Hello! I’m Reese Fernandez-Ruiz!
I am the co-founder and President of a fashion social enterprise called R2R (Rags2Riches) and an online marketplace of products & experiences with purpose called Things That Matter. In between working and being a mom & wife, I also give talks and workshops in different parts of the world, work with brands I love, and create opportunities for others.
A few more things about me:
My full name is (get ready for this), Therese Clarence Arellano Chua Fernandez (now add – Ruiz). I did not like my super long name when I was younger so I “stole” the name of one of my prep school classmates (who never showed up for class – I had nothing to do with it, I promise) named Emily. For a whole week, every time my teacher called Emily, I would raise my hand and say “present”.
So Therese was absent for one whole week. It got sorted out eventually and I learned to love my super long name too. But when I reached college, someone (I forgot who), decided to shorten my name to Reese. It stuck and never left me since. =)
My full-time work/mission – I am the President and Founding Partner of Rags2Riches, Inc. (R2R), a Fashion and Design House empowering community artisans based in the Philippines that creates urban artisanal home and fashion masterpieces. We make things that matter and weave joy into every story.:) And November 2017, I also founded Things That Matter, a joyful marketplace that creates positive impact and inspires an intentional lifestyle. But it is more than just a one-stop shop for all beautiful and meaningful products. It is also a community of advocates who are creating a better world, one intentional decision at a time.
So far, I have over a decade of experience in trying, failing, succeeding, failing, and trying again to build a social enterprise in a developing country. I organised boards, built teams, worked with impact/angel investors, built financial models, built business models, created & implemented business plans, dealt with international buyers, built an online store, facilitated design sessions, managed finance and cash flow, raised funds, helped build community livelihood groups, cleaned the office, photocopied documents, took calls — basically everything it took to run a social enterprise (NOTE: I’m not a self-made anything. These were all done with a wonderful team who kept things together, including me) — and did all of these and more with both success stories and cautionary tales.
I wanted to be an actress and singer when I was younger. As in I auditioned for a kid/teen show but my headband was too tight and my forehead was too high (not a good combination) so my face took over the whole screen and left no space for the other kids. That was not good. So I did not get in but I never stopped singing. I still do competitive karaoke these days. Yes, you may contact me for that too.
I married my crush. Mark is also a founding partner of R2R and I had a crush on him for a long time before we finally got together. I’ll (maybe) share my “moves” and strategies in one of my posts. Or not. Let’s see (insert nervous laughter).
Before the age of 30, I was able to do a lot of things in my life that I absolutely appreciate and will look back to with fondness and pride. I was able to travel (mostly sponsored) to the US (various cities), Paris, Nice, Monaco, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Geneva, Zurich, Bern, Lausanne, St. Gallen, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Milan, Florence, Rome, Shanghai, Dalian, Sydney, and different parts of the Philippines too! I represented our company and country to different conferences and gathering of leaders including Forbes 30 Under 30, World Economic Forum, One Young World, and many more.
BUT. While I love these experiences, it is easy to get lost in them and think that they are the results. They are not. Some of them are the world’s way of telling me that we are on to something. But they are not indicators that we have arrived. So while I’ll keep the pictures and the memories, I’ll always, always go back to the purpose of why I’m doing this in the first place.
So what’s my WHY? My WHY is bigger than the artisan communities we are in partnership with today. Sure, the artisans we work with are my friends and family and they definitely keep me going. But it does not end there. My WHY is about my belief that every single good we do, every door we open for others, and every decision we make with love, will lead to a better world for all. Why is this important to me? Well, I live in the world. The people I love the most live in this world. The walls we built around ourselves actually do not exist. It may sound like a Ms. Universe answer, but I truly believe this and feel it to my core.
My WHY has evolved throughout the years too. It used to be finite and time-bound (like lift 500 artisans out of poverty, etc.), and that was great! But I realised that finite & time-bound things should be milestones, not my reasons-for-being. Strong WHYs should be long-term, enduring, and strong enough to survive & surpass setbacks, delays, pain, disappointments, and failure.
So why am I here?
For a long time, I was writing for myself. I LOVED talking to myself, scolding myself, and recording all my life hacks and realisations for the benefit of my future self (and future kids). But I recently realised that there may be more people out there who may benefit from the lessons I have learned as well! Since I write anyway, why not share them? So here I am, sharing. I am not an expert or a guru, just a normal person who is figuring out a lot of things too. Let’s figure things out together!