Who would’ve thought that a graduation project would become an opportunity to shed light on someone else’s life? Gleizl Joy Soo, also known as Joy to her friends and peers, combined her love for fashion and her search for her life’s purpose in her small enterprise, Musa Fabric.

From Fashion to Passion

On December 8, 2019, while praying on the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, Israel, Joy saw a vision of her life’s purpose.

“The Musa Fabric started as a 3-year longing of life’s purpose, which I asked and prayed for… That moment was the ultimate pouring of the favor I have been asking God for a long time,” she shared.

Joy was a graduating fashion design student at that time. As part of her graduation project, she searched high and low for a special kind of fabric. That was when a friend who was working for Department of Labor and Employment introduced to her the possibilities of utilizing banana fibers in textiles.

Seeing its potential, she sought out people who were trained in the production of such fabric. She found such a group in the unlikeliest of places — the Provincial Jail of Davao del Norte.

Joy was instantly captivated by the inmates’ life stories. She spent days socializing with them until she realized that her prayers had been answered — this was her calling.

With a renewed sense of purpose, she established a textile company, which she called Musa Fabric.

“Musa in Hebrew is Moshe which means ‘drawn out of the water.’ And true to what Jesus said, I am here to call not the righteous but the sinners. Yes, the main weavers of the Musa Fabric are the prisoners who were drowned in sin in their past lives but are now drawn from that sinfulness and found new hope and life with The Musa Advocacy,” said Joy.

With a capital of PhP200,000, a layout artist for digital marketing, and three seamstresses, Joy began to market her products to her friends and students in school who were enrolled in modeling.

Learning the Ropes in Running a Business

By 2020, Joy enrolled in the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Project. The program gave her the opportunity to be mentored by some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country.

Through the mentorship, Joy was able to gain invaluable insights and knowledge that she would not have otherwise been able to get. The mentorship also helped Joy to weave together her goals with her business strategies.

With the KMME program’s help, Musa Fabric grew and developed her product line from apparel to handbags and other accessories. Things were starting to look up for the business.

COVID-19 Closes the Catwalk

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put the nation into a state of emergency, causing Musa’s progress to be halted suddenly.

As citizens were compelled to remain at home because of the lockdown, events were canceled, businesses and companies closed down, and many people were left unemployed. Schools also had to switch from in-person instruction to virtual learning due to the crisis.

The Philippine Gala, which was supposed to feature designs by fashion students like Joy, was ultimately canceled. While these events might crush anyone’s optimism, Joy instead chose to focus on her graduation project as an opportunity that would ultimately become her advocacy.

Working from home gave her time to improve the company’s digital marketing by utilizing social media sites to reach consumers not only in the Philippines but all over the globe. Joy also increased the quality of their textiles and created the so-called “Musa Fabric Umbrella,” a group that produces all of its clothing and handbags in collaboration with highly skilled artisans from Davao del Norte.

Framing MUSA’s Fabulous Future

In place of fashion shows and gatherings that were not feasible owing to health restrictions, Joy turned to online platforms. She reached out to several organizers of international shows to bring her business into the global spotlight.

Musa Fabric has then been invited to present at multiple fashion shows, including the Europe Fashion Week 2022 in September, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Fashion Week 2022 in October. On top of this, Joy will also be debuting in the Musa Fashion Show in Tokyo in November 2022.

With each success, Musa Fabric grows its modest origins while extending them both locally and internationally. The brand has already established Musa Ambassadors and Ambassadresses in cities like Manila and Zamboanga, as well as in other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Morocco, and Singapore. Soon, they will also launch in Thailand, Dubai, Israel, and Turkey.

“Work with dedication and make your employee the center of your business and as they are the reason why you are working.”

Right now, the project runs on a workforce of 12 seamstresses, 32 weavers from Davao Penal Farm and Colony, 20 from Correctional Institute for Women, ten from Davao del Norte Provincial Jail, eight from Ata Manobo Tribe, two layout artists, and a personal assistant. Her business is now close to becoming a Medium Enterprise based on the number of employees she has.

Musa Fabrics also received numerous awards and recognitions from different organizations that acknowledged its contributions to society, including one from the City of Tagum. The award bestowed by Tagum is said to be the “Highest Recognition to a Tagumenyo as an advocate of women empowerment, and cultivator of skills and talents in promoting local products.”

But Joy does not plan to stop there. Her goals have grown bigger and more ambitious. She plans on expanding her business even further to reach more customers both locally and internationally.

Joy is also working on expanding Musa’s monthly outreach project called “CARE FOR MUSA” by partnering with private sectors. This outreach project started last September 2020 and aims to assist the children of the Indigenous Tribes of Davao del Norte with their needs.

With these goals in mind, Joy is set on sewing together an even brighter future for her company. For Gleizl Joy Soo, Musa Fabric is more than just a clothing label; it’s a story of hard work, resilience, and hope. It is an inspiring story of following your dreams and giving hope to others — no matter how tough things get. ♦