"Cambio Market: Sharing Filipino Ingenuity With The World" by Gelaine Santiago

Last year, Jerome and I both quit our corporate jobs and decided to embark on a new adventure. We launched Cambio Market on a whim of sorts, no expectations or long-term plan. All we had was this burning desire to do something more, to inject meaning and impact into our very comfortable, easy lives here in Toronto. Little did we realize how near and far our whim of an adventure would take us. 

Cambio Market is an online shop for socially responsible products. When coming up with a name for our business, Jerome and I tossed various ideas around – Socent Market? Shop Social? The one thing that resonated with us was this idea of change. We want to change what it means to be a business. We want to change how people shop. We want to prove that you CAN be successful and ethical in business; that there’s more to giving back than donating money to charity. As an individual, every decision you make about what you buy and where you shop is a declaration of the kind of world you want to live in. Change through everyday action.

“What about Cambio Market?” I asked late one night when we were up chatting in bed. I looked at Jerome with anticipation as I saw the gears in his head turning, giving way to a tentative nod. Jerome and I are real latinophiles and studied Spanish for years. “Cambio” in Spanish means “change”. Cam-bee-oh. The word rolled effortlessly off our tongues. That was it. We’re Cambio Market

In our shop, we curate handmade, fair trade, and ethically sourced products from carefully selected partners. We only work with brands who are committed to fair business practices and won’t sacrifice people and planet for profit. Starting Cambio Market has been this amazing roller coaster of emotions – big highs, many lows, and plenty of stomach churning moments. But one of the most rewarding things about Cambio Market is that it’s given me the ability to reconnect with something I thought I’d lost – my connection to the Philippines.

Most people don’t know this, but the Philippines is actually a hotbed for young, sexy, dynamic startups with a social purpose (a Silicon Valley for social enterprises, you could say). We first discovered the social enterprise community in 2012 when Jerome and I travelled to Philippines for a family trip. It was my first time back after moving to Canada when I was two (I was born in Bulacan) and it was Jerome’s first time visiting. We discovered one business making jewelry from old T-shirts, an agribusiness committed to providing steady income to Filipino farmers, and a fashion company hiring women from impoverished communities to create stylish bags. “There’s something happening here,” I recall Jerome saying. 

We dug further, more out of curiosity than anything else, and the list of social purpose businesses just kept growing. Once we returned home from our trip, we wanted to continue learning about these businesses but we soon discovered a key challenge: many of them didn’t have websites. There was no easy way to purchase their products or to learn about their work. As a passion project, we decided to launch ChooseSocial.PH – an online directory of social enterprises in the Philippines. It was a free resource to help people discover and explore the community of social enterprises in the country. After a year, ChooseSocial.PH ended up becoming a top result on Google and we were featured on Rappler in 2015. 

Despite the positive press, the hard reality is that social enterprises in Philippines (and around the world) struggle to grow and reach bigger markets for their products. When people began asking where they could purchase these products in North America, it was like a gift landed in our laps. What if we create a shop to sell these Filipino products here in Canada and the US? 

I have to admit we were a bit naïve when we first launched Cambio Market. We knew running a business would be tough, but we were nowhere near prepared for the challenges of managing an online business (and an ethical one at that). We’ve changed messaging and marketing multiple times, and have since expanded beyond Filipino products to also include brands in Guatemala, Canada, and the US. 

Despite the challenges and the changes we’ve experienced, one thing stays true: the world is full of amazing individuals and organizations committed to making our communities more inclusive, sustainable, and healthy. They deserve to grow. They should be commonplace in our homes, our offices, and our schools in Philippines and the world over. Cambio Market has given Jerome and I the opportunity and avenue to help make this a reality, and we can’t wait to share their stories and impact with you. 

Want to learn more about Cambio Market’s products and partners? Visit www.cambio.market or reach out to us at info@cambio.market!