We took a trip to Cebu, Philippines to visit our longtime friend and supplier of ELK’s sustainable wooden jewellery collection, Christine Hamoy-Kintanar.
Based in Mandaue City, Cebu in the Philippines Christine is an active member of the Go Green organisation and she assists in the running of numerous, local charitable organisations. She was a key driver for the relief team after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 working tirelessly in the Malapascua Island region and has continued in the redevelopment and resettlement of this area.
Over the years, we have built a wonderful relationship with Christine who has become an (unofficial!) part of our family. She has triumphed at running her own business and at building a successful program to train and educate people from poor and slum areas giving them traditional handicraft skills that equip them with techniques and knowledge to work either within her business or with other companies.
During this visit, we asked Christine some questions about her relationship with ELK, the secrets to the success of her thriving business and her approach to sustainability and ethics.
You have worked with ELK since you both started in 2004, how did you meet?
We met at the Manila FAME October Edition of 2005. [A premier design and lifestyle event, Manila FAME is a bi-annual showcase of craftsmanship, design innovation, and artisanship from Philippine makers].
We would love to know more about Earthworks and how you have successfully run your business all these years?
I could not take all the credit, that's for sure. :) and we wouldn't be here now had it not been for Adam & Marnie [ELK Co-Founders]. But one thing is for sure, instinct played a huge part along with hard work. That and the sensibility to seek advice and learn from other people not only experts in their fields but from the staff and our suppliers. As a decision maker, judgment calls are almost always an everyday occurrence, especially in the manufacturing industry. Yes, there were times I had doubted myself, and the industry, but that doubt helped me become a more practical and pragmatic decision maker. One thing for sure, it is not only design and product quality that makes a company but more importantly, integrity.
After working with the ELK design team on a new design what are the key steps that go into making a product?
Being handmade, to produce a single product goes through a lot of people. From the WOODWORKERS who shape each piece, the COLOUR technician, be it dye or stain or spray, to the ALLOCATOR who collects each component and part in that single product to give to the woman who STRINGS & ASSEMBLES the jewellery. Don't forget, the Quality Control staff in between each process to make sure that each part is just as our client want. I would say, it takes at least 7-12 people to produce one single piece of jewellery depending on design complexity.
How does your company, Earthworks, approach sustainability in your production and the broader industry?
Very seriously. And in any company, it must be initiated by management. With that said, it is quite a challenge. Sustainability is collaborative - it needs other people who sometimes do not value that as much. Sustainability is an attitude and until that changes, only then can it be fully achieved. But like any other goal, despite the challenges, we keep moving forward one step at a time starting in the workplace.
Tell us about some of the initiatives you have in place to create an ethical and supportive work environment for your team?
We adhere to government-mandated labour standards (minimum wage, social security, national health insurance) we provide free medical including eye check-ups, and additional medical insurance for regular employees. Most of all we treat everyone with respect and dignity. We provide a work environment that they want to come to every day not only for the pay but because they enjoy showing up for work. We continue to explore how we can give back to them and hopefully, on our 15th year anniversary next year we will have launched a sustainable scholarship program not only for our staff but children of women who have assembled our jewellery over the years.
Can you tell us a bit about how you recruit new staff and how you train them?
Our hiring process is on a grassroots level, we hire people already in the industry through word of mouth. Usual background checks and vetting and if recruited, our new staff are given the routine orientation on company policies and work culture.