Posts tagged retail
Magpie Alchemy: A Skincare Revolution

“We were just making soap part time, but in October 2018 I attended the Entrepinay summit. I never knew a space like that could be created. I thought it was just like a conference for entrepreneurs — but it was actually a really emotional experience, like a day full of crying! And what I learned was that, because I am a Pinay, I am well-equipped to own a business – more equipped than I thought I was. And that’s when I made the decision to do this full-time.”


Jamie Cardenas and her partner Lucas Ives own and operate Magpie Alchemy, the Sacramento-based personal care boutique whose handmade, all-natural products provide a much-needed response to an industry drenched in synthetic chemicals and methods.


It is a project that grew out of Jamie’s frustrating experiences with industrial, prescribed ointments and remedies for her chronic pain and Eczema.


“I would be prescribed something, and it might work a little bit, but I was having to manage a lot of side effects, and it was like, ‘Is this worth it?’ We really felt like there was a missing piece in western medicine and in researching botanical based skin care — it’s a really sinister industry, the personal care and cosmetic world. These companies aren’t legally required to disclose whats in these products,” Jamie says.

“Just some basic research showed us that a lot of the everyday products you buy from the store are full of chemicals that are bad for you. We wanted to reduce our chemical intake — and found that making our own products was a great way to control that,” Lucas says.


What started as a personal solution quickly grew into a movement, with skin conditions being so prevalent in the Filipino community and supported by diaspora communities’ renewed interest in natural approaches that recall the healing practices of The Philippines.

“Specifically with the Filipino community, eczema and skin conditions are a big thing. So many  of us have tried medications, and injections, so our philosophy is really just kind of getting back to the basics — by remembering that consumption of products happens everywhere, and always taking it back to mama earth. We want to create a movement that supports community health, because a lot of people see something like all-natural, hand-crafted skincare as a luxury or a nicety — but it’s really not. It’s all about making those small changes, even in something like soap, that are going to be healthier for you in the long run,” Jamie says.

In this way, Jamie is helping Filipino people rediscover a pride in the natural (and sustainable) approaches to wellness that originate in The Philippines — and is also uncovering her own connections to her ancestors through this work.

“Medicines nowadays are really just synthesized versions of old medicines. So what we are doing at Magpie Alchemy is what our ancestors were doing — and I learned that my grandmother, Grandma Mary, was an expert in plant medicines and herbal remedies and made tinctures, soaps and salves. My Auntie Necie recently posted on Facebook about my grandmother on her birthday, and tagged me in it, and she wrote something like ‘Your grandkids are living your legacy, especially Jamie.’ I asked what that meant, and my cousin Edlynn told me about Grandma Mary’s legacy,” Jamie says. 


The significance of lineage to Magpie Alchemy extends beyond their storefront — recently made permanent at the Warehouse Artists Lofts (WAL) Public Market in Sacramento — and to the people that make up their community, not least of all their family.


“One thing we have been mindful of from the start is that it’s not about the bottom line. We are trying to create and support a wellness community. It’s about helping people. So it’s been a great honor to witness Jamie grow and integrate her culture and ancestry as a deep rooted priority in everything she does. Jamie is the face and force behind our company, and the world needs to experience her as she truly is a healer. She has a gift, passed down from her ancestors, and she’s now sharing this gift with the world. It’s so important that she has every opportunity to shine as bright as possible. I also feel it's important that our daughter sees her mother as an amazing creator, healer and entrepreneur, and an example of a bold and brave Pinay,” Lucas says.

“The need for natural products is urgent; it’s not about selling products, it’s about educating people and sharing knowledge. Western medicine failed us, period. So when I talk to clients, I give it to them straight. There is a level of honesty that some other businesses might find jarring, but that’s important to me,” Jamie says.

Imbued with such a clearly articulated mission, Magpie Alchemy enriches the life of their community. Such work is significant in so many ways, not least of all for its ability to connect people with a greater sense of self-worth and well-being – in many ways paying forward the lessons they learned at the Entrepinays Summit in 2018.

“At the summit, I learned that, with this community we’re never alone. We might have fear that maybe something wont work. But you know that behind you there is a wildfire of support and love. I don’t water down my Pinay-ness anymore. I show up with my Pek Pek power shirt, and it’s just a whole new vibe. We feel great, because we know that we’re a part of something bigger than just selling skincare,” Jamie says.

Written by Paul Barrera.

HABIness: Weaving Identities Together

“Weaving came just at the right time into my life. It is a vehicle which, in a tactile and kinetic way, helps me deepen my process of  re-indigenization as an Ilocana.”

HABIness owner and dreamweaver Rachel Lozada with son Andres and his wife Jojo at UNDSCVRD’s October night market.

HABIness owner and dreamweaver Rachel Lozada with son Andres and his wife Jojo at UNDSCVRD’s October night market.

Rachel Lozada, owner and in her own words “dreamweaver” of HABIness, the textile and craft pop-up, is a veteran organizer and activist whose pedigree in community work literally spans the Pacific Ocean. Still, she notes a recent evolution in perspective as a key motivator for her foray into small business, specializing in handmade and handwoven textiles directly sourced from the Philippines many of which Rachel herself sews into more wearable contemporary-designed pieces. Rachel explains, “Habi” is the Pilipino word for “weave”, so HABIness is a play on words that evoke the happiness that weaving brings into my life.”

“I immigrated to the States when I was 30, so I didn't have the ‘stereotypical’ experience that most Fil-Ams might go through. I had been an activist in the Philippines since my mid- to late teens, and so the anti-colonization and anti-imperialist struggle was very much a focal point of my adult life. But the awakening to the need to reclaim my indigenous Ilocano identity came in the last six years, and into further fruition when I got involved with Kalingaforina Laga, a weaving circle of women promoting the art of Kalinga backstrap weaving called “laga”,” Rachel says.

With its strong affinity to Kalingafornia Laga, HABIness invites people to connect with the story and tradition of the meticulous traditional handicrafts of the Philippines. To explore that connection through the threads of their own lineage and hopefully gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of where they come from.

“Kalingafornia Laga weaving circle gradually grew out of a common desire to learn laga, the art of Kalinga back-strap weaving. But it’s about more than just learning to weave, it's a traditional art form, a conveyor of indigenous culture that has survived despite colonization. And our circle engages in place-making projects and activities for community to gather together and connect around common interests around our culture, history and our roots both in the homeland and here in Diaspora. It's very much a decolonization and maybe even a re-indigenization project and effort,if people awaken to that level,” Rachel says. And hers is a continuous process as she now begins to learn “abel”, the Ilocano weaving tradition.

Certainly, the spiritual process of reckoning with decolonization and re-indigenization is as unique to each person as their individual history. But through both Kalingafornia Laga and HABIness, it has become clear to Rachel that it’s a process that many if not most Filipinos in the diaspora are undertaking, and is only strengthened by forming strong bonds with others who share national, ethnic, linguistic, and generational ties.

“There is a real curiosity in the Filipino-American community to see more handicrafts like what  HABIness offers. There are so many issues within our community that stem directly from colonization. Dealing with that has to start somewhere, and a good place to start is by recognizing and using our Filipino ancestry and re-discovering our indigenous identities that have been eroded as a base for building our identity and community. Art is such an accessible vehicle – it's visual, it's tactile, and it’s even wearable – and I think weaving is such a powerful vehicle for folks to experience that connection to ancestry and open them up to aspects of their indigenous identity that is there for us to reclaim and rediscover,” Rachel says.

In turn, Rachel cites childhood memories of traditional, heritage crafts as yet another touchstone for her relationship with her lineage and, by extension, the ways that HABIness looks to help its community strengthen their own connections to their roots.

“Growing up, my grandparents on my father's side would always give me and my siblings Ilocano woven blankets. They were beautiful. So I always had this romantic thing about weaving, something that I approached with the mindset of ‘Oh, it’s so pretty and I love it, but I could never do it. It’s too hard for me.’ And then as I learned to weave and furthered my practice, I found that it was also deepening my process of resurfacing my indigenous identity,” Rachel says.

As she continues to unravel the history and craft of weaving and her personal relationship with the practice, she has found that being part of the rising tide of entrepreneurs and small business owners concentrated here in the San Francisco diaspora constitutes a serious responsibility to the indigenous identity that all Filipinx people share.

“I think there's that umbrella of Filipino or Pinay-Pinoy entrepreneurship, whether it's Filipino-oriented graphic tee shirts, books, textiles, hand-carved pendants, or baybayin calligraphy on postcards – these are sacred pieces because, in these forms, they are vehicles for us to convey culture - especially indigenous culture - that has been eroded, suppressed, and marginalized within Philippine culture as well. That's a very powerful process for our people to engage in,” Rachel says.

In that way, people who come to Undiscovered SF and take home or buy a gift of an Ilocano weave sewn into a contemporary wrap or scarf from HABIness are doing even more than just supporting local business, or even growing the Filipino Cultural Heritage District. They’re preserving traditions that are hundreds of years old and helping advance alongside their rightful bearers as Filipinx people continue to connect and make community.

“For me, HABIness is a way for myself and for others to publicly manifest  our proud identity as ‘Filipinos Living In The Diaspora,’ or ‘Filipino-Americans’ or however people want to identify. My hope is that HABIness contributes to inspiring Filipino people into centering ourselves and making our voices heard and positively project our place in society. I want to encourage people to learn more about weaving and handmade crafts as a tradition and a language of our people!”

Written by Paul Barrera and Cat Jimenez.

RetailCat Jimenezretail
Modern Filipino Vibe of The Family Room

“My grade-school niece designs the packaging for all the buttons we produce. We as a family voted on her designs, and she created eight designs of color with no text, and we picked the top three. And every time I see her, she asks if any buttons have sold. And that's what I want to pass along, because that's how I was put onto the scene here in the City.”



Solo behind the immaculate white counter at The Family Room on Hyde Street, Andy Alvarado reaches over a cup of black pour-over coffee to indicate a pegboard hook hung with small rectangles of white cardstock, each printed with striking bands of color done in a child’s hand. The hand-crafted buttons represent just one of The Family Room’s large selection of small-run products and publications; the vibe of the space reflects Andy’s understanding of the aesthetic and experience of a modern Filipino family room.

“It’s my take on the Filipino family rooms I grew up in. We keep the traditional sculpture of Mother Mary in the corner, incognito, a white piece on a white wall, blessing people as they enter and leave, but we’ve also created a more modern grotto around her. Growing up, the family room at my house was the place where everybody kicked it after school. And thats what I wanted The Family Room to be — a part of the community where people can chill and check out the things we’ve made and the things I’ve seen that I like, and share a good cup of coffee.”


Andy says that the coffee bar element of The Family Room is just as important to the experience of the space as the wares and décor, emphasizing a feeling of quality in simplicity: a cozy, comfortable setting that welcomes creative thinking.

“The inspiration of the store, being very small, was the Japanese idea of a one-man shop, but I wanted to have a Hawaiian, chill vibe, and also bring the Filipino culture that I had grown up with. I use Spam cans as my planters in the window, and of course I serve the fifty-cent Pan de Sal. In this neighborhood, everyone lines up to buy the Cronuts, and pays lots of money for expensive donuts. I wanted to showcase a simple bakery good for a good price that represented a powerful childhood memory for me. And it goes well with the coffee I serve -- and the coffee I serve is always, always black. Paired with the Pan de Sal, it’s like an Asian-American version of tea and crackers.”

Creating lasting experiences of design — where elements of food, style, and art intersect — has been, Andy says, a primary challenge of The Family Room since it opened in December 2015, and something he stresses is only truly achievable through the development and upkeep of a physical space.

“I get a lot of inspiration from Benny Gold right now. When he moved to his store in the Mission, he talked about the importance of having a brick-and-mortar store because it's not just the products, it's the relationships you build through being a place where people hang out. So, us being The Family Room in the Tenderloin, we're trying to be that entertainment space for the people around here who have small apartments. They can come chill and have a drink, check out the goods, and see one of the art shows we have hanging, or peep the newest issue of Franchise and have a conversation.”



The Family Room’s Tenderloin location keeps it plugged in with other destination boutiques like Handsome Oxford and Hero Shop, as well as the art crowds spilling out of the galleries on Larkin. Andy says that local skaters bombing Hyde hill often stop in for coffee, but that he also gets visitors from around the globe — something he enjoys not just as a businessman, but as a person trying to grow community around good quality design.

“I don’t want to be one of those online-only, Instagram brands. Handsome Oxford is a great example of that, just up the street from us -- people from Japan fly into the City, and Handsome Oxford is their first stop off the plane. I want that to be a thing here at The Family Room. Once, a customer flew in from Korea. She had followed us on Instagram, and she said we were her first stop once she checked into her hotel. A space like this is cool because it is so small that you get to meet the creator, you get to meet the designer, and get the story of how it came about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer you get to see that up close. Sometimes, I feel like my mom, always trying to clean and fix things! But it's a great joy. My wife and I have met a lot of people through this physical store that we just could not meet online -- bar owners, restaurant owners, artists, and without this store, we might not have made those relationships.”


Andy’s personal emphasis on relationships and conversations is something he’s proud to present through The Family Room, and something he sees blossoming through the tremendous network of Filipino creators gathering each month at Undiscovered SF.

“I think things are looking up for Filipinos in the City right now. With this new push through Undiscovered SF and SOMA Pilipinas, we’re seeing younger Filipinos want to get engaged and help create a future for Filipinos in the City. We’re seeing more and more Filipino-owned restaurants and more Filipino-owned shops, and I'm so glad that Undiscovered is providing those opportunities for all of us to be seen as vendors, as chefs, as artists, and as tastemakers.”