The woman was clearly from a remote mountain village; her dress and demeanor gave her away. She was nursing a child and crying as she narrated how a middleman had shortchanged her.
As it happened, Venus Genson was in Antequera, Bohol, looking for supplies for her small handicraft business. She bought the woman’s baskets for P45 despite the poor quality of their weave. She knew that with P45, the woman could buy five kilos of corn grits and a jar of ginamos (fermented fish) for the family waiting up in the mountains for a week’s consumption.
That was in 1981, the same year that Genson founded Art ‘N’ Nature Manufacturing Corporation in Mandaue City.
“Meeting that person was an eye opener,” said Genson, who began to partner with various suppliers from all over the Philippines but made sure their products passed, if not surpassed, her standards.
In its early days, Art ‘N’ Nature sold hanging decorations, wind chimes, fiber-and-shell curtains, jars, figurines, small furniture and other home decor made from natural indigenous materials like coconut twigs, fibers and bamboo. The company grew rapidly and, in 2001, moved to a bigger space in Liloan, Cebu.
Aside from focusing on its core business of exporting native products, Art ‘N’ Nature also trained its employees and partner communities to be reliable and self-sustaining individuals and organizations.
“I believe in win-win partnerships. We win by working with others, not at the expense of others. Along the way, there may be deficiencies or we may lose some business with certain partnerships, but you learn. That’s how progress works,” Genson said.
A friend calls Genson “Inday Genius,” a play on the word “indigenous,” which jibes with the company’s commitment to use locally abundant natural raw materials
Art ‘N’ Nature supports local artisans and partners with its business combining the beauty of art with the strength of nature
When one of her products, coconut monkeys, became a big hit in the United States as a decorative and gift item, Art ‘N’ Nature partnered with the Philippine Coconut Authority and its farmer associations. Coconut monkeys are made from coconuts husks and shells.
A business that marries the beauty of art with the strength of nature, Art ‘N’ Nature supports local artisans and partners. “I am not a fan of hogging the money and success all to myself. The company is in the business of supporting local talents so they too can find success in the work that they do,” said Genson, who eventually became the founder and president of various business organizations in Cebu.
With Genson as president and CEO, her company reached greater heights. In 2012, she received the Women Entrepreneur Award from the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines program of the SGV Foundation. She was cited for her “trailblazing feats in social entrepreneurship and community development through Art ‘N’ Nature.”
Genson obtained both her undergraduate degree in Business Management and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines Cebu. She learned her first lessons in running a business from managing her aunt’s store.
She was a part-time teacher at the University of San Carlos and the Cebu Institute of Technology when she began exploring the possibility of starting her own business.
Her teaching experience came in handy in running Art ‘N’ Nature and in dealing with her employees, especially when a global financial crisis struck in 2007 and dealt the export industry a huge blow.
The company managed to carry on until 2013 when Genson was forced to let go of 200 employees, some of whom had been with Art ‘N’ Nature for as long as 35 years. It was a painful experience, but it also showed Genson who among the employees had maximized the training and opportunities they received during the company’s heyday.
Art ‘N’ Nature today has a lean work force of 15, including the boss, even as it maintains a solid client base in the United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries.
“I believe in win-win partnerships. We win by working with others, not at the expense of others. Along the way, there may be deficiencies or we may lose some business with certain partnerships, but you learn. That’s how progress works.”
One of its employees since its creation, Jocelyn Cabarrubias, 52, said, “I’ve learned to develop my skills and to value the work that I do.”
A single mother, she was able to send all her three children to school. Her eldest son is putting his computer programming degree to good use in Saudi Arabia. The second son left early this year for a job on design. The last son opted to stay in Philippines as he’s one of the best in tattooing. All three have finished their college education.
Cabarrubias, who did not finish high school, has a talent for painting. She creates her own designs and presents them to Genson and the team of artists and designers.
Sonia Densing, 55, said she learned about humility, passion and respect in the 20 years she has been working at Art ‘N’ Nature. She added that Genson modeled for the employees that “as an entrepreneur, you have to be honest in your business dealings and you should never give up because many people are relying on you.”
Genson said Art ‘N’ Nature would continue to be committed to sustaining the environment and being conscious of its impact on society. Her three children, Yatim, Rami and Haniya, are poised to take over.
“My siblings and I learned to do business with a heart from the example of our mother,” Yatim said. “We hope to be able to expand the business, generate more jobs for the people and continue the good work she started.”
This story is part of a series of articles written by GO NEGOSYO writers being published by GoodNewsPilipinas.com as part of our support to Philippine businesses.