How La Union’s Woven Baskets Became one of Kultura’s best sellers

 La Union woman championing SMEs development, collaborates with SM Kultura to bring opportunity knocking to several communities during the pandemic

After leaving a high-paying job in a HK-based exporting company more than 25 years ago, Helen Rulloda never doubted she was making the right decision. Driven by a strong faith that she’s headed to her path of true calling, she eventually stumbled into a little-known handicraft trade in her home province. Recognizing the beauty of an industry where generation to generation handing down of artisan weaving skills persist, Helen seized the occasion to answer her calling.

Regene Ong
Helen Rulloda

An advocacy to champion bridging small medium enterprises (SMEs) to local communities became Helen’s main motivation. Soon after, she started marketing the fine baskets handcrafted by weavers from strips of branches of labtang trees to various stores and malls.

Monique Tendencia

“I went home to La Union in 1994. I saw neighbors and relatives weaving”, said Helen. “I thought of offering these to the malls”

Presenting an Impressive Basket Case

Now in early 50’s and facing the global pandemic crisis, Rulloda’s faith and commitment has been tested. Tragedy struck when her former community coordinator suffered from depression due to financial problems and later succumbing to Covid-19 in 2020. This drove Helen to pitch new samples to Kultura—SM’s specialty store selling local crafts and handicrafts.

Levy Amosin, Desa Tayting, Kara Santos and Mishi Magno

Two new communities showed her new designs. Impressed by the quality of the woven labtang and bamboo baskets, she presented the samples last February to Kultura.

Celine Murillo

The pandemic was not a hindrance to get orders in bulk. “After I showed our samples, Kultura ordered in bulk. Their purchase order now reaches 3 million pesos,” Rulloda shared in delight. “Before, we send orders to 12 malls,” Helen said.  “Under Kultura, we deliver to 45 stores including provincial stores,” she added.

Sophie Gianan and Koryn Iledan

The partnership with Kultura also spilled over to helping Rulloda achieve some of her dreams. “I was able to buy a small farm, renovate my house and traveled to 7 countries all because of this business", Rulloda shares.

A Business of Second Chances

When Helen Rulloda started tapping additional communities to meet Kultura’s increasing bulk orders, it also opened doors for second chances to several people who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

Melissa Ferrer

“I used to work for a lending company in San Fernando,” shares in Tagalog by Rex Villarosa, one of the basket weavers in the community of Brgy. Ar-Arampang in Balaoan. “When businesses closed, my boss had no more money to lend. I lost my job”, he adds,

Danyel Draper

Already a skilled basket weaver since he was a teenager, Villarosa first went back to weaving during the pandemic working for a sideroad store selling woven materials made from ‘baging’. That didn’t last long because his daily take home pay of 250 pesos was not enough to sustain his family’s everyday needs. Fortunately, around the time of April this year, Helen started increasing the orders for woven basket to meet the demand from Kultura and Villarosa became one of the basket weavers the community gathered.

“Now with the orders from Kultura, if I make big boxes, I earn 450-500 pesos a day”, adds Villarosa.

Elal Jane Lasola

As neighboring towns in the province specifically the tourism hub of San Juan suffered great economical loss during the pandemic, the community of Ar-Arampang experienced the opposite. “Kultura’s continuous orders is such a big help. Since April, our production never stopped”, says Lolita Valdez, the community’s coordinator of basket weavers in Ar-Arampang.

Ayi Del Rosario

To date, in the barangay of Ar-Arampang alone, there are at least 15 active basket weavers benefiting from the collaboration between Helen Rulloda and Kultura.

Mishi Magno

Asked what she thinks are the reasons that made it possible for her to tap local communities for a collaboration with Kultura, Helen stated the power of faith, the importance of hard work and dedication plus the consistent great quality of products being produced by the community basket weavers themselves.

Alyanno Bromeo

“I always wanted to deliver quality baskets to strengthen our relationship with our clients,” says Helen.

Answering a Call

To Helen Rulloda, the journey that took her to head a community-based SMEs and into a fruitful collaboration with Kultura was a testament to her heeding the call from the above. “I am grateful to God because I am just a steward of this business to help share the blessings to other communities”, she said.

Jomie Naynes

Turns out that call Rulloda is alluding to also made its way to the weavers of the communities in several towns of La Union and Kultura who both answered with fervor. Who knows this once unknown handicraft basket industry of La Union might soon join the growing list of SMEs that became big names in the Philippine market after partnering with SM. Looking at the commitment of both Helen Rulloda and her weavers in further improving their business, the chances are high that they will all achieve just that.