Stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a daunting step to take but for entrepreneur and local socio-cultural advocate Zarah Juan, it was what she needed to fully realize her mission in life. “To create something that’s impactful and meaningful to others — that’s something else. I found out that if I were to combine design and find new ways and measures to create impact, then that would be the perfect mission for me,” said Zarah Juan.
When Zarah Juan became inspired by local artisan bags at a grocery store in Japan, she knew that her hometown needed a dose of the same thing. Clipping the wings of her cushy job to focus on her socio-cultural-conscious, sustainable enterprise, she had her sights set on uplifting Philippine-made crafts in the form of artisan bags, and eventually shoes. Since 2006, her brand has always been dedicated to providing sustainable livelihoods and retaining Filipino culture and tradition by producing goods with her team of weavers and designers.
From inception, this mission has brought much joy and success in her life, and the lives of the advocates, communities, and clients that she’s worked with and served. Despite the challenges, the grit, determination, and support from people who’ve been rooting for her from day one helped her overcome it all.
“When I retired from flying, I had separation anxiety from my friends, and from the job I’ve known,” she says. “I thought I made a mistake, but I realized it was just part of my adjustment period. I have no regrets at all! I had solid back up from my family and friends, plus my team and my partners in business.”
“Mistakes, failures and hardships are really a part of my growth process. In hindsight, it was just carving a path for more possibilities!”
When Zarah launched her brand, her team had a clear plan: get to know their brand on a deeper level while taking care of their partner communities and their people. But COVID-19 happened and a whole new challenge came up: closing the Zarah Juan brick-and-mortar store amidst the national lockdowns.
Zarah’s pivot? Go digital. Although admittedly not tech-savvy, Zarah faced this challenge head-on and taught herself digital marketing – another step outside of her comfort zone. After researching for three straight days, she designed and launched her website. Overnight, local orders were booming and international acclaim was knocking.
“Transitioning to an online store is how we managed to keep all of our people and retain their salaries at the same time [during the COVID-19 outbreak],” she says excitedly.
Being the serial social entrepreneur Zarah is, she decided to extend that good fortune even outside of her company. Amidst the pandemic, Zarah Juan – known for her iconic jeepney bags – also launched advocacy program Byaheng Pag-Asa Program, which helped struggling jeepney drivers during the lockdown. Each jeepney bag’s proceeds provided basic needs for the said drivers, and by the end of the fundraiser, they were able to assist a total of 120 drivers!
“I am so grateful to be surrounded by people who get me, and partners who are very keen in understanding my vision not just as a designer but also as a citizen of this country,” she shares. “I’ve seen how the kindness and generosity of companies, our communities, and the people can change lives — not just by improving the livelihood of a person, but also making us all believe in the goodness of humanity.”
With the online store quickly gaining traction across borders, it was crucial to get all the orders where they needed to be – even and especially abroad. Luckily, she already had partners on her side who were ready and willing to take her label to new heights. “We didn’t know how to [ship internationally] in the beginning, but DHL Express has been patient with us, helping us align our website and deal with international clients,” she shares. “We get international buyers every day, and DHL has made it possible for us to fulfill them quickly. We’ve never had that before!”
The international success of Zarah Juan is key to the brand’s overall growth and presence. This is all thanks to a willingness to try, a leap of faith, and a committed partner who has helped to deliver this new business arm.
“Changing the world of logistics has always been our vision and we continuously challenge ourselves to break boundaries. We have a worldwide reach and we are always ready to lend our expertise to our customers so that they can expand their business and presence across borders. Zarah Juan’s label gained recognition globally very quickly and as her delivery partner, we want to be there for Zarah and her team every step of the way. We are also committed to contributing and making a positive impact to the society and communities, so this is a perfect union,” says Yati Abdullah, DHL Express Philippines Country Manager.
“DHL Express really made it possible for us,” she shares, emphasizing how helpful the international courier was with identifying the needs of entrepreneurs and finding solutions for them. “Having them on our side during the pandemic means the world to us; it means our survival. So during this pandemic, I have nothing but gratitude. The level of support, insights and expertise that DHL Express has given me is nothing compared to what I had received when I worked with other companies. For me, that’s everything,” she emphasizes.
Her label has now expanded across Asia to countries including Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and China, and to other parts of the world like the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe (Germany, Prague, London and Paris). Zarah said, “I can have the greatest vision and the greatest campaign but if I didn’t have a good partner, I wouldn’t be able to do it at all.”
“I’m able to execute all of these because I found a good partner in DHL Express, and that’s my truth!”