Business Heroes Championing Homegrown Products

June 13th, 2017

To commemorate the recently celebrated 119th Philippine Independence Day, here are some local businessmen who have elevated the Filipino brand through their ingenuity and patronization:

Kenneth Cobonpue, Patis Tesoro and Steve Benitez.

Kenneth Cobonpue, Patis Tesoro and Steve Benitez.

Kenneth Cobonpue

Kenneth Cobonpue is a multi-awarded Filipino industrial designer known for his unique designs integrating natural materials through innovative handmade production processes. He began his design career after his studies in Industrial Design in New York, which led him to trainings and further studies in Italy and Germany. After a series of further studies and trainings abroad, Kenneth moved back to Cebu in 1996 to help manage their family business founded by his mother in 1972. Upon managing the business, Kenneth discovered that by the use of natural fibers and materials as a medium, modern design could have a new face. With his masterful way of integrating nature, traditional craft and innovative technologies, designer and creative director Kenneth Cobonpue has earned international awards and recognition for his creative, organic, and expressive pieces. Kenneth has also worked closely with some of the world’s leading designers. Kenneth has been making a name for design in the Philippines and sharing his vision to a global audience. Various Cobonpue designs have also appeared in full-length feature films and television, such as Oceans 13 and CSI while his roster of clientele includes Hollywood celebrities and members of royalty. The whole furniture industry in the Philippines was just plain manufacturers, their products would go under different names and brands. What set his company apart from most of the furniture industry which relied on original equipment manufacturing was that he wanted to be recognized for his own designs. Kenneth Cobonpue was determined to prove to the world that Filipino products can compete with the best.

Patis Tesoro

Patis Tesoro is a woman with several characteristics all rolled into one. She is on the cutting edge of fashion and much more, yet successfully manages to remain a constant champion of the traditional. She is widely known for her flashy, exotic creations, and also a world traveler with a distinct style she calls “Bohemian Filipiniana”. She is also a cultural maven, entrepreneur, book publisher, restaurateur, plant and animal lover, fashion designer, and doll-maker. Though born to well-off parents and whose family is well known until today as the supplier of exquisite Filipino handicrafts, she has always loved to work with her hands — sketching, drawing, sewing or embroidering. She has been making clothes even as a young girl. The provenance of the materials she uses reflects the Philippines’ rich heritage or history. Patis Tesoro believes that “piña” is a cloth of stature and is iconic to the Philippines; losing it would mean losing our identity. With centuries of local traditions—hand embroidery, embellishment, textile processing, and weaving—Patis adeptly employs the fine work of artisans in her own creations. For her, Filipinos have to grow more piña to prevent traditions from going extinct and also to preserve this fragile part of Filipino heritage.

Steve Benitez

Steve Benitez’s love for coffee began during his time in law school with the late nights studying sessions that called for lots of caffeine-induced energy. When he realized that his true passion was actually coffee, he dropped out of law school and travelled to the United States to learn more about the industry. He brought back with him a deep passion for their coffee culture, but it’s his love for Filipino coffee which truly sets apart his chain of coffee shops. It wasn’t long until he started Bo’s Coffee, with just a single, small location. Bo’s Coffee is the Philippines’ first and largest homegrown specialty coffee chain. Bo’s Coffee sets itself apart by sourcing the best coffee and products from Philippine producers and supports local communities in the process. It focuses on supporting local coffee farmers—sourcing the best of Philippine Coffee from Sagada, Benguet, Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Matutum, and Mt. Apo—and elevating the quality of Philippine coffee. Bo’s also offers a selection of food and beverages made by entrepreneurs who share Bo’s values, all in a setting of locally crafted furniture and decor. Despite the initial struggles and the growing number of international competitors, he created a business that is locally rooted and internationally competitive. Today, there are a total of 81 Bo’s Coffee Club outlets.

Olivia Limpe-Aw, Justin Uy and Reese Fernandez-Ruiz.

Olivia Limpe-Aw, Justin Uy and Reese Fernandez-Ruiz.

Olivia Limpe-Aw

Olivia Limpe-Aw is a fifth-generation leader of the Philippines’ oldest distillery, Destileria Limtuaco and Co.. At present, she is the President and Chair of the company. She is responsible for the company’s new and innovative products such as the Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, Amadeo Liquer and Manille Liqueur de Calamansi. Limpe-Aw and her company sources and highlights indigenous agricultural products for her business. For, Paradise Mango Rum, the drink which makes use of the Philippines delicious mangoes has been named as the official drink of Boracay and Palawan. Under her leadership, the brand has won many international and local awards. Amadeo Liquer is a coffee-based liqueur and is named after the Philippine’s coffee capital in Cavite. Manille Liqueur de Calamansi is popular with foreigners who liken it to the limoncello of Italy. Her products are now star exports in Asia and distributed in California and New York. Other products include: Very Old Captain’s Dark Rum, Maria Clara Sangria, Manille Liquer de Dalandan, Intramuros Liqueur de Cacao, San Juan Premium Lambanog, Vigan Basi Sugarcane Wine and Imeldifique Cooking Wine.

Justin Uy

Justin Uy is the founder of ProFood International Corporation, a leading supplier of Filipino snacks, specifically dried mangos. Today, dried mangos are a bastion for Filipino snacks all over the world. When Justin Uy and his family started their business in the 1970s, they were hoping to address the amount of wasted ripe mangoes in Cebu. Thus, they entered the dried mango business which eventually brought value to mangoes when farmers never really saw much value in them before. To compete with other local producers of like them, they exported their products to countries near the Philippines such as Hong Kong. Upon the success of Hong Kong, they eventually entered into other global markets like the United States. With only one brand name, Justin was able to build a brand that made Philippine mangoes the best mangoes in the world. He championed the “Philippine brand” by marketing dried mangoes abroad as coming from Filipino mangoes. Their other products today include mango puree, canned juices, juice pouches, fruit preserves and concentrates. Justin Uy has also established the Mango Museum to help promote Philippine mangoes as the best in the world.

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz started Rags2Riches with colleagues from Ateneo in hopes of  empowering women in impoverished communities. Rags2Riches turns scraps of cloth into high-end fashion accessories. Today, Rags2Riches is now an internationally renowned fashion and design brand that employs women from poor communities and has more than a 100 artisans who are vertically integrated into R2R’s supply-chain. Her enterprise answers many social problems in the country such as low employment and quality of life for women in poor communities and is eco-friendly. She is truly remarkable and innovative because she has employed great design to uplift humble materials into high-end products. With the success of Rags2Riches, she became part of the Forbes’ 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs list.