Above Rubies is a not-for-profit social enterprise, dedicated to empowering women in vulnerable situations. Based in the Philippines, they are also an New Zealand based NGO. They support their employees with fair and safe employment creating handmade crochet products for sale all over the world.
In this interview, I had the privilege of speaking with Yasmin Hughes, the Creative Director of Above Rubies. She shares her insights, aspirations and values of their organisation and their impact work in the local community.
Through her experience at Above Rubies, Yasmin has seen firsthand the life-changing effect that fair employment can have on vulnerable women, and the role that social enterprise can play in creating positive change.
1. First of all, can you please tell us a little bit about yourselves?
We’re a mum and daughter passionate about changing the world, spreading love and helping others - one person at a time. I, Yasmin am based in New Zealand while my mum Angela is in the Philippines working alongside the artisans in the project. We both have different roles and strengths that complement each other and enable this little business to function.
2. When did the idea for Above Rubies begin? What was your mission and drive behind it?
When Angela and I moved over to the Philippines back in 2006, our eyes were opened to a very different way of life. Angela became aware of the incredibly difficult position many single mothers in the Philippines are in, with very little to no support or governmental aid to get by.
Being a single parent in the Philippines is frowned upon, so many women have no choice but to take up physically strenuous jobs like sorting through rubbish to support their families.
Above Rubies was born in 2011, after teaching a group of single mums how to make paper beads for jewellery. The idea was that the project would empower women to learn new skills to support their families.
It wasn’t until later on where we discovered a few of our artisans had crochet skills so our product offering slowly evolved into what you see today!
The name ‘Above Rubies’ refers to a Bible verse speaking of the value of women. Our mission is to not only provide fair wages but empower women and give them a sense of hope and dignity. They’re valuable and their work is too.
3. What does a typical day of working for Above Rubies look like?
No day is ever the same! I oversee our social media channels and the creative side of the project, so that means taking lots of photos for our SM channels and developing new products. Product development can take anywhere from a week to 2 months, depending on the design. Weekends are busy with markets, so on weekdays I prep for those and send out online orders to customers and retail stores.
Bhaby creating crochet toys in the Above Rubies workshop.
4. What has been your biggest challenge or a lesson you've learned in starting an ethical business?
Starting an ethical business isn’t a quick process and good things take time. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, whether it be design or the way you choose to sell your product. Either way, if you try to avoid the challenges you’ll never get anywhere so it’s better to learn at every step in the process. Each lesson learnt makes you wiser there’s no short cut to that, really.
5. What is your favourite part of running Above Rubies?
My favourite part is designing and developing products. When you see a little girl at your market stall squeal in delight when they see something on your table you’ve worked hard to perfect, you can’t help but feel happy inside. Our artisans are just so talented at creating patterns too so that makes my job easy!
6. Can you tell us how your business impacts the local communities in the Philippines?
At the beginning of the Philippine school year (October 2022), the project was able to sponsor ten children from ten families to school. The even better thing - ten kids from single parents!
Two years ago we weren’t in a financial position to help struggling families outside of the project as much as we wanted to but with every bit of support, it’s happened! It’s a dream come true seeing empowered women empower women.
7. You have so many amazing products on your site - what's your personal favourite?
Thanks! Yes, I do have a few favourites! I love our little produce bag because it has so many colourful components. Maybe I love it all the more because we worked on developing it for a few months!
I’m also really loving one of our latest plant keychains, which is a little crochet pot with string of pearls in a tiny beaded macrame pot holder.
8. Where to from here? What does the future look like for Above Rubies?
While we love markets and will continue doing them, we realise they aren’t very sustainable long term as the project expands. Ultimately we want to be able to be in the position to hire more artisans as demand increases and continue to make a difference in the community.
Supplying product to more retail stores has worked out well for us this last year, so the plan is to keep growing in that area. We’re also looking into developing products for educational purposes so we’ll see where that leads! The great thing about markets is getting customer feedback which generally helps inspire our design process and provide some direction. There’s no way of knowing what’s next sometimes!
I love the work that Above Rubies are doing in their local community and all that they stand for - showing that even with limited resources and small beginnings you can make a big impact on someones life. The ladies have been able to pay for their children's education, improve their homes and living situations and even support other single mothers in their neighbourhood with food, medicine and gifts purchased with the proceeds of the charity sales. Stay tuned for part two - stories and interviews with the artisans themselves!