By Carmelina Herrera, Program Associate
Background of the YSEALI Program
As the newest member of our Programs Team, I was excited to work on the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) this Fall. This U.S. government program strengthens young leaders from the ASEAN region through fellowships. The San Diego Diplomacy Council’s job in this fellowship is to place each fellow with an organization or business that best suits the work they do in their home countries. We were responsible for placing three amazing fellows in San Diego: Dahlia Bernardo from Timor-Leste, Nicholas Tan from Malaysia, and Cris Roxas from the Philippines. Although the three fellows were equally as impressive and made a significant impact on our local community, I will be highlighting Cris Roxas.
Cris Roxas is an advocate for sustainability in fashion and empowers women artisans through her work. She graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines with a Bachelor of Science in Clothing Technology. Cris has worked as Design and Production Officer for Philippine fashion retail brands from 2014 to 2023. A fashion designer, writer, and self-taught abstract painter, Cris has been working together with different organizations to talk about her advocacies in public forums and has volunteered to teach her technical knowledge in community workshops. At present, she is also the Communications Strategist Consultant of local social enterprise, Everything Green.
Working in the Philippine garment retail industry for over seven years, Cris was exposed to some harsh realities. Mass production in fast fashion brands contribute to the world’s pollution and to the unfair treatment of factory workers. These experiences motivated her to make a lasting positive change in the garment industry through The Brave Story. She is Founder and Creative Director of The Brave Story, which is a lifestyle brand that practices sustainable and slow fashion. This sustainable fashion brand repurposes textile waste and transforms them into clothing and home decors that are crafted with love by artisan mothers, weaving hopeful dreams for a better and greener future. Some examples of products include patchwork dresses, coasters, men’s shirts, patchwork shorts, and their cute and irresistible mascot, Kuwago (which means “owl” in Tagalog).
The Brave Story and Torrey Project
With The Brave Story’s inspiring mission, I knew it was an important task to find an appropriate counterpart that Cris can learn extensively from during her time in the United States. There are many organizations in San Diego that share a similar mission as The Brave Story, and after careful research and consideration, the SDDC found that Torrey Project was the best fit for this reciprocal exchange.
Torrey Project is a certified non-profit with the dual mission of advancing education on stakeholder capitalism for entrepreneurs and empowering entrepreneurs from historically marginalized backgrounds. They help under-resourced entrepreneurs build stakeholder-focused, socially conscious, and environmentally sustainable businesses.
Jason Plant, CEO of Torrey Project, seemed like the perfect fit for Cris.
Throughout their fellowship, Jason mentored Cris as they worked on a reciprocal exchange project. I was able to meet with them in a coffee shop in Coronado towards the end of Cris’ fellowship to learn about the work they were doing under YSEALI. She explained her project that would be a bootcamp for women artisans both locally in San Diego and globally in the Philippines. This would be a virtual camp with various sessions across a few days to empower these crafters and connect them with consultants and leaders in the industry. I recall Cris stating, “There isn’t much of a community for women artisans, it feels as though everyone is in competition with one another. With this bootcamp, hopefully people will realize that we can uplift one another as women with a similar passion and open their eyes to the importance of every artisan to the local community”. They mentioned that the bootcamp would take place even after the fellowship is over, which is indicative of their social mission. Both Jason and Cris shared the same amount of passion for social entrepreneurship and sustainability that made this pairing a dream team.
As an American Filipina myself, I was especially engaged in the work Cris does for our community back home. There has always been an unsaid disconnect between Filipino Americans and Native Filipinos, where there may be cultural discrepancies to our peers from our homeland. Once connected with Cris, I realized that we are more similar in our hearts and soul beyond our ethnicity. We share a passion for helping our local and global communities and carry that passion out through our work. The Brave Story is an amazing testament to the importance of connecting and empowering your local community, emphasis on creating opportunities for minority groups. Not only have I learned about the work Cris does professionally during the YSEALI program. But more importantly, I learned about her immense drive and motivation; which is equally as inspiring.