Banago asks Kickstarter to Help Rescue Typhoon Victims

Last January I discovered something wonderful amid the ruins of super typhoon Yolanda (also called “Haiyan”), just East of Tacloban. There, in the town of Guiuan, is a little fashion company called Banago.

Since the typhoon, Banago Founder Renée Patron has dedicated countless hours and resources to help her community and now she and her fellow artisans are the first to use crowd-funding through Kickstarter to support the recovery of their livelihoods and those of others.

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If Banago is successful at engaging the global community in the recovery of their cottage industry they may help improve the way donors sponsor others in the future. Renée shares her amazing survival story in this video: http://bit.ly/banago2cm

Banago Founder Renée with Artisans
Banago Founder Renée with Artisans

The Banago Story:

Banago™ [ba-nah-go] is a collection of hand-woven bags and home accessories, expertly hand crafted by artisans in the Pacific Islands. The vibrant colors and exotic patterns of the Banago collection are inspired by the ancient body-painting traditions of the tattooed “Pintados” warriors of the Philippine Islands. Each piece is a beautiful handmade work of art, bringing island chic to the city while enabling Banago to give back to local communities and households.

Before typhoon Haiyan devastated the eastern Philippines in November of 2013, Banago founder Renée Patron was employing more than four hundred local artisans and expanding an important cottage industry in the Philippines where she grew up. Renée trained men and women to create useful items for an international clientele, beautiful pieces that were the products of the artisans’ traditional native weaving skills and Renée’s talents as a designer and international entrepreneur.

In fact, Banago products were once readily available in high-end retail stores in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and around the globe. Familiar sellers included J. Crew, Anthropology, Nordstrom’s and Macy’s plus many others.

Tragically, typhoon Haiyan devastated the eastern Philippines in November of 2013 and destroyed Banago’s entire production network including the homes of most of its more than 400 local artisans.

Typhoon Haiyan was the most severe tropical storm in recorded history. It made landfall in the southern Philippines and smashed the islands’ fleet of small boats and leveled 90% of its coconut groves. It destroyed homes and businesses and damaged fisheries. The cumulative effect was to destroy more than half of the islanders’ livelihood. Today international aid has been all but withdrawn and there has been little or no help from the national government.

The strain this destruction has placed on the region’s families is beyond words. Today they struggle with the loss of family members, the loss of income, and the loss of the economic and civic infrastructure in their communities. But Banago has already begun helping its communities to reorganize, to restore order and community safety and to make the most of scarce resources.

In fact, it seems the spirit of the Pintados Warriors lives on in the determined minds of Banago’s artisans and leadership as they prepare to engage the world in their cause.

Thanks to Banago and the nonprofit organization it works with – individuals throughout the world will have the opportunity, for the first time ever, to use Kickstarter to support a business recovering from a typhoon. Says Renée, “backers can track the progress of recovery efforts they support, and commemorate their support by buying products made by the business.”

Kickstarter Style
Banago Style Meets Kickstarter

With the help of a US based nonprofit called Livelihood United™, Banago plans to raise enough money to support a full recovery without increasing its liabilities and without compromising its ownership.

Said Chris Williams, director of Livelihood United™, “The Banago project is exciting because it could change the way people view livelihood restoration – instead of donors merely backing a nonprofit project, Banago backers breathe new life directly into a proven source of livelihood by engaging with a business that is properly prepared to restore livelihoods.  We think donors will be excited to get a great product in return – and we want to prove this new approach is possible – that people around the world really do still care about Yolanda – but that they just need to be reminded and would appreciate a convenient way to chip in.”

What’s more, Banago has already proven its compatibility within the local economy. The Banago strategy was developed by working closely with local businesses in Guiuan and other nearby parts of Eastern Samar.  Renée hopes supporters who back the project will feel confident that they are empowering families to provide for themselves without worrying about whether the success is killing an indigenous market or trade. “We hope backer’s dollars count like votes in the market to support businesses that demand our same values such as equality for women, real opportunity and responsible harvest,” Said Ms. Patron.

In fact, trends show traditional givers moving towards taking a more informed and proactive approach to charity. Perhaps a system that connects donors directly with a proven business is the only guaranteed way to ensure that the money supports particular standards of fair trade and conduct. In fact, the Banago project may create the kind of ripple effect that changes the way other organizations develop new economic opportunity. But one thing is for sure, Banago is already demonstrating its commitment to these values.

 The Banago Process:

The Banago Cycle
The Banago Cycle

Whipping Haiyan:

Renée, Banago’s founder, literally fought for her life during the typhoon and believes that the strategy she has developed with the help of Livelihood United™ will put Banago back on the high ground. Said Renée, “Typhoon Yolanda has focused and intensified our mission and we want to broaden our efforts, restore the original health and success of the Banago network and then grow so we can help more people.”

Current estimates are that typhoon Haiyan has more than 14 million victims. By building on and expanding a working model for success Banago hopes its Kickstarter efforts will enable it to:

1. Restore the livelihoods of more than 400 artisan weavers

2. Provide their families (1840 local Filipinos) with food for now and income for the future

3. Make sure that their children (more than 900 of them) are able to get an education

4. Grow awareness for Haiyan’s victims worldwide through new Banago products

Working with a skeleton crew to gather work product out of devastated barangay communities into borrowed warehouse space, Banago managed to deliver a recent order to a major buyer, and the order sold out in one day. “We already have a working product line and a viable business model. What we need is temporary financial support, literally to kick-start the recovery,” said Renée.

On the Horizon:

Under Ms. Patron’s leadership and with the help of Livelihood United™, PROJECT BANAGO would restore and then expand a system of organic fair-trade that Banago pioneered in Eastern Samar. The project goals include the expansion of an existing network of native farmers and artisans to connect them with wholesale buyers worldwide, and Banago is not waiting for donor support.

With the help of volunteers from Livelihood United™, Banago has already been organizing recovery efforts by working with other businesses and local government in a bootstrap effort that has donated countless hours and resources to families in Eastern Samar.

Said Chris Williams, President of Livelihood United™, “We arrived in Eastern Samar on a sweltering day and met Renée at a warehouse dock where she and a few locals were unloading a semi-truck full of donated shoes and school books… we found out later that Renée had fought for weeks to get that donation, and to borrow the warehouse space and we continue to be astounded at the selfless support that Banago and its leadership have brought back to its home turf.”

Banago is unique in the way it develops dependable sources of income to the workers it employs. Instead of exploiting them, it empowers them to become self-employed business owners who are able to work within the safety of their homes and neighborhoods. In a developing nation this safety is profoundly important. Banago survives today because it was designed to cultivate strong community. Its program was unheard of in 2005 when it began rewarding independence and cultivating ownership. Banago was founded on the understanding that an artisan’s natural way of life is essential to the artistic process and is reflected in the quality and consistency of goods that command top dollar from urban wholesale buyers.boys in rubble

Banago is comprised of individuals who were prospering and serving as important examples to their neighbors until they fell victim to Typhoon Haiyan. They are men and women with families who have tasted success and who share a determination to rescue their communities by providing their neighbors with genuine opportunity. Banago anticipates that its initial success in rebuilding its production in the first communities will be just the beginning and that the model can be expanded through the support of individuals and organizations who share our belief in a stronger Philippines.weaving on floor colorful

We also believe that the Banago model has application in other developing nations and in other kinds of organic local production for a global economy. A little help from the wonderful KickStarter community will help prove out a model that can be duplicated to restore livelihoods after tragedy in a way that rewards both the survivors and the donors!

Banago is already on track to meet its campaign goal. For more information and to get involved, visit: : http://bit.ly/banago2cm

About Matthew Hartranft

Father of two; Program Director of Livelihood United, a US based nonprofit dedicated to improving livelihood recovery in the wake of typhoon Haiyan in the eastern Philippines; Juris Doctorate candidate 2015 William Mitchell College of Law