Coming off of a very exciting (and successful!) fair trade pop-up shop experience for her company Cambio Market in Toronto, our very own Community Manager, Gelaine, seemed like the perfect fit. Now only does she help curate the aesthetic of our accounts, but she runs social for other brands and owns her own business at the same time! Can we say major #girlBOSS?
1. First off, share a little about YOU. Who is Gelaine Santiago?
Hi everyone! I'm an entrepreneur and content marketer based in Toronto. I started my own business called Cambio Market two years ago with my business partner (who also happens to be my romantic partner). Cambio Market is an online shop for products handcrafted and designed in the Philippines, with a commitment to fair trade and slow fashion principles. We work with local Filipino entrepreneurs and artisans with the goal of sharing the beauty of Filipino craftsmanship with the rest of the world.
Outside of Cambio Market, I also work as a marketing consultant and community manager for awesome brands like Work It Social and Neighbourhood of Nothing.
2. What inspired you to launch Cambio Market?
Its been a loooong journey. While I was in university, I was heavily involved in a non-profit called AIESEC, which introduced me to the idea that business could be a force for social good. After university, I became obsessed with the idea of starting my own social business and creating positive impact. I'm Filipino-Chinese, born in the Philippines but raised in Canada, and following university I had a chance to return to the Philippines for the first time since I was two years old.
While I was there with my partner Jérôme, we discovered an amazing community of young, ambitious Filipino entrepreneurs. They were creating products like jewellery made out of old T-shirts, cards that empowered women rescued from sex trafficking, and bags that provided dignified livelihood to indigenous artisans. We fell in love with their products, and realized there was an opportunity to help these Filipino brands grow by getting their story out in front of a larger audience. So Jérôme and I both quit our corporate jobs (he was in IT and I was in HR), and we decided to create Cambio Market.
3. What’s it like running a business with your fiance?
So amazing. Every relationship is different, and plenty of people would find it challenging to mix business and romance. In my case, I couldn't imagine going on this journey with anyone else! Starting a business is an insane emotional roller coaster with lots of highs and lows. Because we're going through this journey together, Jérôme and I can better support one another because we know exactly what the other person is going through.
The other great thing is that we both complement each other so well. I'm more of the creative, emotional, and outgoing type while Jérôme is more rational, technical, and detail-oriented. We balance each other really well and I love that I get to spend so much time with my favourite person.
4. What has been the biggest challenge in starting and growing your business?
Really defining who we are and what we stand for has been a huge challenge. During our first year in business, we struggled to identify what we stood for. What kind of products should we have? What's our aesthetic? Who is our customer? Should we have products only from Philippines or should we diversify? I spent way too much time and energy in the first year and a half of our business trying to please everyone else and trying to be like our competitors. Once we decided to forget all that stuff, to ignore what the competition is doing, and just really focus on what WE want to do and to carve out a market for ourselves, then everything began to fit together more easily.
5. How do you find and attract your customers?
When we first launched Cambio Market, we thought we could grow our brand solely online. But what we quickly realized is that online and offline marketing need to work hand in hand. So we put a lot of energy into organizing experiential and buzz-worthy events (like our recent Halo Halo Pop-Up, which was featured in BlogTO). Then we use social media and our email newsletters as a way to constantly engage our customers and develop deeper relationships with them. Outside of events, most people come through social media and Google. Instagram is our biggest platform where a lot of people discover us, and we invest in ensuring our website is SEO-friendly and our social channels are up to date.
6. Where do you see Cambio Market in the next three years?
I'd definitely love to see us with a full team in North America and the Philippines (right now, it's just Jérôme and I). I also would love to collaborate with local designers to create exclusive Cambio collections handcrafted by Filipino artisans. And I would also like to branch out into more product categories, such as clothing and shoes (right now, our main focus is jewellery and bags).
7. Any advice for your fellow entrepreneurs out there?
Many entrepreneurs I know are so afraid of specializing because they think it will box them in and limit their brand. From my experience, it was only once Cambio Market chose to specialize in Filipino products that our brand actually grew! Suddenly you have a focus and you can be much more intentional about what projects you take on, what you invest in, and who you partner with. Plus, you can develop a much more meaningful relationship with your customers because they know what you stand for and who you are. I should also add that over half of our customers are non-Filipino. They just love our style and what we stand for, so you really don't need to be afraid of claiming a niche!
8. How do you #workit everyday?
Balancing a business and clients on the side is hugely challenging, and it means I have to be extremely organized. I love making lists, so I begin every Monday with a list of weekly priorities which I then break down per day. I categorize my tasks based on urgency and importance (based on Stephen Covey's urgent/important matrix) and schedule my time from there. My calendar is my best friend, and I schedule everything in there. With that said, being flexible and making time for my friends and family are extremely important to me, so I also make sure I allot time for social events, too. All work and no play is no good for anyone!