In this week’s #Wednesday Voices, we interviewed founders of purposeful businesses. Yvette Gaston of WVN Living and the Entrée Pinays co-founders Fides Mae Santos-Arguelles and Grace Guinto shared their advocacies, self-care practices, and advice for young businesswomen. These days business and advocacies go hand in hand.
Please give us a background on what do you do and what inspired you to establish your business?
Yvette and Kylie: Co-founders Kylie and Yvette were long-time friends and even football teammates before establishing the business. The inspiration really came from our desire to do something meaningful in our lives. What started as a road trip out of curiosity and love for travel became a passion project, which eventually became a business. When we immersed ourselves in our first partner artisan community, we found that they made beautiful handmade items and found out that the younger generation was not interested in the craft anymore, so there was nobody else to inherit the art of weaving. We decided that we would support the community in any way we could, and that's where it all began.
Fides and Grace: The Entree.Pinays is a collective of female entrepreneurs, creatives, food enthusiasts, and community builders. Co-Founders Fides Mae Santos-Arguelles and Grace Guinto with members Sandra Tan, Kristina Náray, Maysie Lecciones, and Felis Sarcepuedes work together to bring Filipino cuisine, culture, and communities to the hearts, minds, and taste buds of Australians on Wurundjeri country.
The Entree.Pinays name is a portmanteau for entree, meaning the first course of a western meal, and Pinay, the Tagalog word for female Filipino. Appropriate since each of us are food-loving and enterprising Filipinas.
We are a cultural advocacy group of six enterprising Filipina-Australians. We contribute our business, design, marketing, communications, and hospitality skills to champion Filipino cuisine, culture, and community through creative collaborations, community building, curated events, storytelling, and enterprise opportunities.
Being part of Melbourne’s Filipino network often means discovering that you are only “Juan degree separated” from the next Filipino, as most people are connected through a mutual friend, relative, or co-worker. Social media – particularly Instagram – played an important role in our origin story and remains central to our storytelling.
In 2017, facing a career crossroads, Fides reached out to Grace in admiration of her Filipino baked sweets on @sweet.cora.cakes. Ideas were exchanged over a glass of wine, and the seeds of a food-focused sisterhood were sown. Felis and Grace were acquainted through their siblings, and Kristina had come upon Felis’ radar following her successful Filipino food pop-up at the South Melbourne market at the Neff Kitchen.
Sandra began following the Entree.Pinays’ Instagram mid-2018, and by the end of the year was approached by the ladies to come on board as a media consultant given her professional expertise in copywriting and editorial. Maysie came to taste Grace’s home-baked kalamansi tart at the local Footscray Finds, a westside market held at The Line. Offering her photographic talent, Maysie soon joined the group as our visual designer and artistic director.
What is your advocacy
Kylie and Yvette : Our advocacy revolves around the partner communities that we serve. Our aim is to contribute to well-being (“ginhawa”) through the sustainability of Filipino artisanal craftsmanship (“gawa”). We believe that well-being includes economic, health and self-fulfillment (dignity) needs. Furthermore, craftsmanship is not only the act of making things, but has so much to do with culture and skill mastery. We map out our impact with these factors in mind. Looking ahead, we understand that the organization has a key role to play in ensuring that the craft of weaving is passed on to the younger generation in the communities we work with.
Fides and Grace: Community and food are at the heart of what we do. Food brought us together. And it serves as our call to action.
According to ABS 2019, Australia is home to more than 294,000 people of Filipino heritage; the fifth largest group of Australians born overseas; 3rd largest Asian migrant group behind Chinese and Indians. But despite being Australia’s food capital - with Filipino community festivals, turo turo eateries, popups at various markets, and sari-sari stores - Filipino cuisine remains underrepresented.
The Entree.Pinays exist to change this.
Our vision (what): For Filipino cuisine, culture, and community to be represented and celebrated in mainstream Australia.
Our purpose (why):
To combat any challenges and negative perceptions of our cuisine
To contribute to Melbourne’s reputation as a world-class gastronomic destination
To discover, or re-discover, our Filipino heritage and cement our Australian-Filipino identity
To develop, connect and empower a global sisterhood of Entree.Pinays and allies
Through storytelling, educate the broader Australian public on the true value of Filipino produce, the way we cook, and the way we eat.
Engage, inspire and grow with a global community of cultural champions
Create and deliver a curated program of unique experiences to celebrate Filipino heritage through food (this now includes virtual eg, In My Kusina & Coffee or Cocktails & Chikahan)
Lead and support commercial and social advancement efforts for Australian-Filipinos in collaboration with leaders and change-makers in government, business, and industry
What self-care practices did you adopt during the pandemic
Yvette: I've been wearing several hats lately, but mostly as a co-founder of WVN and as a masteral student. I'm also the type to think that it's our duty to make sure our external roles and responsibilities are the main priority in such troubling times. My well-being took a back seat, and the mental and physical toll eventually caught up.
I had to think about what self-compassion truly meant for me and deliberately plan out steps to regain strength again. I started small by journaling, expressing gratitude, and improving my diet. I eventually added back workouts, created a daily skincare routine, and took a weekend leave recently. Though my schedule hasn't lightened up, I find myself ending my days with more energy than before. Just last Sunday, I made time to watch My Fair Lady for the first time on Netflix. We should never feel guilty for taking time for ourselves and getting some rest.
Kylie: Living through the pandemic has really taught me a lot about routine. I'm not really a person of habit, but because of the occasional anxiety that comes with this new world, I have been able to adopt practices, or wellbeing tools as I call them, that have come in handy when I need them. Every day, I own a slice of my morning that's just mine by doing meditation, yoga and exercising. This has really helped me center myself and give some self-love before I start my busy day. When I have a little more time, my way of "earthing" is getting a breath of fresh air by walking the dogs.
Fides and Grace: Melbourne lockdowns in Australia have been the longest yet nationwide. It has been over 18 months of being in and out of lockdown since March 2020, with Lockdown 6.0 in Melbourne coinciding with the recent ECQ that came into effect in Manila on 6 August.
Whilst understandably frustrating, the Lockdowns have afforded us the opportunity to pause, learn, reimagine, build community, and have a social impact. We shifted gears with events postponed or canceled and created new ways to uplift, educate, and connect virtually.
And so can you. Find new ways to connect with your customers, supporters, and community. For example, how about launching a #ISOcooking segment through your IG account, where you cook together whilst apart, which may even be supplemented by a home delivery service of key ingredients or pantry staples. We launched our version of this through IN MY KUSINA (kusina meaning kitchen in Tagalog). We used it as a weekly segment to connect with furloughed Filipino chefs and home cooks to share stories and recipes of their favorite dishes. Our IMK segment has featured friends from the F&B industry from Manila and Melbourne to beyond, which includes Chef Jordy Navarra and Chef JP Cruz of Toyo Eatery and the formidable Kylie Javier-Ashton, award-winning restaurant manager of Sydney's Momofuku Seiōbo. Post lockdown, we get to bring IMK in real life to MFWF's 2021 winter program (to celebrate the versatility of calamansi. We'll host this luncheon where we show our guests how to enjoy, cook and feast on a series of dishes inspired by calamansi that takes you on a journey across the Philippines archipelago to Wurundjeri country. In the center of these cultural and culinary conversations, The Entree.Pinays will show their love and appreciation for this humble fruit, one that is undervalued in its abundance in the Philippines but so revered in its scarcity in the Filipino diaspora.
Also, use this time to focus on community efforts to help those in greater need. To combat food wastage, look to create ready-made meals that can be given to those experiencing food insecurity. We rallied our Filipino restaurants and food businesses to donate supplies included in food/ grocery packages to struggling Filipino international students without government support. Food for good. Food in action.
What advice would you give to young women who plan to make a business similar to yours in the future?
Yvette: I would encourage anyone who has an idea they want to pursue to try it out. WVN Living started out as a weekend passion project we explored after work hours, and it took a few years for us to transition to focusing on this full-time. We don't always know if what we're doing is right, but we do find ourselves challenging our personal status quo. Five years in, we still end up encountering the unexpected, but as long as we stick to our values, I feel we will be alright. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask other entrepreneurs for advice or seek out mentors. I value consistency and collaboration greatly - nothing is ever really achieved on your own (most times, it takes a village).
Kylie: Unfortunately, women still face so many roadblocks and challenges, so it is important to be surrounded by a reliable support system – be it family, friends, fellow entrepreneurs or a community. Find a tribe that will get you to thrive.
Fides and Grace: Community and food are at the heart of what The Entree.Pinays do. Community is the 'pamana' (legacy) that our parents built for us to evoke that sense of belonging when the world beyond the four walls of our home may have denied us that feeling. And now that we are parents ourselves, the community is what continues to inspire us to build for those who come after us.
If you centre community in your business activities, you will find ways to differentiate your offerings from the typical business focused on financial returns and profit. That is the inspiration to our latest foray - a social enterprise called MERKADO. It is a marketplace that represents The Entree. Pinays' evolution and growth and showcases meaningful must-haves where each purchase supports dreams, livelihoods, and community. An online marketplace to discover and celebrate all things Filipino owned, made, and sourced from our barrio of makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and thoughtful brands – both near and far. We hope you join our BALIKBAYAN journey and learn more about the stories of our merchant partners on Merkado.
During the lockdown, we all play a role in getting to the other side. Stay home, stay safe, get vaccinated. To pause. Be present. Stay connected with family, friends, and community. If you can, support small businesses. And most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself, acknowledge that it's ok not to be ok, and seek help.