The eco-friendly brand champions sustainability, one katsa clothing piece at a time. Its origins and goals are heartwarming at best, too.
Jude Rivera has revered Mother Nature for as long as she could remember. Growing up in Palawan—dubbed by many as the Philippines’ last frontier because of its verdant forests, towering mountains, crystal-clear waters, expansive caves, and rich biodiversity—the founder of eco-friendly lifestyle brand AraPilak recalls a childhood that’s serene and meaningful.
“Life was very simple then. Whenever I’d wake up, I would play with our dogs, goats, and other children from the neighborhood,” she reminisces.
Trips to her elementary school were also idyllic at best. They’d pass by rice paddies, fields, and trees while enjoying the calm breeze. “Even if the school was around a kilometer away, we didn’t really worry about the heat because the air was cool and the weather wasn’t as hot as it is today.”
Inspired by her beautiful surroundings, young Jude already started thinking early on about little ways to keep the environment clean and green. She shares, “Every time at school, whenever I bought a piece of candy, I’d always put the plastic wrapper in my pocket and wait ‘till I see the nearest trash can to throw it. It’s a small act, but that idea of not wanting to be disrespectful to nature guided me then up until now.”
From these small gestures, Jude was able to turn her drive to save the environment into a major initiative: AraPilak. Derived from two Cuyonon words “ara” and “pilak,” which translates into “no waste,” the brand began offering zero-waste products such as reusable bamboo straws to help more Palawenyos get started in leading a sustainable lifestyle.
Establishing the brand was also Jude’s way of ensuring that she could share the joys of nature with her daughter. “When I had Malaiya, that’s when it clicked. I was enlightened by my memories, and I said to myself that Malaiya should grow up experiencing nature the way I did and having the same principles of respecting nature,” she shares. (Fun fact: AraPilak’s logo is inspired by both Malaiya and Mother Earth.)
Thriving amid adversity
AraPilak had been appearing at pop-up shops in Palawan and securing partnerships with local businesses when the pandemic unfortunately struck. “When lockdown began, the restaurants we partnered with had to temporarily close, which resulted in our sales going down,” Jude recalls.
Faced with drastic changes, the brand found itself on shaky ground—but Jude assures that not everything was grim on their end. “During that time, while we were slowly treading toward an eco-conscious clothing line, we had to close our pop-up shops and also open another one at Port Barton. We persisted, keeping the lessons we learned during these tough moments.”
Jude and her team’s efforts paid off—in August 2020, they were able to release Ba’law, their first clothing collection. Named after the Cuyonon word for “awareness,” the Ba’law line featured versatile dresses, crop tops, button shirts, and casual shirts made from katsa (flour sacks).
Repurpose for a cause
AraPilak’s Instagram page notes that the practice of reusing flour sacks is not anything new: decades ago, women from the barrios would repurpose katsa into bibs, diapers, dresses, and curtains, among other household needs. As the practice eventually fell out of fashion, AraPilak made it a point to revive a Filipino custom that’s not only ingenious, but also environmentally-friendly.
The success of Ba’law prompted AraPilak to launch their second collection, Araw-Araw, exactly a year after. With more katsa-based shirt, dress, and accessory options, the line echoes the call for choosing slow fashion and expressing one’s genuine self every day—all while taking care of nature.
AraPilak’s collections—and the sustainability movement it champions—have not only reached a loyal customer base in Manila (and around the country), but they’ve also caught the attention of Red Pearl, a gift shop based in Brooklyn, New York.
“The owner of Red Pearl saw us on Instagram and reached out. They tried to order for themselves and a few pieces for samples and they liked it! From then on, our relationship started to grow and I’m very happy with it. For now, we’re very content with our current partnership and we would like to continue to foster that first and build a strong foundation,” Jude shares.
Creating with and for the community
AraPilak’s growth amid the past few years can be traced to the dynamic community that Jude finds herself in. She is thankful that the budding support from everyone has allowed her to share their brand stories and work with more people in other places.
“The local creative community has been existing here for quite a while now. I am very happy that it is finally taking off and is being well received and supported. We’re very supportive of each other’s endeavors, especially the circle community from the Binhi and Rurungan Market Community,” she notes.
Jude also takes pride in keeping close, productive, and meaningful partnerships with their makers and craftsmen. “We always prioritize our relationships with our makers. We follow fair trade principles, making sure that each of our makers are compensated fairly.”
As such, every time Jude gets an idea for a new product, development becomes a breeze. “Whenever I would have these creative bursts of ideas or inspiration, I would jot them down and then check in with our partner-makers to see which is feasible and negotiable. From there, our lead maker will create a sample that will serve as the basis for the other makers.”
Material sourcing has also become easier for the brand. “Back then, we’d always been the one reaching out to people and businesses for their katsa. While we still do that now, we’ve noticed that more people have been either referring us to new sources or giving us their own katsa. It’s really heartwarming, and it reminds us of the power of community belief and support.”
Jude has nothing but gratitude for the small and big milestones that they’ve reached as a brand. “From working with just one maker, we’re now partnering with home-based mothers. From just one katsa, we’ve given new life to 2,550 pieces and counting! Looking back at our beginnings, it’s truly humbling. We never imagined this success, but we were extremely hopeful. We’re very happy that people supported us and continue to do so, because this wouldn’t be possible with their belief in our advocacy and our product.”
She is quick to note, however, that she is still learning a lot more in her journey toward a sustainable lifestyle. For those who are inspired to follow in their footsteps, Jude offers these nuggets of wisdom:
“Learn as much as you can about the problems around your local community and province regarding sustainability and the environment. Take small steps, and while doing so, remember that it’s all right to take a few steps back. Figure out how you can define ‘sustainable/bility’ in your own context and household, and slowly start to apply those definitions in your daily life. Lastly, don’t be shy to reach out to organizations, businesses, people who are also in the path of sustainability.”