Masion Métisse is a brand that is empowering local communities of women by collaborating with them as craftworkers, and producing artisanal items that are truly unique. Founder and Creative Director, Adrienne Charuel shares with us how she practices fair trade and upholds their core values of ethical fashion, heritage, quality, honesty and community. An enterprise that prioritizes the planet and people. A business that built its foundation on fostering strong and personal relationships with the communities. Masion Métisse shines as a truly authentic brand with integrity. We dive deeper with Adrienne and as she shares with us what goes on behind the brand.
G: Please tell us about the humble beginnings of Maison Métisse.
MM: I originally started the brand in New York last 2016. I discovered Saori Weaving and enjoyed it so much that I started creating pieces to sell in New York. It started out more as a hobby and just seeing how people reacted to the pieces.
Unexpectedly we decided to move to Manila in 2018 and it was great as it gave me a chance to go back to my roots and incorporate it in my creations. I was doing some self-studies in Natural dyes, and I found out that we had Philippine Natural Dyes, and that there was a tribe in Northern Luzon who practices doing it. I decided to visit them and take a 3 day workshop, and I accidentally discovered their beautiful embroideries which I decided to incorporate as well to my creations. It also made it clear to me that I wanted to help empower this community by partnering with them, and contributing in improving their living and work environment.
It was wonderful as I am now able to realize my dream of having a positive impact on the environment as well as social responsibility.
G: What is the nature of your brand and the purpose that Maison Métisse exists?
MM: Honest, Ethical, Handmade.
We are a value-based social-cultural enterprise. Sustainability is in the heart of the brand. It is the philosophy and lifestyle of having a positive human impact on the environment and social responsibility.
We are also focusing on the lost craft of handmade. Showing the amazing capacity of the human hands when left to create without the interventions of modern technology.
We also like to celebrate universal and Philippine heritage. Always combining different techniques or traditions like for example our Kaftan Dress - We create the textile with natural dyes using the Japanese Art of Shibori and then adorned with sacred hand embroidery by the Philippine Itneg Tribe.
G: What inspires you?
MM: Life. People. Travels. Experiences. Environment. When something evokes my senses and an emotion which is mostly through my interaction with people, animals, nature. It is visual but also goes more into the soul of everything.
My life in Paris will always be a big inspiration to me. It was like living in an art masterpiece. Life was beautiful, slow, and just breathtaking. It’s the city where I found myself. I lived there alone for three years. I learned to really love myself and being ok with being alone. It was a sort of independence and freedom that changed me positively.
I adore the concept of wabi-sabi.You can see it in all my creations. Wabi-sabi invites a pause. The Japanese philosophy encourages us to focus on the blessings hiding in our daily lives, and celebrating the way things are rather than how they should be. Wabi-sabi prizes authenticity.
“Wabi” is said to be defined as “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance” with a focus on a less- is-more mentality.
“Sabi” is translated to “taking pleasure in the imperfect.”
I like imperfections. I like when things are organic and freely done and this is why Saori Japanese Weaving is something I really love.
I have to say Japanese Art is highly inspiring to me. The way they do their craft and how they master it is amazing. Even Kintsugi, where they repair broken items with Gold. It’s just fascinating.
I learned so much about how sacred craft / art is to them when I did an intensive AI-Zome Indigo Shibori workshop in Japan last 2019 and it really moved me.
G: How is Maison Métisse handling the ECQ / lockdown? How has it affected your business and affecting the communities you work with?
MM: I am not able to continue with production because delivery is only allowed for essentials so production has stopped for the moment which has negatively impacted the income for me and my local communities. If they open logistics for non-essentials then we can do better.
Actually on the day the ECQ was predicted in Luzon, the tribes messaged me sharing their worries about their necessities, since the ECQ won’t allow them to have any source of income, and their main source of income was mostly through the artisan goods, and worse, we were restricted because only essentials could be delivered. So I had to be creative and find a way to help my local communities.
This is where I created the #MaskForCommunity where we donate 50 % of sales to the local communities. It’s really just me, my mom, and our household help behind the production. Everything is hand dyed, hand sewn in small batches.
We were overwhelmed with the response as we were almost sold out right away and we are now in our second batch of production.
We also recently launched the Maison Métisse Artisan Fund where we help our local communities by selling their traditional creations through our website. 80 % of sales go to them. We decided to do this because they live in remote areas and have little to no access to online platforms. We will of course ship orders once ECQ is lifted. We have had a positive response so far.
Currently in the ECQ, I am lucky as I am pretty secure and this allows me to help my communities. It goes beyond the brand / business now. It’s humanity. It’s People & Planet over profit for now. We need to help as much as we can and reach out especially if we have the ability to do so even in our small ways.
G: When you are going through a stumbling block at work, what are the drivers that keep you going?
I love challenges and love finding solutions so when this happens. I take a pause, say a simple prayer asking for guidance to see what I am not seeing and to be open to the idea that maybe some things are meant to be and the courage to keep on. If it doesn’t happen then something better is to come. Then I let it go. I sit with the emotion and let it go. Then inner peace comes and you will receive wisdom.
It really is my steadfast faith that keeps me going. In myself, In the universe, In the Good. When you are being authentic to yourself, when you do good from your heart and soul, and you aren’t hurting anyone then you know that things will always be ok. If it’s not ok it’s not the end.
I think being flexible and adapting to change as well as patience are good values to have generally in life.
I also always believed that if you have to force it and it doesn’t feel natural you let it go.
Just do your best, see mistakes as lessons, and always know that there will be obstacles but it’s what makes life worth living and beautiful.
G: Can you tell us about the different communities that Maison Métisse works with? What attracted you to them?
Currently we work with three communities: Itneg Tribe, La Paz Weavers, and DAWN Community.
The Itneg Tribe is the first tribe I worked with. It will be almost 3 years that I have been partnering with them. This is the tribe I mentioned in the beginning - they make natural dyes and have beautiful embroidery. I love their sacred embroidery. Every symbol has a meaning and it was beautiful hearing about how their weaving and embroidery traditions came to be. I was immediately drawn and knew I had to have it on my creations.
I discovered La Paz Weavers through them as well. The La Paz weavers are about 30-40 mins from the Itneg Tribe . It is a small charming town of weavers where almost every home had a loom. They had antique looms. Some we’re outside their home by the lanai and it was just a town that tells a story through their looms and weaves. Their intricate weaves were beautiful and they do it so well. It was through conversations with them that I fell in love with the community. To me it was a craft, an art. To them, it was life.
I visit these communities every 1-2 months not just to create pieces but to also spend time with them and share a meal together. The only way I can truly empower the communities is to get to know them, their joys and sorrows. It helps me get a better idea on how I can continue and improve helping them. They have energy poverty and lose electricity 3-4x a week which negatively impacts their life so we were able to donate some solar lamps earlier this year and it has helped them so much. They are able to weave and embroider at night when they want when their kids are asleep. Some of them are full time mothers and can only work on their craft in the evenings.
As for the third community- DAWN . I was introduced to them by Celia Elumba , the directress of PTRI ( Philippine Textile Research Institute). They are looking for artists/designers to work with and learn more about creative design. I was of course highly interested. DAWN (DEVELOPMENT ACTION FOR WOMEN NETWORK ) is a non-government, non-profit organization established in 1996 to assist distressed women migrants from Japan, as well as their Japanese-Filipino children, in the promotion and protection of their rights and welfare. These women are survivors of human trafficking and they have been through something I can’t even imagine. I knew I had to help in any way I can.
We set up a meeting , I met them and heard their stories and we immediately worked together. It’s beautiful to be surrounded by women who have gone through so much pain and the pain has made them even more beautiful and stronger. I think I have learned from them so much about being a strong empowered woman. We are currently working together on weaving fabrics for Maison Métisse.
G: How many collections do you put out a year and how many pieces per collection? How do you decide what to work on next?
I do not follow the typical fashion timeline. The brand is highly independent from that. For me Fashion is an art and sometimes it takes lots of time to develop a collection or even just the pieces. It’s something that cannot be dictated by fashion week at least for me.
It really depends. Probably 1-2 collections in a year. Our items feature a lot of hand artistry and these truly take time to develop. From an idea to and the capacity to realize it with utmost care and attention takes time.
The collection can be between 6-12 pieces. We are very small batch.
I am always looking for something that would make the collection unique , different, or innovative . So when I feel that I am losing the uniqueness it’s when I decide to do a new collection. For example, I started working with the embroidery of the Itneg Tribe in 2018. After doing 5 pop-ups, It seems to be popping up everywhere and it just didn’t feel unique anymore as others were even replicating exactly our creations. I knew I had to elevate the pieces otherwise I will look like just everyone else. This is when I decided to develop my own textiles. From it being handwoven using natural resources , to my addition of hand dyeing techniques, and developing new embroidery styles while still keeping the sacred embroidery on some pieces.
This will make the pieces truly unique as the textiles will be made in house and cannot be purchased anywhere else.
I am very hands on with creations, I do a lot manually which I extremely enjoy as well. That’s why I consider myself more of an artist than a designer. That is why our pieces are more of Art than just pure embellishment.
G: Tell us about the workshops you have held.
MM: I have held a few Workshops on Basic Indigo and Shibori Dyeing. It tackles a bit of history about Japanese Indigo and Shibori. I teach you 3-4 basic techniques. The application is more contemporary as I encourage the students to not focus on one but combine the techniques in their pieces to see how this can create a beautiful piece of textile that is truly your own.
It’s been very wonderful sharing this knowledge with others. I also hold private workshops in our home atelier whether in groups or one on one.
G: We love working spaces and studios! Where does Maison Métisse hold office?
In my home - I do all the hand dyeing at home. It’s also where I develop my prototypes.
G: What would you say your biggest challenge is/was in setting up a business?
I think, as a social entrepreneur, it’s working with the local communities. I do not mean that it’s a negative thing. It’s simply very challenging as tribes live a different life, they have their own cultural identity and they have their own way of doing things. We are not educated the same way. Not that they aren’t. It’s just different.
The poverty really negatively impacts their decisions. Sometimes they don’t understand specific values such as mutual respect because they are starving. If another designer comes in with a bigger offer ,they can decide to go with them instead.
It’s really being patient and having compassion. It’s finding the right balance of empowering communities but also making sure that you protect yourself . It’s the process of developing mutual respect and honest kind communication.
Poverty is poverty, and it’s something that you just cannot take personal.
But you do have to be proactive and not be reactive when dealing with these challenges.
G: Do you ever feel like giving up? Can you share about those experiences?
One of the tribes I work with is not united, and still not united. They had their own politics. Some people would fight over who gets to make more money which is sad.
There was a time when I did want to give up, and it was when one person from the tribe gave my design to another designer because he was paying more than I could afford at that time for an embroidered piece . It’s not that I wasn’t paying well, but the other just had a higher financial offer. This person wasn’t embroidering for me but saw the design in the house of one of the women who embroidered for me.
I have been working on this design for 6 months and the other more capable designer launched it in Artefino a week before I was gonna launch it. It broke my heart.
I really wanted to give up working with them at that time because while I was focused on empowering the community by giving them jobs and paying them higher than living wage. It felt like what I was doing wasn’t enough and that they were just focused on money.... But then again there is poverty.
I decided not to give up but I really had a personal conversation with them about how I felt and how I shared values that were important in building a long term relationship with them. They understood and it actually became the foundation of our trust and loyalty.
I did speak to that other designer to address my concern, we did not exactly have the same point of views but at least we cleared it out.
G: What would you say are common discouraging thoughts for business owners?
I guess it’s about the fear of the business not succeeding especially if you put everything in it. If it doesn’t work out the way you expected it to.
G: Tell us about the personality of your market or the Maison Métisse client.
They practice the same values. They appreciate sustainability, cultural heritage, and the craft of handmade.
They also see the value of pieces that are made to last and timeless. They are curious about who made their clothes, what their clothes are made of, where it is made, and the cost to make it (not just actual materials but the time included )
They honor the process behind the product. They are aware of fair trade and understand why handmade items can be expensive.
They enjoy life and learning about culture.
G: What is your working schedule like?
MM: It’s pretty unpredictable. There are weeks where Mondays and Tuesdays are my weekends. I can sometimes suddenly have to take a trip to the communities. I do like to work smarter so I do not do the typical 9-5 schedule. I like to be efficient since I do a lot of work for the brand from the graphic design to the website to the collection to the shoots to the actual hand dyeing and embroidery and even ingress and egress for pop-ups . It’s just me and my husband really behind the brand and our partner communities.
So I really try to be productive and efficient. I allot maybe 2-3 days for hand dyeing in a week. Another day to create content for social media as I also do that. A day for meetings since I live in the south. If I have to travel to Makati to meet, I try to fit in as much as I can . A day for creative work .
Life work balance for me is important so I make sure that I get to have my free days to do nothing in a week even if it’s just one day instead of two it’s enough. It’s the day where my husband and I have a date-day. We go for a massage and have a nice dinner, either us two or with friends.
G: What are the challenges you have learned of being your own boss and how do you manage?
MM: You have to motivate yourself and stick to the schedule you set out for yourself.
You don’t have anyone nagging you or sending you deadlines. You have to do it yourself. I do not even have an assistant so I had to become an expert in organizing my schedule and making sure I get to really set priorities well and follow through.
I am lucky that I have my husband help me. He’s really good at the marketing and financial side of the business.
G: Can you give advise to those who aspire to start their own business?
The best advice I got is from my uncle which I still read from time to time :
“Just remember: building the future is hard work, and requires a long term vision. But to do it effectively, you need to do what really moves you, what you really love to do. Otherwise you will not have the necessary resilience to face the normal difficulties that life always brings to us.”
Print it and hang it on your wall . It’s a good reminder.
G: What are your thoughts on fast fashion and high fashion?
I think fast fashion to some extent will always be there - Some are just more profit oriented to the point that profit is the only value they have.
But due to the current pandemic I think there is a huge turning point. I think many brands will be more conscious of the kind of impact they have on the world and humanity in general.
As for high fashion - luxury , high fashion can also be fast fashion because they can outsource the production of their items where in workers are paid below minimum wage. But there is also high fashion that is sustainable where in the production is still in house and they pay their workers very well. It just really depends on the authenticity and transparency of the brand.
G: How did you start learning about how fair trade works?
MM: Due to personal experience with working with local communities, I saw firsthand how little they get paid and immediately made a decision to always pay them more than the living wage . I let them price their items most of the time and If I see that they are selling themselves too short I tell them that they can sell it higher. Some of them sell low just to sell because they need to eat. I help educate them on being able to sell at a price they truly deserve. I also help improve their working conditions by sending them items they cannot find in the provinces or items that can make their production more efficient such as tailors chalk, thread ripper, solar lights, extra tape measures. I am now working on helping our La Paz Artisan build a roof on her loom area.
I have also learned a lot about fair trade between customers and brand owners along with the team behind the brand. Some customers find our items to be expensive and they think it’s ridiculous and ask for a major discount. I always say Handmade items aren’t cheap. They are made carefully and it takes a lot of time. This is why we rarely ever give discounts. You are buying a piece of art. We make them in small batches. We do not over produce. We do not over mark up. We pay a fair price to our artisans and you pay a fair price to us.
We encourage and educate them about the practice of fair trade too. If it’s expensive it’s for a good reason and we are very transparent about the process behind the creations.
G: Can you tell us about the bazaars and fairs that you have joined? What are your thoughts on joining those events? What is the most benefitting factor that comes out of joining them?
We have joined Katutubo, Manila Fame, Presente by Artefino, The Good Trade, Spectrum etc. We also had our own pop-up at Manila House.
They were all great experiences as we got to meet clients and people who shared the same creative vision.
G: What are your favorite colors and materials to work with?
MM: I love working with natural dyes , natural yarns and natural textiles.
As for colors, it really depends for the moment I am really liking earthy neutral tones. It’s what I am working on for the next collection.
G: What other brands do you look up to? Local and international?
I really like Azzedine Alaïa and how he was so independent of the system of the fashion industry. I admired his concept of taking time to release your collection and of being really hands on. His pieces were timeless.
I also fell in love with Martin Margiela for his concept of deconstruction.
G: Who are people that you look up to and that have inspired you throughout your life? What kind of values did they impart?
MM: My dad Alan Almeda, this guy never gives up. He isn’t a quitter. You can’t take that guy down. He has always been solution focused. He also always does what he can to help in any way that he can - a very generous heart. It’s from him where I got my tenacity and persistence to keep on no matter what. To see a solution instead of a problem. To help whenever possible.
My aunt Josie Natori. She has built a successful brand. We may not have the same vision but she has really great advice as a woman entrepreneur. She has always been supportive and has always pointed me to the right direction. She always makes time for me when I need some advice.
My mom. She has the kindest heart. She is the one person who has always taught me compassion and kindness. Her gentle grace has always inspired me to be the better person and to help those in need. My mom always comes with me to my trips to the local communities and she always brings a sense of warmth and family to them.
G: Describe your work ethic.
MM: Integrity. Compassion. Joy.
G: What do you value the most with people you work with and in life?
MM: I think it boils down to understanding that we are all different and respecting those differences while enjoying the similarities.
I value the differences because it’s where I learn most. It gives me an opportunity to see things in a different perspective and find a better way of doing things or dealing with life in general. It allows me to keep growing and learning.
G: What are the milestones that Maison Métisse have gone through?
MM: Having some press coverage without asking for it. Being invited by Artefino to join their Presente Pop-Up last December. Being part of ManilaWear in Manila Fame last October. Having good stockists boutiques such as Amanpulo, Lanai, Frankie & Friends, Balesin Island, VERA in Zurich. Being recognized by PTRI and Philippine Board of Investments, All the positive feedbacks from our clientele. As well as our workshops.
G: If someone wanted to start a business from scratch, where would you say the best place to begin is?
MM: Create the vision and the specific goal with it . You need to see the end vision in the beginning as it gives you the purpose and direction you need to do it effectively.
Well begun is half done.
G: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself outside of Maison Métisse?
MM: In my spare time, I do love to read. I love to cook. I love getting massages and going to the beach. Traveling for inspiration. I am not a religious person and rather spiritual . I love my crystals and flower essences. I like to eat out and discover good restaurants and bars. I love to dance. In French , you can say I am a bon vivant - meaning "one who lives well", refers to a person who enjoys the good things of life .
I also treasure spending a nice time with family and friends doing nothing.
Of course, I also enjoy some time spent alone, maybe meditating, and just being in the now.
G: Where do you see Maison Métisse in the next five years?
A part of our vision is taking the brand global. We hope to see the brand’s presence in Europe and USA.
G: Seeing that Maison Métisse’s brand name is french inspired, will you tell us about your love for french culture?
I studied Fashion Design in Paris and like I have mentioned earlier this city will always be special to me. It was like living in an art masterpiece. I always woke up surrounded by beauty and spent my days in its magical sort of ethereal soul.
Life was beautiful, slow, and just breathtaking. It’s the city where I found myself. I lived there alone for three years. I learned to really love myself and being ok with being alone. It was a sort of independence and freedom that changed me positively. It’s such a personal journey for me and I am always drawn to go back. I just always felt like more of myself in that city.
Lucky for me, I also met my husband there. So the French culture is definitely a permanent part of my life. I love how the French eat, how they take their aperos. The conversations. The complications of simplicity. The wine, the cheese, the charming little towns. The language.
G: What do you love about the dyeing process?
MM: I love when I unravel my pieces revealing its beautiful patterns and also the different shades of colors. How organic they look and feel.
G: How do you manage stress?
A massage. Some good wine with friends or my husband. A nice evening out. Lighting a good scented candle in my home. I love candles and incense. It always lifts my mood. Cook a nice meal with music.
When I get extremely stressed, I need to take a time out and drop everything and just take time to completely relax and not think of it.
It gives me space to also look at the thing that stresses me after in a different perspective.
G: What keeps your business grounded?
MM: Remembering the very reason why I am doing this and making sure that it stays authentic to the vision.
G: What keeps you grounded?
MM: Remembering my personal values. Making sure to balance life and work and pleasure. Not to take life so seriously. Taking some time to cry if I have to, laugh if I have to. It’s important to sit with your emotions and let it be and then let it go. To remember that what’s really important is how I see myself and see the good in me so that it permeates into everything that I do. I always remind myself that I am responsible for my own happiness too. That I always have that choice and the freedom to choose what makes me happy or unhappy and the power to change it .
And with their stockists here: https://www.maison-metisse.com/philippines-stockists