MANILA – In a tropical country like the Philippines, it’s common to see people, mostly girls and women, keeping their hair up in ponytails. Malls, markets, and even sidewalk vendors have an abundance of hair ties in all styles and designs. There are plain ones, and there are colorful ones. Some are tight, and some are loose.
Ponytail holders are not only used to hold someone's hair in place while they washed their faces, but they are also a fashion statement, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In the past year, they’re starting to be trendy again. Enterprising Filipinas like Rolanda “Dhang” Morales De Jesus, 32, are taking advantage of this trend to earn extra income for her family amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
As an administrative staff in Malabon National High School, De Jesus earned enough money to provide a good life for her family. But there were always additional expenses to pay, and she needed another way to make more money. She started by selling hygiene items such as alcohol, face masks, and face shields, selling food such as bagoong, and atsara (or atchara), and other catering services. However, sales eventually slowed down.
“Kailangan ko ng iba pang pagkakitaan kasi dito sa family, dalawa yung nawalan ng trabaho. Ako, suwerte, luckily, hindi naman ako natanggal kaya tuloy pa rin yung suweldo ko (I needed another way to earn money because in my family, two lost their jobs. Me, I was lucky I didn’t lose my job that’s why I continue to receive salary),” she told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.
One day, she went browsing for ideas online until she found a business idea that eventually made her known as the go-to scrunchie store in Malabon City. Her business idea blossomed and became “Neyhann’s Sari-Sari Collections.”
“Sabi ko, ponytail [holder] kaya? Kasi yung sa online, walang masyado nun e. Nag-isip ako yung wala masyado. So nag-search ako sa YouTube, na-search ko na ang tawag pala scrunchie (I thought, what about ponytail holders? Because there were only a few selling them online. So I went on YouTube and found out what they called scrunchies),” she said.
Determined to start as soon as possible, she started teaching herself how to sew, purchasing cotton and silk cloth which she used as materials until she had enough to make at least 50 pieces by hand. It wasn’t easy, so she decided to buy herself a small sewing machine and was able to make about 300 more.
Soon enough, she started having resellers, mostly high school and college students who also needed extra cash to pay for tuition and gadgets for distance learning.
“May mga reseller ako -- mga college students, grade 11, 12. Natutuwa naman ako kasi nakakatulong ako sa kanila (I have resellers - college students and grades 11 and 12. It makes me happy because I can help them earn),” she said.
But her sewing machine was not designed for heavy work, so it eventually broke down. De Jesus had to rethink her business idea.
According to De Jesus, she would have given up on her scrunchie business if it weren’t for her friend, Rhuby, who gifted her with a heavy-duty sewing machine that cost around PHP5,000.
“Nung October, birthday ko. Inisip ko, ‘Sana may magregalo ng sewing machine’. Tapos may nagbigay, office mate ko (Last October, it was my birthday. I thought ‘I hope someone gifts me with a sewing machine.’ And then someone actually gave me one, my office mate),” she said.
She said it was her friend who pushed her to pursue her business venture when she was on the verge of giving up because she knew it was something that she was passionate about.
“Ang balak ko talaga ihinto na kasi wala naman din akong pambili ng machine. Although may trabaho ako, may kailangan kasi akong iba. Sabi niya, ‘Hindi, ituloy mo ‘yan. Ayan, bumili ka ngayon ng sewing machine (I intended to stop because I couldn’t afford to buy a sewing machine. Although I have work, I need to prioritize other things. But she said, ‘No, continue. Buy a sewing machine,’)” she added.
De Jesus stressed the importance of having friends who not only support her dreams, but also build her confidence when she feels unsure.
“Sila yung mga pushers ko, ganun. Kailangan may mga kaibigan kang naka suporta sa’yo kasi kung ikaw lang at walang sumusuporta, parang hindi mo kakayanin (They’re the ones who push me. We should have friends who support us because if it’s just you, you won’t be able to handle it),” she said.
The word “Neyhann” is actually a portmanteau of “hon” from “honey”, her term of endearment for her husband Jonar, and the names of their two sons, Yohann, 10, and Giovann, 7.
From time to time, her family members, including her 62-year-old mother and cousin, help her throughout the process of making and selling scrunchies.
De Jesus said she’s the only person in the family who uses scrunchies, but should she have a daughter in the future, she’ll definitely make sure she has all the styles and colors.
Currently, there are about 35 different scrunchie colors and designs available in her shop, which usually cost PHP15 (in retail) or PHP12 per piece (in wholesale or 100 to 500 pieces). But she also sells them in cardboard and wooden boxes as well as pouches.
A cardboard box with six scrunchies of any design or color cost PHP85 while a cardboard box with 15 scrunchies of any design or color cost PHP215. A wooden box with six scrunchies of any design or color cost PHP115.
When placed in a pouch, three scrunchies of any design or color costs only PHP55.
The latest additions to her collection are scrunchie clips and headbands also made of cotton or silk.
“Halos lahat ng colors mabenta e. Kasi hindi ako nagi-stick sa isang kulay lang. Kunwari may na-discover akong ibang kulay na silk or printed na colors, gina-grab ko ‘yun para maiba yung tingin ng tao. Nauubos naman siya (All colors are saleable. I don’t think of one color. For example, when I discover a new color or print, I grab them so people will see these as unique. These always sell out),” she said.
Her favorite place to shop for cotton and silk is in Tondo, Manila because they are cheaper there. It’s also where she purchases items to decorate her boxes and pouches.
Cotton and silk, she said, are ideal fabric that are used to make her scrunchies because they have less tension than regular hair ties and don't leave a dent in people's hair.
The joy in sewing
De Jesus didn't get to enjoy scrunchies when she was younger, instead she tied her hair using regular hair ties, sometimes even rubber bands. But now, she’s making up for all the years she didn’t get to accessorize that much.
“Parang gustong ibalik yung style ng ‘90s. Ngayon, medyo nag-evolve lang siya dahil mga silk na, makikintab, maraming kulay tsaka mas maraming designs ngayon (It seems people want to bring back the ‘90s style. Now, scrunchies have evolved because they use silk, which are shinier, and more colorful cloth, and there are more designs now),” she said.
She also makes it a point to ensure that her scrunchies are top quality -- which means there’s no place for incorrect stiches.
“Kahit mura yung product, dapat may quality din para laban (Even if it’s cheap, it should be of good quality)!” she said.
For her, sewing scrunchies doesn’t feel like a job at all. She said that she finds joy making them and making younger customers happy when they use scrunchies.
“Tuwang-tuwa ako sa ginagawa. Gustung-gusto ko siya kasi nung bata, hindi ko siya naranasan e. Parang naliligayahan ka habang nagtatahi ka kasi ang kulay-kulay ng nakikita mo (I’m really happy with what I do. I really like doing it because when I was younger, I didn’t get to experience them. It makes me happy while I sew because what I am sewing is colorful),” she said.
While she initially had doubts, de Jesus said she trusted her gut feeling and took a risk because it was something she felt that she would genuinely enjoy.
“Isipin mo muna kung sure ka doon sa business na gagawin mo, kung magiging masaya ka ba, kung yun yung passion mo. Kasi kung hindi mo passion ang gusto mo, hindi magki-click (You must be sure first if you really want to pursue your business, if you will be happy, if it is your passion. Because if it is not your passion, it won’t click),” she said. (PNA)