My Business Plan: Inabel Shop

inabel shop custom postcard and product

Where do good ideas come from?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell. Good ideas, inspiration – they can come from anywhere, at any given moment, and most of the time, when you least expect it.

For Jowie de la Merced, owner of Inabel Shop, it came sometime in 2016.

Jowie was a banker in Manhattan before he was laid off. This got him thinking about an alternative to the regular 9 to 5, a “Plan B” that would allow him to be creative and at the same time help others.

By 2018, Jowie laid down the foundation of what would become the Inabel Shop.

Growing up With Inabel

“Inabel” is the Ilocano word for any handwoven cloth produced on an Ilocano wooden floor loom. Ilocano is a native language in the Ilocos region of northern Philippines. Jowie, who hails from the Philippines, chose to develop the Inabel brand as it’s something he’s already familiar with.

“I remember the blankets of my great-grandmother woven with her name at the center – I guess in those days it was common to have your name on your bedspreads. Anyway, these blankets have survived through the years and up to now are in good condition.”

The loom weaving technique of the Ilocanos is a testament to quality craftsmanship, one that pre-dates Spanish colonization. According to Jowie, Spanish colonizers observed Ilocos weavers using locally grown cotton to create clothing materials and blankets. Before long, these local artisans were supplying sail cloths for the Spanish galleons and blankets for the city hospitals.

Jowie de la Merced traditional floor loom

Jowie tries his hands on the loom.
The Ilocano wooden floor looms today resemble countermarch looms, which were likely brought over by the colonizers to replace pre-colonial wooden looms. They were adapted and tweaked over the years. They’re now distinctively Ilocano and can only be found in the region

The Shop, the Products, the Mission

Inabel Shop is a retailer of handwoven and handmade Inabel products that are sourced directly from Inabel designers and weavers in Ilocos, Philippines. Based in New Jersey, the shop showcases a curated collection of home and personal accessories and novelty items that are crafted using Inabel textiles.

Jowie saw a gap in the market and believed that the indigenous textile from his home country has a chance with North American customers. This became one of his motivations for the business.

“If you search for Inabel products, the results come back with limited items that are mostly available in the Philippines. So, if you are U.S.-based and looking for these products, you are out of luck. I set up Inabel Shop to fill this “hole”.

The shop carries a select variety of only finished soft goods, no unfinished textile cloths or fabric. The products themselves have been created by the same artisans that wove the textile.

Not many brands are truly connected to the artists and makers that craft their products. However, Inabel is directly connected. Each handwoven, handmade creation tells a story of the centuries-old tradition narrated by the hands that produce exquisite designs and patterns.

Jowie with Inabel weavers

Jowie with some of the Inabel weavers.

I was curious about the connections made within the brand and wondered what the mission is of and for Inabel. Joey describes it as a three-fold:

  • To source quality Inabel products direct from Ilocos weaving communities (no middlemen) where artisans are dedicated to upholding and promoting the tradition of Inabel loom weaving to ensure that the craft is preserved and passed on to the next generation;
  • Encourage sustainable weaving practices and aim to promote fair trade principles in support of the Inabel artisans; and
  • Expand the market for Inabel products but only in a responsible and organic way (that is, no mass production) in order to allow the weaver artisans to focus on making what they love, to appreciate the value of their craft, and to step out and be innovative — thereby continuing the tradition.”

Centuries-Old Designs for Modern Use

With the weaving technique perfected by the Ilocos weavers over the years, Inabel holds a profound significance today as it preserves centuries-old designs and patterns that depict the lives and culture embedded into the very fabric of the region’s indigenous weaving tradition.

Bag, scarves, personal Inabel products

Versatile and practical everyday Inabel accessories.

Sustainability and innovation play major roles in Inabel’s preservation and promotion, which means their products cannot just be pretty, they must be useful, too.

“We have selected a limited number of products based on the quality of craftsmanship, design, and functionality so that we end up with a collection of limited-edition products that are distinctive, well-made, and useful.”

Good ideas fail when good design is set aside. Jowie understands this too well, and in fact has had a newfound appreciation for product design, an aspect of the business he truly enjoys and wants to do more of in the future.

At least once a year, Jowie and his team travel to Ilocos to meet with the weavers and collaborate with them on new product designs. From these collaborations, they were able to produce the Inabel wine bag and the Inabel pouch bags, the brand’s best sellers so far.

Inabel wine bag and Inabel pouch bags

Bestsellers – Inabel wine bags and pouch bags.

The Business Side of Things

Jowie finally launched the business in May 2019. His goal was to help educate people on the virtues of Inabel. He wanted to bring these proudly Filipino-made textiles with centuries of history behind them and make them available to the U.S. market.

But more than just business, he wanted to shine a spotlight on the artists behind the brand. He wanted to encourage the local weavers to innovate their craft and increase their relevance and economic viability.

Despite being a startup, Inabel Shop is seeing good visitor site traffic and already has repeat customers.

Not without its fair share of challenges, Jowie found difficulties in managing shipping costs and marketing.

“It is a challenge to find the right mix of affordable shipping rates and carriers.”

Inabel’s marketing is still a work in progress due to budget constraints. Although Jowie admits they need to step up their marketing plan at some point. To date, their efforts include Google SEO searches, postcards, social media, and word of mouth.

Teddy bear stuffed animals

Teddy bears and animals from the shop’s Novelty and Gift Ideas collection

For many people with good ideas, the start is always the hardest part. I asked Jowie, if you can give one piece of advice to someone who wants to start their own business, what would it be?

He replied:

Focus on something that you are passionate about. Whether it’s the product you are selling or the service you are providing, it is important to really like it so that in the end it does not become work but rather something enjoyable.

The PrintRunner Experience

Postcards are an essential part of Inabel Shop’s marketing efforts and they trusted PrintRunner to print them. We also supplied Inabel’s logo stickers, care instruction stickers, and thank you stickers.

The print products help bring more awareness to the brand; and they do so more effectively than just giving customers their website.

As for the PrintRunner service, Inabel was appreciative of the hassle-free experience and on-time delivery.

inabel shop custom postcards

Inabel Shop custom postcards

Designing the print job is easy and the delivery time is quick. Click To Tweet

Inabel is just starting, but I can already sense a promising future for the brand, its products, and the artisans behind them. I am excited to see what lies ahead for Inabel Shop and the victories they’ll gain along the way as they work towards keeping the Ilocano weaving tradition alive.

Want to know more about Inabel Shop? Visit their website or follow them on Instagram.

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About the Author

Roxanne Hermoso
Roxanne loves storytelling almost as much as she loves her dogs and cats. She loves telling them stories at odd hours. The dogs listen intently and try hard to look interested. Meanwhile, the cats can't even be bothered to stay awake.