Bagging the Business by Hand
Jocelyn Antonio of Prime Legacy
Jocelyn Antonio is an example of a business owner, who stuck to her guns in staying at—and owning—her market niche.
That is why her business, Prime Legacy, is now exporting uniquely handmade embroidered abaca bags to Japan and the United States despite having only a one-product-line strategy.
Runs in the family
Jocelyn is the second generation that runs Prime Legacy based in Daraga, Albay. It started when her parents began a cut-and-sew business in 1959 in a shop near the train station.
She described their shop as being “so small where they’d also sell the abaca bags to passengers and passersby.”
Her mother did the designs while her father did the marketing. Jocelyn said: “They didn’t have a display room. They’d finish one bag and then sell it.”
However, through word of mouth, their business grew such that by 1965, it was drawing walk-in orders.
In 2001, her parents retired in their eighties and they decided to turn the business into a family corporation with Jocelyn as its head.
Facing the challenges
Some of the immediate challenges that Jocelyn faced was the threat of losing her highly-skilled workers with most of them getting old and their children losing interest in the artisanal craft and preferring to work in cities.
Likewise, on one hand, other local industries were generating higher returns than abaca. The process of stringing abaca fibers was so inefficient and the supply of raw materials was hard to come by during rainy days.
“We’re new and the money was just enough to pay employees,” Jocelyn said, reminiscing on the time when family business was struggling and she thought of closing shop. “We didn’t have any orders for exports.”
DTI to the rescue
Fortunately, they received an invitation from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to join a series of regional and national trade fairs to promote Albay’s handicrafts.
“After a week, the orders started coming in,” Jocelyn said as she recalled her company’s participation in Manila FAME, the Philippines’ premier and biggest international design and lifestyle show and Asia-Pacific’s second longest-running trade event.
Through the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), an attached agency of the DTI, the government helped her develop process flow, system controls and product costing through export coaching and trainings.
Such assistance also led Prime Legacy to capture the attention of the Japanese market. Now, the items even have embroidered renditions of an iconic Japanese cat and a famous American mouse, their designs allowed through a license given to Prime Legacy.
Their secret to success
Prime Legacy managed to make it in their niche market because they decided to focus on the medium segment of the export market, where both volumes and margins come at an even keel.
“We can’t compete with high-volume exporters where orders are big but margin is low.” They don’t want to compete in the high-end market where margins are big but the orders are limited, she added.
The premium of Prime Legacy’s bags lies in the uniqueness and quality as its selling points, such that Jocelyn doubts that the designs are not liable to be copied. It takes rare skills to make the embroidery, according to her.
“I think we’re the only one who does the intricate designs,” she said, noting that her workers work by hand, a technical and tedious process.
“Anybody can make a knot, but not all can make a uniform knot,” she said proudly.