Jul 15, 2024

Gelaine Santiago and her partner Jérôme are proprietors of online shop, Cambio Market. Photo courtesy of Jessica Hoang.

TORONTO - In 2015, my partner Jérôme and I quit our corporate jobs and embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure. We launched our business Cambio Market on a whim of sorts, with no expectations or long-term plan. All we had was a burning desire to do something more, to inject meaning and impact into our very comfortable, easy lives here in Toronto. Little did we realize how near and far our whim of an adventure would take us.

 Cambio Market is an online shop for thoughtful, responsible goods that empower artisans. We founded our business on the principles of fair trade, ethical sourcing, and sustainability because we want to change what it means to be a business. We want to change how people shop. And we want to show everyone, from the islands of the Philippines to the looming towers of Toronto, that Filipino craftsmanship is truly world-class.


So how do we do this?
We carefully select who we partner with, only choosing brands who are committed to fair business practices and won’t sacrifice people and planet for profit. Our artisans earn fair wages, work in safe conditions, and are encouraged to grow. We currently have partners in the Philippines, Guatemala, India, Peru, and Uganda – but our long-term vision is to be a shop for artisanal products, 100 percent crafted in the Philippines.

Starting Cambio Market has been an amazing roller coaster of emotions – big highs, many lows, and plenty of stomach churning moments. But one of the most rewarding things about Cambio Market is that it’s given me the ability to reconnect with something I thought I’d lost since moving to Canada – my connection to the Philippines.

Most people don’t know this, but the Philippines is a hotbed for young, sexy, dynamic startups with a social purpose (a Silicon Valley for social enterprises, you could say). We first discovered the social enterprise community in 2012 when Jérôme, a French-Canadian, and I travelled to the Philippines for a family trip. It was my first time back after moving to Canada when I was two (I was born in Bulacan) and it was Jérôme’s first time visiting. We discovered one business making jewelry from old T-shirts, an agribusiness committed to providing steady income to Filipino farmers, and a fashion company hiring women from impoverished communities to create stylish bags. “There’s something happening here,” I recall Jérôme saying.

We dug further, more out of curiosity than anything else, and the list of social purpose businesses just kept growing. Once we returned home from our trip, we wanted to continue learning about these businesses but we soon discovered a key challenge: many of them didn’t have websites. As a passion project, we decided to launch ChooseSocial.PH – an online directory of social enterprises in the Philippines. It was a free resource to help people discover and explore the community of social enterprises in the country. After a year, ChooseSocial.PH ended up becoming a top result on Google and we were featured on Rappler in 2015.

Despite the positive press, the hard reality is that social enterprises in the Philippines (and around the world) struggle to grow and reach bigger markets for their products. When people began asking where they could purchase these products in North America, it was like a gift landed in our laps. What if we created a shop to sell these Filipino products here in Canada and the U.S.? And thus, Cambio Market was born.

I have to admit we were a bit naïve when we first launched Cambio Market. We knew running a business would be tough, but we were nowhere near prepared for the challenges of managing an online business and working with partners halfway across the world. Navigating the 12-hour time difference, the cultural nuances, and the challenges of working with grassroots businesses taught us the importance of relationship building. Since 2015, we’ve returned to the Philippines twice to meet our partners and artisans in person, learning to document and share their stories as best we can.

Despite the challenges we’ve experienced, one thing stays true: the Philippines is full of amazing talent. There are so many individuals and organizations committed to making our communities more inclusive, sustainable, and healthy. They deserve to grow. Their products should be commonplace in our homes, our offices, and the world over.

And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

Want to learn more about Cambio Market and how we’re bringing Filipino craftsmanship to the mainstream? Visit www.cambio.market

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