EXPERIENCING depression in her young life failed to deter Maria Isabela Blancas to make a difference at a young age of 13.
Instead of letting herself wallow in self-pity, Blancas established on August 17 last year the social enterprise she dubbed “One Closet.” It is a gown-rental business that encourages sharing.
According to Blancas, she asks donations of “preloved”—euphemism for “used”—gowns and formal dresses (like prom dresses) from the rich and rent them out to the ladies in Butuan.
“The clients of One Closet will feel like royalty while doing an act of charity, as half of the profit of the social venture will go to helping poor children in Mindanao with their educational needs,” Blancas told the BusinessMirror.
She said one of their beneficiaries is a convent in Buenavista, the Sisters Disciples of Jesus in the Eucharist, which helps young girls who were victims of abuse.
“The other half of the enterprise’s profit will be reinvested in the business to sustain their social mission,” Blancas said.
ACCORDING to Blancas, now 14, “harsh realities sucked the life out of me.” She was referring to her illness of depression.
Blancas said that, with the support of her parents and teachers, she overcame the challenges through the last three excruciating months of the previous school year. To maximize her time, she helped her father facilitate his social-enterprise leadership workshop in Butuan.
“I had an epiphany,” Blancas told the BusinessMirror.
She realized she would love to be a social entrepreneur like her father.
I told my parents that I am putting up my business with a cause to continue doing their social mission.
“I love how my father emphasizes how I got to reach that decision,” she said. “We have to think of business sustainability to make sure we continue our business of doing good, was what he said.”
THE concept of entrepreneurship is not alien to the Blancas as parents Myrna, and Fred, a former Integrated Microelectronic Inc. executive, exposed her to the ropes of business. She and younger brother Paolo would help sell organic lechon (roast pig) in Makati and Laguna during school breaks.
“It dawned on me that I’d love to be a social entrepreneur. When we visited a local tribe at Lake Sebu, and I played with the kids there, I was fascinated by the rich culture of the Mindanaoans,” Blancas said. “But I saw poverty. I was intrigued at how they get needed funds for the kids’ education. I wished I could help the kids in my own little way with their educational needs.”
Through One Closet, Blancas plans to help indigent children by providing them with school items like notebooks, ballpens and school bags. If there will be sufficient funds, she said sponsoring few scholars is possible.
For now, One Closet conducts regular visits to a convent that takes care of girls who survived abusive adults. Blancas said they try to cheer the girls up by providing snacks and giving them the old clothes they have collected.
WHEN away from cheering the girls in a convent, the father and daughter team up for a values and leadership program for Grade 12 children.
This, Blancas said, enables children “to know themselves better, believe in themselves, acquire confidence in dealing with other people and empower themselves to be productive citizens of their community.”
Although there are times she questions her predicament, Blancas considers her religious belief as a strong anchor. Her parents always tell her to pray and, more important, “to contribute in making the world a kinder, better place.”
“Sure, I have problems like my depression, but many kids have bigger problems,” Blancas explained. “I take it that the Lord is telling me not to focus too much on my own problems and, instead, help others with theirs.”
“God wants us to share and not be selfish. God wants us to think that there’s enough for everyone, and a few should not feel that they are entitled,” she said. “I’m realizing though, that as I help others, I actually get a different kind of high—I am helping myself get healed.”
One Closet will start with a gown-rental store and probably expand it to other cities in Mindanao, according to Blancas. She said the grand plan is to venture into a ready-to-wear business that will teach women to simplify their wardrobes, and their lives as well.
So far, the call for donations has resulted into a warm response. Preloved gowns and formal wear were donated by famous fashion designers like Rajo Laurel, among others.
Blancas wishes to get donations of prom dresses from students of prestigious schools. She also wants to get donations of gowns from actresses and TV personalities.
She said her parents always tell her to be a lady for others. She feels sad whenever she sees people suffering from poverty and the other effects caused by the unjust structures of society.
“My parents tell me that it’s normal to feel this way, but I shouldn’t get stuck and, instead, channel my energy to helping others less fortunate than I am,” Blancas said. “Beauty queens would always say, ‘Let’s work together to make this world a better place.’ At the risk of sounding cliché, I ask you to help me make this world a better place. I thank you.
One Closet will be holding its launch event on December 17 at Robinson’s Butuan through a fashion show that will feature the donated gowns.