Founder Focus: Janine Chiong, Habi Footwear & Lifestyle

by Trish Lim

“I’m going back to myself, to who I am and what I love,” says Janine Mikaella Chiong, founder and president of Habi Footwear & Lifestyle. She is also Janine Chiong, founder and president of Roots Collective, a Woman of the World, sustainability advocate, supporter of social enterprises.

To me, she is simply Nin: a good friend and confidante, Muncher of Snacks, fellow advocate of sappy Filipino rom-coms, one of the friendly faces I see almost daily in Roots Katipunan.

Since graduating from college, Nin’s life has revolved around Habi, the business she started with two close friends – and it has been a life well-spent. Her go-getter attitude and dedication to Habi’s social mission has led the enterprise to expand to different communities in both urban and rural areas. Her drive to create more sustainable livelihoods for urban weavers has pushed them to come up with a colorful line of ethical and environment-friendly products.

"Habi enables sustainability of artisanal communities through collaboration and green design," she explains. "We use up-cycled textile remnants, natural components, and local weaves."

Never lacking in fire and ambition, she moved on to found Roots which she envisioned as a space for promoting local enterprises and supporting social entrepreneurs through shared entrepreneur development resources like space, marketing platform, and programs. “More importantly, the community of entrepreneurs within helps us to keep going," she adds.

"Habi enables sustainability of artisanal communities through collaboration and green design," she explains. "We use up-cycled textile remnants, natural components, and local weaves."

On a normal day, she can be seen typing away at reports before rushing out of Roots to visit one of her communities. She’ll take the time to talk to the customers and clients who frequent the space. On other days, she’s toting some new bag for a soon-to-be-launched collection. Sometimes, she’s in and out the door, just barely enough time for a hi, hello, kamusta.

This is normal. Life as a social entrepreneur is oftentimes a blur, the edges of who you are bleeding and getting smudged across the different pursuits you feel you ought to do. There’s always a hand to hold, a crisis to avert, a problem that needs solving. It’s a fulfilling job, but there are times when you lose yourself to the work that you need to step back and reconstruct the pieces that make up you who you are.

So it’s no surprise to hear Nin talk about going back to her roots, to rediscovering some passions that have taken a backseat. Fashion and design, for instance. And why not? After all, sustainability depends largely on a person’s ability to sustain that drive and will - to find reasons to keep going. This calls for a taking care of the self, a re-evaluation of values and the direction towards one is heading. Self-love can be (mis)interpreted by some as selfish but for people like Nin who already give so much of themselves to their work and to others, this act of taking back, of reclaiming a piece of herself, is well-deserved.

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Written by Trish Lim, co-founder and CEO of Woven, one of the many social enterprises that have found a home in Roots.