5 LESSONS TO LIVE BY: A FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR SHARES WHAT SHE LEARNED AFTER 5 YEARS IN BUSINESS

5 LESSONS TO LIVE BY: A FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR SHARES WHAT SHE LEARNED AFTER 5 YEARS IN BUSINESS

As a Filipina entrepreneur, the last five years have taught me SO. MANY. THINGS. Not only about marketing, Filipino fashion, and culture, but how to also be a better human and uplift my kapwa Filipina.

It’s only been five years, though it really feels like 30. But like, a good kind of 30.

Every single year has been intense and packed. Like a tupperware full of baon after a Filipino gathering. You don’t think much can fit in there, but somehow through sheer Filipina willpower, you manage to pack it all in. That’s how each year feels: like one big, overflowing stack of baon, meant for you to enjoy long after the party’s over.

I carry every lesson I’ve learned these last five years as a Filipina entrepreneur with me in my journey. And I have y’all to thank―the amazing Filipinas, Filipinx, and FIlipinos in the community who’ve supported our growth, learning, unlearning, and social impact. We wouldn’t be here without you all. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you all, and today I wanna share some of my biggest learnings with you. 

If you’ve been seeking ways to reconnect with your Filipino heritage, improve your relationship with yourself, or simply move closer towards building a life you can be damn proud of, this is for you.

Here are five years worth of lessons you can apply to all areas of life, as told by yours truly, a Fiipina entrepreneur. 

FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR LESSON, YEAR 1: IT’S OKAY TO DO THINGS WRONG, REALLY.

As a kid, I’d bring home report cards with 95s and my parents would ask, “What happened to the other 5%?”

Questions like that haunt us into adulthood: Where’s the rest of the 5%? 

And then it becomes, “If I can’t do it at 100, maybe I shouldn’t do it at all.”

As Filipinas, we’re told to strive for perfection. We tell ourselves if we can’t work out five times a week, we shouldn’t bother working out at all. We think that if we can’t write a novel, there’s no point writing a short story. If we’ll never get paid for our art, why create art in the first place?

When we first launched Cambio & Co. in 2015, I was 25 years old. We didn’t know a thing about selling products online. Our website was awful. I made our first logo on Canva on my iPad. We didn’t know about merchandising, so we sold a random assortment of products―from scrunchies and greeting cards, to even candles and beanies. 


A photo from five years ago. We initially launched as Cambio Market, with a Canva-made logo and a random assortment of products because we knew zero things about merchandising!

When I see photos from 2015, I cringe hard. But I also practice gratitude. 

Doing things wrong taught me what it meant to do things right. We learned about the kind of products we wanted to carry, the sort of people we wanted to work with, what we were good at, and what we were not so good at. We learned more from our failures than we did from our wins. 

Creativity takes courage. Don’t be afraid to start things, stop things, experiment and learn. Never allow your need to be ‘perfect’ get in the way of starting. You will never be perfect, but you can always be brave. Be brave enough to mess up. It’s okay to do it wrong as long as you learn from it. 

FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR LESSON,YEAR 2: GRIT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TALENT.

All those Forbes 30 Under 30 lists sound glamorous, but they’re not the full picture. Behind every success story is another story of failure, learning, failing again, and learning some more. 

Now that we’re five years in, we’ve got some wonderful achievements under our belt. We were featured in Cosmo Magazine, we’ve won awards, we now run a sister company focused on Filipino weddings, and we’ve got a growing team in the Philippines

But there’s A LOT beneath the surface.

Through our second year, I had to moonlight as a receptionist at a real estate office to pay the bills. Most people don’t realize that even five years in, Jérôme and I still don’t take a salary from our business (we freelance instead). What many have not seen are the near-death experiences and the times I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” 

If there’s one thing I learned most from our second year in business, it’s that grit will get you further than talent ever will.  You have to believe in your idea. You have to be committed to your craft. You have to hold yourself accountable to your community. 

Keep showing up. You only fail when you give up.

FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR LESSON, YEAR 3: STAND IN YOUR TRUTH.

The right choice isn’t always the popular choice. Eventually you have to trust your inner voice and stand in your truth.

Y’all know Cambio & Co. today as a Filipino fashion company. We unapologetically champion Filipin* excellence, create livelihood for Filipino artisans, and empower the diaspora to Wear Your Heritage. But when we first launched, we weren’t so bold. 

Critics told us not to focus on the Philippines. They said it would be a mistake. Nobody cares about the Philippines. Filipinos aren’t willing to pay for Philippine-made products. You’ll never be a real business, blah blah blah.

We had listened to them for a long time… until we didn’t. 

In 2018, we threw caution to the wind. We changed our name, championed only products that were designed and handcrafted in the Philippines, and centred our storytelling on the Filipino community. We decided if we were going to run a business, it had to be one we could be 100% proud of. 

It was the best decision we’ve ever made. 

Sure, we may have less potential customers now, but we don’t care. We exist to support Filipino artisans and to create bridges between the diaspora and the homeland. 

There’s so much freedom that comes with connecting with your inner Why. Allow your voice to lead you, and learn to trust in your truth. The haters will filter themselves out, and you’ll end up connecting with people who truly love and value you for who you are. 

FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR LESSON, YEAR 4: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE. 

Many of us were raised with strong role models who hustled without complaint, juggled multiple jobs, raised us, and showed up for the community. We’re taught to give of ourselves freely and generously, but we’re rarely taught to ask for generosity in return. 

At some point, we will all need help.

View this post on Instagram

Here’s to company milestones 🎉 🥂 @cambio_co has officially hired our first full-time employee!!! - @of_nicolette has been working with us for the past year on contract and it’s an honour to have her with us full-time. In just a year, she’s helped exponentially grow our IG following, delivered uplifting and educational content throughout the pandemic and protests, began managing our freelancers, and has taken our storytelling to new heights 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽. - I acknowledge that it’s an immense privilege to have the resources to hire and create employment during these dark times. No matter what, this is a responsibility I will never take lightly. Hiring good people is one of the hardest, but most important, things you can do in a business. And creating dignified, meaningful and fair employment is the responsibility of *every* employer. Period. - Also a BIG THANK YOU to @reesefeenandez of @rags2richesinc for introducing us!

A post shared by Gelaine Santiago (@gelainesantiago) on

Asking for help is one of the hardest lessons I’ve personally had to learn. I’m used to just pushing past exhaustion to get things done. But eventually I realized that if you want to do work that benefits the whole community, you need to involve the whole community. You can’t create systemic solutions working in a silo. 

Eventually, trying to go it alone becomes a disservice to the good you’re trying to create. 

Ask for help. Build a team of people. Reach out to your community for support. You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you can’t do it alone. And it may be hard to believe, but people want to help you. 

Sisterhood and community is, and has always been, core to our identities as Filipinas. Lean into it.

FILIPINA ENTREPRENEUR LESSON, YEAR 5: LIFT WHILE YOU CLIMB. 

Growth isn’t meaningful if it only benefits you. Your success has to exist for everyone.

Although Cambio & Co. is far from the top of the summit, we’ve reached incredible heights. We never would have made it without our dedicated artisan partners in the Philippines, and without outspoken advocates like you who proudly #WearYourHeritage and share our love for Filipino stories and deep conversations.

Over the last five years, I’ve loved building a community of Filipinas, Filipinx, and Filipinos who gather out of love and a desire to see each other succeed. Your approach to community has defined my approach as a Filipina entrepreneur. 

White supremacy tries to tell us different, but there is room for more than one of us at the table. If not, we’ll build our own damn table, room, stage, and stadium. 

Climb as high as you can go, and bring others up with you. Together, we can reach new heights.

What lesson has resonated with you most? And what life lessons do YOU live by as a Filipina or Filipinx?

You can also learn more about us at www.shopcambio.co

Want more insights from Filipina entrepreneurs into social enterprise, working with artisans, and fostering grit and resilience?

Join our virtual kwentuhan with Forbes' 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz of Rags2Riches! RSVP here.


Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine is a social entrepreneur, an online storyteller, and a passionate advocate for diversity and ethics in business. She’s the co-founder of Cambio & Co., an e-commerce fashion company working with Filipino artisans to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship, culture, and heritage. Gelaine is also one of the founders of Sinta & Co., the world’s first conscious Filipino wedding boutique. She was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. Find her on Instagram @gelainesantiago and www.gelainesantiago.com