Superpower on the Side is a series that features WeWork team members and how they spend their time when they’re not at work.
For their first in-person meeting, the three founders of MAAARI, an accessories and home-goods maker of sustainable, ethical Filipino-inspired products, traveled to the Philippines in 2016. The women—Samantha Roxas, Jeanette Sawyer, and Ivy Ocampo, all Filipino-American and former high school classmates—had built their company by phone and text over a year and were finally meeting to drive the business forward.
The co-founders made a powerful trio from the start: Roxas, who had 10 years working in politics and public policy focusing on issues like environmental and sustainability policies, equality, poverty, and workforce development, works on the impact side, researching and sourcing ethical and sustainable materials for MAAARI’s products. Sawyer makes the jewelry and designs the products, while Ocampo serves as creative director and brand strategist.
“We’ve always led from both a need for more sustainable and thoughtful products, but also uplifting Filipino art and culture,” Roxas says. “We didn’t see it anywhere in mainstream America, and we felt like we had a responsibility to do that.”
During that trip, the partners took a three-hour flight, a five-hour drive, and an hour-long hike to meet with the Daraghuyan Bukidnon tribe, an indigenous community in Mindanao that makes abaca weaves the women planned to use for their textiles. A community partner, ANTHILL Fabrics, helped organize the meeting, during which the tribe performed a ritual ceremony, prepared a meal for the visitors, and agreed to a partnership. Roxas and her co-founders even managed to request that the weavers use a specific apricot color they wanted for some of their pillowcases and buckets, a significant departure from the primary colors the tribe traditionally uses.
“We made that in-person connection to explain what we were trying to achieve,” says Roxas. “So that’s the story behind a pillow. And that’s just the story behind one of the products we make.”
To Roxas, these stories are the connecting thread through what she calls the “trifecta of impact”: public policy, industry, and popular culture. “True social and environmental change can only happen when all three are in harmony and in sync,” she says.
That’s why working at a company like WeWork appealed to Roxas. By chance, the WeWork public-affairs team reached out to invite her then-boss, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, to the United States Conference of Mayors, and Roxas got a chance to know the company better.
“I realized that WeWork is super-mission-driven,” Roxas explains. “They want to help bring people together. They’re obsessed with real-life connections and inspired design. It was somewhere I wanted to be.”
Roxas joined the public-affairs team responsible for Northern California in June 2018. She handles press and communications, and is involved in many of WeWork’s social-impact and community- and government-relations projects. A big part of her job is partnering with leaders and community organizations on ways to use WeWork space for the community.
“You look at WeWork barebones, it’s office space,” she says. “But I see it as a place where we bring people together, where we’re creating civic interactions and public discourse around the public-policy issues of the day.”
That value- and design-focused mentality is something Roxas continues to embrace at MAAARI. She works with about a dozen community partners to ensure MAAARI pays their sources a fair price.
“In the Philippines, there’s a massive exploitation of indigenous art and culture,” says Roxas. “It could take them three months to make this weave and they’ll get a total of $6. That’s not OK. That’s not ethical or sustainable for us.”
Their conscientious approach has paid off. To date, MAAARI has established partnerships with dozens of groups, including a family-owned sustainable tree farm that makes its wood planters and bowls, and a T’boli tribe, which melts down old church bells to make many of the brass products and jewelry available on the website.
“WeWork and MAAARI definitely inspire one another,” she says. “The way we measure and conduct impact in my job at WeWork informs how we’re going to start measuring impact at MAAARI. Because, being at WeWork, it’s clear having data to back up why you do what you do is really the only power you have.”
Plus, she adds, her co-workers are a great customer base. “They’re mission-driven; they love our aesthetic,” she says. “As a WeWork employee, you’re more inclined to care about design and how things are made.”
Photographs courtesy of Samantha Roxas