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How OFX helps social enterprise Cambio & Co. make every dollar count

When Gelaine Santiago visited the Philippines for the first time as an adult, it was a turning point for both her personal and professional life. 

In her father’s hometown, she felt just how disconnected she was from her Filipino roots. Through her attempt to rediscover the country she was born in, she met a thriving social enterprise community that championed sustainable commerce.

Inspired by the “business for social good” model, she and her husband Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer, returned to Toronto, Canada with their own social enterprise startup in mind.

Cambio & Co. co-founders Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer and Gelaine Santiago

How Cambio & Co. evolved into a global social enterprise

At first they started ChooseSocial.PH, a crowdsourced online directory of social enterprises in the Philippines. But slowly they started to get messages from all over the world: “How can I purchase this product?” “Where can I buy this online?”

What started out as a way to make Filipino social enterprises searchable on Google, eventually blossomed into Cambio & Co., a Canadian-based retail brand that exclusively features sustainable fashion, handcrafted jewelry and accessories by Filipino artisans. 

“For us, we’re not just a retailer that re-sells products. It’s about building relationships and building bridges between the diaspora and the Philippines – both in terms of our customers and our artisans,” said Gelaine.

Our mission is to create sustainable livelihood for traditional artisans in the Philippines and also to empower Filipinos across the diaspora to wear their heritage.

They choose only a handful of suppliers to source from, carefully vetting them based on sustainable and ethical factors like upcycled or locally-sourced materials, good labor practices and traditional craftsmanship. 

AMAMI jewelry are handcrafted by Filipino artisans in Ilocos using the rare art of gold filigree, a pre-colonial Indigenous technique.

“We work with partners who we trust to ensure that artisans are getting fair pay, and their crafts are being valued.” 

They soon found out there was quite an appetite for sustainable fashion rooted in Filipino identity and heritage around the globe. They eventually opened a sister company called Sinta & Co., offering Filipino wedding accessories for couples in the diaspora having a hard time sourcing traditional items from where they lived.

OFX helps Cambio & Co. streamline global payments and save on fees

Though Cambio & Co. ships worldwide, many of their customers today are based in North America. As their customer base in the United States grew, they hit a new roadblock. 

They wanted to use their revenue – which was mostly in USD sitting in a Canadian bank account – to pay artisans in the Philippines. 

The problem? “Converting within the bank system was pretty bad. We had to pay conversion fees in USD to CAD and then CAD to PHP.”

There was a point at which we wouldn’t touch our USD funds, because we knew we’d have to lose so much.

Cambio & Co. aims to pay artisans the best possible price for a sustainable livelihood. High foreign exchange fees derailed them from this mission.

They needed to find a currency exchange provider with rates and fees that wouldn’t eat into their profit margins.

Rags2Riches bags are woven from upcycled, overstock cloth and Indigenous fabrics.

On top of this, they couldn’t make direct bank-to-bank transfers from their Canadian bank to partners’ Filipino banks. After losing out on high conversion fees, they would then need to use an international payment gateway to transfer the funds to their partners in the Philippines. Payment gateways usually charge between 1.5% to 3.5% on every transaction. 

“It was important to pay our partners directly to their bank accounts. We didn’t want them losing an extra 3% to fees,” said Jérôme. 

I was looking for a solution to a problem, and that’s how I found OFX.

Now with OFX, they are able to transfer their USD revenue straight to PHP, cutting out CAD conversions and unnecessary costs. Plus, they can send directly to bank accounts in the Philippines, eliminating extra fees from payment gateways. 

“The only ways that we can save on costs is everything in between once we’ve already received and paid for the products from our artisan partners. So every little thing, including conversion and transaction fees, makes a big difference. Especially because we send international payments all the time.” 

So how would Gelaine and Jerome describe OFX in one word? “Seamless.”

“It just works. At the end of the day, I need something that’s reliable and it needs to work.” 

Quick tips:

Gelaine Santiago and Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer, co-founders of Cambio & Co. and Sinta & Co. share their quick tips to growing an eCommerce business

  1. Serve your customer unapologetically. The more specialized and niche you can get, the easier your business will be.
  2. Focus on the story, not only the product. If you want to build a brand, you have to be intentional about your story and what your product means.
  3. Start small and then scale later. Test and learn.

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