Fil-Am’s business still recovering one year after Yolanda

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Oct. 2, 2014

NEW YORK – Three years ago, even before the strongest ever tropical cyclone hit the Philippines, Filipino-American Renee Patron flew to the Philippines to take care of an ailing grandmother.

Later on, the former New Yorker quit her job as the creative director for Pret a Porter Paris, to put up her own business in the Philippines, now known as Banago – a company that exports handwoven bags and home accessories to stores like Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama, W Hotel Boutiques and Anthropologie.

“When I was here [in the U.S.] I was working so hard, I was always chasing something, and paying for things, working that hard and being exhausted,” Patron said, “When I went to the Philippines, I started a business that I know that I can use what I did out here to give back to people there and live simple. I like living simple.”

Banago ended up producing one of the biggest ever banig export, production and shipment in the Philippines.

These were hand-made in their own homes by about 400 local women in nearby Western Samar. Making these bags and accessories as a cottage industry supported their families.

Patron said, “We started with banig because that’s something that’s made in Samar where my family is from, so it was very close to my heart and it was something that I did see provide livelihood for so many.”

With its chic style, Banago made a mark in the international fashion scene.

Vogue magazine listed Banago’s Pintados-style Malaya Tote as number 3 of the 41 top summer must haves.

Banago bags also made its way to other fashion magazines such as Lucky, Elle Japan, Glitter Japan among many others.

But in a blink of an eye, she almost lost everything to a super typhoon.

Banago – named after the beach where her mother grew up in Guian – was directly hit by typhoon Yolanda in November last year.

Yolanda took the homes of Patron and her workers and caused about $150,000 worth of damages to her business.

Patron said, “Typhoon Haiyan and the storm surge took away our production facility which was made of concrete… and our raw materials of wild grass our products are made from.”

Today, Banago is slowly trying to make a comeback.

Thanks to Kickstarter, last September 18 Patron raised more than $20,000 to jumpstart Banago.

“We’re raising some of that money to kind of bring those orders back through the products you can order there and to pay for maybe rebuilding and also materials for the women and wheat planting for the farmers,” said Patron.

Patron says life may be a struggle in the Philippines after Yolanda but she says she has no regrets leaving the comforts of her home in America in exchange for a simple but contented life in the Philippines, because she knows she is making a big difference in the lives of hundreds of Filipino women.

Patron said, “It makes me really happy, it gives me a natural high, from up here, that you can help.”

You may contact Don Tagala at

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  • kikay Pang0
    3 October 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Sweat shop business …. similar to Nike operation in Vietnam.