Having her own export business is a dream project for Joam Basalo. It took her a decade and a half to break free from being an apprentice to become the self-made woman she is now.
Her roots, like many others, was humble. But her dreams, big.
Her journey spans companies and numerous exploits of trade fairs and exhibits from where she drew a blueprint of her future plans. The last company she worked for before becoming an entrepreneur was a Japanese firm that exports Philippine-made handicrafts.
When she formed her company, Dierde Export Trading, Inc., it was like reaching for the skies because while financing was a challenge she anticipated, her company’s lack of track record stood in the way of acquiring capital.
So, with the little savings she had and some help from her sister who works in Germany, she managed to pull-off her dream project.
“Dierde comes from German truncated word which means the earth or of the earth. We produce handicrafts in their natural colors, which are the colors of the earth.These are all natural, not hand painted products. I have a community of Filipino craftsmen working for me. They are part of the company’s success,” Basalo said.
Her company was only over a year old when the pandemic struck. But hers was among the lucky enterprises that survived the crisis.
“Buyers then were cramming. I assumed they were in panic to deliver commitments with the shutdown and lockdown that were happening around the globe. But while many companies have folded, it was a blessing that we continue to exist. My staff continued to work for me, though I must admit that I had to trim my workforce in the middle of the pandemic since orders have been coming in sparsely and growing less in between,” she recalled.
As order slows down, Basalo knew there’s no other way to sustain operations but to streamline the workforce. From 13 workers, she only kept 6. She felt sorry for the workers she let go but promised to take them in again, once the dire situation improves. She finds it easy to work with her team since majority her workers came from her previous company.
She is also supporting a group of basket weavers from the mountain parts of Cebu who are also part of her production team. Her weavers are skillful workers who works fast and keep with pace of the business.
“I’m very happy that we’re able to surpass this (challenge) and being young in the industry I know it’s very competitive. It’s because of the uniqueness of the products we are making that we are able to compete in the market for handicrafts,” Basalo said, fully aware of the distinct value proposition of her crafts in the global market.
Under the Dierde Designs brand, Basalo did the round of local trade fairs not for spot sales but for after sales. She said many of her booked orders were a result of after sales engagement.
Many of her clients follow her through trade shows. She does not have a showroom yet which works for her since majority of her followers and clients are forced to meet up only during trade shows. A good deal of clients from her previous job have also followed her, secure with the knowledge that she will deliver better products at better prices.
During the trade shows where her previous employers participate, she noticed that visitors were genuinely interested to buy products if not for the lofty prices. This is one of the reasons that compelled her to set up her own handicraft business. Products made by Dierde Designs are 30 percent more affordable compared to competition.
Dierde Designs crafts and sells custom made and OEM handicrafts – from lamp shades to soap dish, from cutleries to woven baskets, back scratch, napkin holders, bags, coasters, anything and everything imaginable but within the visual limits and capacity of Basalo’s team of designers and staff.
Using natural wood and vines from the mountains of Cebu, Deirde Design products are one of a kind. The combination of grey wood, jackfruit wood, black wood and brown wood creates harmony that is pleasing and decorative, useful yet lasting.
All Dierde Designs products are utilitarian “but the beauty is still there. Every piece has a purpose,” Basalo said.
A year after she went on her own, Basalo was fortunate to run into a client from her previous company who helped her join Manila Fame in 2019. Known worldwide, Manila Fame is one of the premier trade shows in the Philippines. A biennial event, Manila Fame features the best designs and designers in the country in one massive show. Deirde Designs was fortunate to join the famed trade show for a second time during the pandemic before it moved on to doing more commissioned projects. Othel V. Campos
In the last 4 years, Dierde Designs created notable pieces for several celebrated institutions. The brand did some pieces for Sunburst Fried Chicken, a popular fast-food joint based in Cebu City; cheeseboards for for NUSTAR Resort and Casino, a new entertainment establishment in Cebu; yin and yang soap dishes made of stone for a hotel; chopsticks for clients in Japan; and commemorative souvenir pieces for government agencies and for the City of Talisay, where the business is based.
Dierde Designs is the maker of the official token of the City of Talisay, the lechon capital of Cebu. The piece is a tabletop ornament that doubles as a pen and clip holder. The design incorporates the world famous Lechon Talisay with the silhouette of the iconic landmarks of Poblacion Talisay – the Sta. Teresa de Avila Church and American Landing Monument with the Magtalisay Tree, from where the city is named after. The ornament is a collaborative design concept by the Talisay Toursim Office and Dierde Export Trading.
On top of producing handicrafts for everyday use, the brand is also famous for making custom made gift items for all occasions. Some of the designs take time to assemble. Since many of the designs are small, a lot of time and skill go to every item produced.
Basalo is hoping to get back on track now that the pandemic has eased. Exports used to have the bigger share in the business at 70/30. Right now export and domestic demand are on equal footing at 50/50 share.
“Orders are coming in again. It started November last year and by December, we have booked several projects. It’s possible to get back on 70/30 again this year,” she said.
Recently, Dierde Designs branched into pyrography, the art of creating portraits by wood burning. The first piece is a commissioned project for the mayor of Talisay. Basalo said the portrait is a gift for the good mayor who has been supporting small businesses like hers.
Basalo said she has the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to thank for the success of her business. The DTI, with its program for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) has been actively supporting small business not only through mentoring programs, it also provides financing and technical assistance.
“Through the DTI, I met clients and landed new projects. The DTI has been a constant partner since the business started. Until now, they never fail to get in touch whenever there are upcoming trade fairs. They have helped many small enterprises and small entrepreneurs like me,” she said.
Dierde Designs, she shared, is one of the beneficiaries of the financing program launched by the DTI during pandemic. The loan, she added, provided the financial backing the business sorely needs at the time of crisis.
Her handicrafts, she said, have reached the markets of Japan, Germany, New Zealand and the small island of Palau. She used to export to the US but difficult times have also impacted her American clients.
Dierde Export is s proud member of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport) and the Talisay City Chamber of Commerce. Within the year, the firm plans to join the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Basalo shared a piece of advise for aspiring exporters. She encouraged all new exporting firms to secure all the necessary certifications and licensing certificates and comply with all legal procedures.
“That is the way to do business. We have to be above board, so we can avoid snags and issues that may ruin our business,” she said.