands of innovative products created by designers across the globe who perfectly balance design and function. Tens of thousands of inventive products were shown from more than 2,300 emerging and leading established brands. Most notably, many exhibitors had exclusive product launches at the market, providing a first-look opportunity for buyers and the industry.
This was the market that both Mele+Marie and Ann Ong want to tap which is why they continue to return with or without government support.
“I owe it to my artisans,” Ong said. “It is one way of helping uplift the lives of the Filipino craftsmen.”