What do you do when your business venture fails? Do you quit? For Veronica “Vicky” C. Tejido, quitting is definitely not an option. When her first endeavor failed, Vicky tried again, even when the odds didn’t seem to be in her favor.

A Little Fabric of History

In 1995, Vicky launched a garment-making production group composed of 43 seamstresses in her modest home in Pagsanjan, Laguna. Their first major project was being a subcontractor for the production of undergarments, which were sold to Europe. Unfortunately, this project was halted owing to transportation difficulties in 2013, resulting in numerous people losing their jobs.

The group’s spirit, however, did not wane. With the aid of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), 18 women led by Vicky were able to reestablish their association as a cooperative under the name “Samahan ng Mananahi sa Pagsanjan Producers Cooperative” or SAMAPA on March 20, 2014.

The cooperative aims to satisfy its clients’ demands by utilizing the best methods for developing local materials, which they hope would help reduce pollution. They are dedicated to producing unique, high-quality products through top-notch workmanship and developing competent employees.

The cooperative established its market and collaborated with various government agencies and the private sector as a cooperative. SAMAPA produced curtains, pillow cases, bed linens, foot rags, children’s clothes, bags, barongs, belts, t-shirts, and chair and table cover utilizing readily available materials from their store. From then on, the cooperative’s venture provided out-of- school-youths and mothers employment opportunities.

Little by little, the cooperative’s job orders increased. However, it came to a point where it could no longer satisfy clients’ demands and purchases on time due to its outdated equipment.

DTI Fast-Tracks SAMAPA’s Success

But the problem they were facing is what we call a “happy problem” in the industry. To cope with the increasing demand for their products, the cooperative turned to DTI for help.

And DTI responded without skipping a beat. The group was given access to machines they needed to manufacture garments via the Shared Service Facility (SSF) program. This aims to enhance micro, small, and medium company competitiveness by providing them with machinery, equipment, tools, systems, skills, and knowledge under a shared system.

The agency gave SAMAPA a bar tacking machine, a t-shirt decorating machine, high-speed sewing machines, an embroidery stitch sewing machine, and stitching and cutting equipment worth PhP1,002,500 in 2016.

The equipment provided by DTI aided Vicky and the members of the cooperative in meeting their delivery targets and deadlines. Mass production of bulk orders became possible without issues.

But DTI did not stop there. The agency also offered them funding for growth and encouraged them to attend seminars and training sessions geared especially toward MSMEs.

SAMAPA has been involved in several bazaars and festivals where their handcrafted items were displayed and marketed. From these trade fairs, SAMAPA acquired customers from various private companies and affiliates, including Isuzu Philippines, government agencies like the DTI, Department of Interior and Local Government, Cooperative Development Authority, and PhilGEPS. Even the Municipal Office of Pagsanjan became their regular customer. It was a great time for the cooperative.

The Pandemic Cuts SAMAPA’s Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic struck while the group was still flooded with orders. Vicky and the cooperative’s workers found it difficult to go to work because of the quarantine. Seeing as this is their livelihood, they worked hard to keep the business afloat and win new clients.

Since garments were not an essential product, demand became almost non-existent. But Vicky is not about to give up when faced with a crisis such as this. There were some essential products that we never knew we needed but something her team could provide: face masks and Personal Protective Equipment or PPEs.

They quickly adapted to the times and studied how to create face masks and PPEs. While their skills were honed, they faced another challenge: sourcing raw materials.

Vicky expressed, “Hindi po kami makapunta sa Divisoria para makapamili ng mga tela, kaya nagkaroon po kami ng ideya na gumawa ng mga face masks at personal protective equipment (PPE) galing sa mga retaso.”

(We cannot go to Divisoria to purchase materials; thus, we came up with the idea to turn scraps into face masks and PPE or personal protective equipment.)

As the pandemic worsened, the cooperative had to think of ways to provide jobs while keeping themselves safe. Their solution: they taught women, out-of-school youths, students, and disabled persons (PWD) to sew; and then housed them during productions to keep everyone safe from the COVID-19 threat. This allowed their workers and their families to make ends meet.

SAMAPA’s initial clients included Isuzu Philippines, the municipality of Pagsanjan, and locals.

“Dahil tuloy-tuloy po ang mga orders at nagkaroon pa po kami ng additional clients gaya sa Baclaran, Parañaque, nagkaroon po kami ng kakayahan na mag-expand at magkaroon ng karagdagang mga alok sa trabaho,” added Ms. Vicky.

(Because of the continuous orders we receive aside from the ones we have from Baclaran, Parañaque, we became confident to expand our business and offer more jobs.)

“Nang dahil po sa SSF ng DTI, nagkaroon kami ng mga bagong machines. Naging mas madali sa amin ang paggawa ng mga clothings at mas napabilis pa. Naging tuloy-tuloy din po ang aming production.”

SAMAPA Waves the Flag of Success

Vicky and the members of SAMAPA have stood the test of time and continue to produce cutting-edge goods, print, and embroidery. As a result, the cooperative’s members saved enough money for their daily needs while sending their children to school. Today, their children have finished their education and are now professionals in various disciplines.

The cooperative has grown in size and professionalism as an organization, evidenced by its continued success in garment production, member development, economic empowerment for women, enhanced livelihood prospects, and capability enhancement programs to empower women.

In the middle of the crisis, SAMAPA managed to adapt to the needs of the time and even thrived. They were able to hire new seamstresses and expanded their market reach. This is, truly, an inspiring tale of triumph. ♦