16 Dec 2019, 16:30 — 5 min read
As early as the age of 7, Joel Blunto started to learn the art of brass casting through his grandfather as part of the rich culture of the T’boli tribe in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.
But despite mastering the craft, his limited knowledge in marketing his products and lack of access to the market hindered him from growing his business. He used to sell handmade products just in exchange of goods, or worse, let the buyers decide the price – which usually comes with a lower or cheaper price. What mattered to Blunto back then was to survive the day and have food to provide for his family.
His story changed when Blunto met Karl Sandino Lozano, a budding anthropologist from Ateneo De Davao University through a national project wherein Karl, along with other representatives of the university, created a culture-based curriculum for young indigenous people.
Together, Lozano and Blunto founded Sesotunawa, a community-based enterprise that aims to bring culture, art, and stories of the T’boli through handmade brass and beaded products. Sesotunawa is a T’boli word that was derived from “sesotu” meaning to make one and “nawa” meaning spirit or character.
What started as a project to help the T’boli community, Sesotunawa is now a brand that carries the value of empowering indigenous artisans to create beautiful handmade products. Blunto was even awarded as a Top Indiepreneur under the Creative Economy Sector by Open Collaboration for East Asia Network (OCEAN)
In conversation with GlobalLinker, Joel Blunto (JB) shares his business journey along with Karl Lozano (KL) who dedicated his time and service as a volunteer to establish Sesotunawa.
KL: We want to tell the story of T’boli. We started with the wave ring and were able to sell it at 300%. That’s what sustained us for the next six months and we were able to register the business under Kuya Joel. But it took as awhile before we launched the product and had a year of product development. My heart is close to indigenous people. One of my realizations is that there are a lot of brands that sell indigenous products but it’s not owned by indigenous people. We designed the program, it was just a project before and invested more in capacity building and mentoring.
JB: As long as we had food to eat that’s what mattered to us back then. We didn’t earn much from our products. We sold the small bells at 50 centavos, the beaded accessories at P30 only.
I hope to grow my business more so I can help more T’boli artisans and help them sell their products at fair price.
JB: I was able to save money. My business is now registered and I’m a taxpayer. I’m happy that I’m getting recognized because of what I do. I’m thankful to all the volunteers who have helped me. I now have bigger dreams.
KL: Before, it was difficult because they didn’t know how to sell with a big return. They needed to do a lot of products to have a bigger income. They stayed up late just to make more products. For example, they used to sell the small bell at P2. Imagine for a family of 6 that needs P6,000 a month, they need to create how many bells? They will create 12,000 small bells just to earn P6,000 enough for the family. But it changed when we taught them the right and proper product costing.
JB: I hope to grow my business more so I can help more T’boli artisans and help them in brass-making. Whatever I have learned, I will share it with them. I want to help all T’boli brass makers and help them sell their products at fair price.
KL: It’s important that you have the commitment to slow progress. Don’t rush; be present and be more conscious. Invest in branding and product development because good branding and good products can help your business take off and succeed. Always go back to the vision and ask, ‘why are we doing this?’
To explore business opportunities, link with Joel Blunto by clicking on the 'Connect' button on his profile.
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