Shopstainable – European ecommerce for Filipino fair trade products

We are living in an era in which we spend the resources like there’s no tomorrow, and we rarely have the time to stop and think about what we buy and why we buy it. Often we shop without knowing how something is made. Sometimes, we forget supporting fair trade products not aware of how they’re impacting the lives of the craftsman that made them.

How was Shopstainable founded

Shopstainable is a new initiative that tackles poverty and environmental problems that arise from plastic pollution in the Philippines. It’s a platform that gives virtual space for social enterprises to sell their fair trade products outside of their local marketplaces.

the Phillipines islands and sea

Shopstainable was founded by Lauro Relenas, a Filipino-born who grew up in the Netherlands. After a successful career in finance where he worked for companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer, and Philips, he realized his passion lies elsewhere. The work he did brought in the money, but it didn’t bring him joy.

Lauro couldn’t find purpose in what he was doing. He missed seeing his kids grow up and spending time with his wife because he was married to a 40 hour work week. After having realized he wasn’t happy, he knew he needed to change something.

While thinking about the business that he wanted to start, he realized he most cared about the issues of poverty in his Filipino countrymen and also the environmental pollution. He was thinking about starting a social enterprise, but there were so many in the world already. Each of them was already helping the poor, and doing something about sustainability. Instead, he decided to support them.

The sustainable beginnings

The idea was born in 2013 when he first quit his job and since then he dedicated himself to collecting the funds and starting his sustainable shop. In 2015 he went to the Philippines to search for the companies he will be working with and see the working conditions they were working in.

It was important to Lauro to know that the production process was fair trade which meant fair pay and treatment for workers. He traveled around the island choosing the means of transportation that will pollute less than a flight, like boats and motorcycles, and he slept in hotels without AC.

Criteria for social enterprise to sell on Shopstainable

The initial idea was to form a platform in the Netherlands that will later spread all over Europe and that will sell eco-friendly products locally produced in the Philippines.

The overall impact of the eCommerce

When deciding who to collaborate with, he defined two factors that the company needed to meet: fight the poverty, and help resolve the environmental crisis by fighting the plastic pollution and using local materials in production instead of importing resources.

As he carefully selected his partners, he made sure all the companies which participated were:

  • not supporting child labour,
  • doing upcycling and recycling,
  • using natural materials.

In the end, he came up with a list of 7-10 companies that ticked all the boxes and then he decided to build the platform.

Two Filipino web developers helped him set up the website and Shopstainable launched in May 2017. Shopstainable was born out of Lauro’s moral obligation to his countrymen. He got a chance to study in the Netherlands and live comfortably.

Filipino children playing outside

He had shoes which many Filipinos didn’t have. Many lived too far away from school and had to swim to reach the classroom as they couldn’t afford to pay to travel by boat. Therefore, this platform is a way for Lauro to show gratitude for the life he got to live and try to help others.

The social impact of fair trade products

His idea of selling fair trade products helps mothers get jobs, but also supports them in regaining self-confidence. When they see that through simple crafts as weaving and stitching they could support their families, they start working on bigger goals for their families. The kids see the parents working and that vicious circle breaks. Children stop seeing them drunk, and parents become good role-models for their families.

Filipino children playing

There are many people in the Philippines who are talented with their hands and they should use those talents. Lauro is using his background in finance, purchasing and sales to help them to deal with the money they’re getting. If their social enterprises don’t offer that kind of support, he jumps in.

A lot of international NGOs that want to help, act upon problems seeing things from their own perspective. They are trying to tackle the problem of poverty from their own understanding telling the people what and how they need to do. This usually doesn’t work.

Lauro speaks the language. He can relate to his countrymen and understand what they mean. Buddhism helps him accept the situation for what it is and guide them but also accept if they don’t act upon his advice.

The environmental impact of fair trade products

The Philippines have recently been ranked 3rd largest contributor to the problem of ocean plastic pollution. That’s why by supporting Shopstainable, you’re supporting the idea of circular economy.

recycled cotton and upcycled plastic products
images taken from Shopstainable.com

There are various fair trade products created from plastic waste, cotton remnants, and responsibly-sourced and recycled wood. Or, if you want to say no to plastic, check out this bamboo straw.

Lauro insists on supporting sustainable ideas. One of the companies he collaborates with is planting a tree for each of the products they sell. This renews the forest destroyed in the storm in 2013.

Even though transporting products can never be truly sustainable, Lauro chooses to buy in bulk and ship it instead of flying it to the Netherlands.

Shipping still accounts for less CO2 emission. A Defra study has shown that a small container ship traveling for 5,000km with a cargo of 2 tonnes produces 44 times less CO2 than a plane going for the same distance.

The problems that Shopstainable faced

Before it all began, Lauro was trying to choose the type of fair trade products that he would sell. He wasn’t able to start with food because of the legal restrictions. He is still working on getting a certification to import dolls and some technological devices. The procedures are dreadful.

He is trying to manage his funds well: sell what he has registered and got approval for, and use that marginal get to invest into growing the website offer.

Lauro everything he needed to start his business through self-study.
His personal beliefs help him be patient and keep learning. Support of family and friends help him persist and continue working on his dream.

Having a team

Another issue is that he doesn’t have a permanent team. Two
freelancer developers that helped him launch the website dropped the project when they found jobs. During their collaboration, he needed to wait for them to find the time to do the tweaks as they were also working on other projects. As this delayed the website launch, Lauro had to take a job working 20-25 hrs/week to sustain the website development.

Financial turmoil

Another struggle is to get the finances from banks. Lauro didn’t want to use his savings. He wanted to use them as a financial proof to borrow money from the bank and turn the profit. The bank didn’t accept a strategic financial plan for the future. Instead, they asked for a proof of regular monthly transactions that business in starting just couldn’t provide.

Future plans for sustainable Philippines

Plan for the future is to spread the impact to more small social enterprises, help more families, send more kids to school and open shops all over Europe.

Lauro plans to grow Shopstainable to Vietnam and Indonesia. In that way, he can diversify the offer and help more families in South East Asia.

He has big plans for the future. He wants to work on sustainable tourism in the Philippines that will sustainable stay and locally grown, organic food.

Have you shopped on Shopstainable yet? Check out fair trade products here and follow them on Facebook.

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