By Patrick Dulay, Youth Co:Lab
Aretes Style is a social enterprise, founded by Jal Mustari, that aims to craft hope and peace among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Marawi City, Philippines.
In 2017, the Marawi Siege, a violent five month long armed conflict, ravaged the city and took its toll on the once-beautiful city and its people. Those images and stories of violence have made Marawi City a byword for a national tragedy. The negative stereotypes of chaos and terrorism have followed and stayed.
Jal Mustari, the founder of Aretes Style, could not just sit back and watch his community continue to suffer the effects of the siege and the stigma that was created by it.
“It has been almost five years since the Marawi Siege. Its devastating impact is still evident not just in Ground Zero but most especially to the families that are displaced. A lack of socio-economic opportunities is very prevalent. Women and youth are two of the most vulnerable sectors when it comes to a community’s potentially desperate and negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage, illegal drugs, or at worst human trafficking. I believe that one way to address these issues is to empower the community”.
The harsh realities that are faced by the Mranaw people propels the mission of Aretes Style to empower people, provide opportunities for communities and showcase their story on a much wider stage.
Aretes Style tells the story of a vibrant culture once associated with a very business-oriented community. They showcase creations and colors through various crafts and products that bring an intricate, traditional hand-woven fabric called Langkit into the spotlight. Each product is named after places, terms of note, and key aspects of Mranaw culture. For instance, the Panginam scarf collection is named after the Mranaw word for hope. One set of earrings called Kalilintad is named after the Mranaw term for peace, thereby weaving in the positive messages with every piece produced. Jal believes that with art comes empowerment, and his work is showing visible impact.
“We have been working with two partner communities; the local weavers in the Municipality of Tugaya and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the relocation site of Sagonsongan, Marawi City. Since last year, we have provided income opportunities and empowered 6 local weavers and 10 seamstresses., some of whom are widows, young mothers and single parents”.
Aretes Style is a recipient of a grant at the UNDP-supported YES2SDGs Ranaw Youth Summit 2019 Project Grant Competition and was part of the Asia Pacific Indigenous Workshop 2020. These were able to help Jal get his enterprise started. To this day he is supported by Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation. Through Youth Co:Lab, Jal receives mentoring sessions, and also know-how to run his first crowdfunding campaign successfully raising over USD 1,900. This crowdfunding campaign helped them produce their new collection of products. Aside from raising and exceeding their crowdfunding goal, the campaign connected them to a partner to help Aretes Style reach a global audience. Jal is taking Aretes Style to new heights each and everyday, with the crowdfunding campaign adding some wind beneath his wings.
Jal’s goals for Aretes Style is to increase their sales, diversify their products, and most importantly, reach an international market - and through Youth Co:Lab’s support, he is able to successfully turn these dreams and aspirations into realities. Aretes Style is not only about expressing craftsmanship amidst challenging times, it is about advocating for and creating ever-enduring hope and a lasting peace—impacts which can only be achieved if we all do it together, as one community. Katitinabanga, a word that translates to “helping one another'', is a practice that Mranaws live by, and wish to showcase to the Philippines and beyond.
“I have seen how one is willing to help another without any return. It is maybe because everyone knows how it feels to be vulnerable and helpless. It is a reminder that being less privileged is not a hindrance to show an act of kindness”.
This is one of the reasons that Jal chose to explore crowdfunding too - because he believes in katitinabanga. The fruits of his crowdfunding campaign prove that the rest of the world believes in it just as much as he does.
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.