It’s Possible to Start a Clothing Business With Just PHP 1,500—Just Ask This Girl Boss

Borne from her desire to have sustainable clothes in her style, the owner of Callelily shares how she started her business with capital that she borrowed from her mom.

How much do you think you’ll need to start your own clothing brand? Given how much money you’ll need to allocate for inventory, overhead, and other operational expenses, some entrepreneurs would say you need capital in the thousands—possibly even in the six-digit range. And this can be daunting for any aspiring entrepreneur.

However, it is possible to start a clothing brand, even with a small amount of capital. Case in point: Laarni Tadeo, an entrepreneur who started Callelily with just PHP 1,500 she borrowed from her mom. Since then, Laarni has managed to grow her business, hired her own staff, and opened her very own sewing workshop. 

In this exclusive interview with The Business Manual, Laarni shares how she was able to turn her small capital into a full-fledged, thriving business that she can proudly call her own.

Proving that a little can go a long way, Laarni Tadeo was able to turn PHP 1,500 into her very own business: a clothing line called Callelily, which provides sustainable pieces.

No Prior Business Experience

Believe it or not, Laarni did not have experience running a business—prior to starting Callelily. What’s more, she wasn’t a fashion design graduate either. Instead, her story starts with her working as a regular employee in a corporate setting.

“The idea of becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something I had seriously considered,” Laarni admits. “However, my passion for fashion and the habit of window shopping led me to a realization. I [then] decided to create my own clothing designs as a way to exercise my creativity, select fabrics that I loved, and save money in the process.” 

Laarni started conceptualizing her business in 2018 when she—now 32 years old—was still in her 20s. “I started a business in my 20s because I wanted to be financially independent while pursuing my passion,” the girl boss says.

“Growing up, I lived a modest life, but I always had a strong ambition to achieve success,” she adds. “Starting a business seemed like the right opportunity to break free from mediocrity and create something meaningful.”

Borrowing Capital from Her Mom

Driven by her dream to start her own business in fashion, Laarni eventually realized that the next step was to secure funding for her brand. “At first, it was challenging to gather the necessary funds to start my own business—while also maintaining my corporate job,” she admits. “Living paycheck to paycheck made it difficult to save money for the venture.” 

Laarni’s mom, who saw her determination, lent her PHP 1,500, which she then used to purchase a few yards of linen from Divisoria. But working with small capital came with its fair share of challenges. 

“As a budding entrepreneur, I had to be mindful of every penny and make strategic decisions to make the most of my available funds,” explains Laarni. “I also became adept at finding affordable sourcing options and negotiating favorable terms with suppliers—ensuring I could keep production costs manageable.” 

Venturing Into Sustainable Fashion

Now armed with some funding, Laarni then had to figure out how her business could stand out in a very competitive industry. “I identified two gaps in the market that my business addresses,” she explains. “Firstly, there was a need for sustainable fashion options. Secondly, I noticed a lack of high-quality and affordable linen garments.”

With that, Laarni chose to center Callelily on sustainable fashion. “I chose to center my business around sustainability because I believe in the importance of protecting our planet and making a positive contribution to the fashion industry,” the 32-year-old girl boss explains.

“By prioritizing sustainability, I aim to minimize the environmental footprint of my business and inspire others to make more conscious fashion choices.”

Given her sustainability goal, Laarni eventually chose linen as her go-to fabric for several reasons. “Linen is known for its sustainability,” she says simply. “It is made from the flax plant, which requires fewer pesticides, fertilizers, and water compared to other fibers. The cultivation and production of linen have a lower impact on the environment, making it an ideal choice for sustainable fashion.” 

“Furthermore, linen offers natural beauty, durability, and exceptional comfort. It is breathable, lightweight, and perfect for warm climates like the Philippines,” Laarni adds. “Its versatility allows for a wide range of designs—appealing to customers seeking both style and sustainability.”

In a world of fast fashion, Laarni built her clothing line around the concept of sustainability—where clothes are made to last and made with materials that are environmentally friendly.

Making the Right Investment

Being passionate about fashion is one thing, but being knowledgeable in fashion is a whole different ball game. Knowing that she did not really have the right background or experience, Laarni made sure that before she launched her business, she made the right steps and investments. “I sought guidance from self-help books that I acquired through bargain hunting, finding valuable insights and practical advice on fabrics, fashion trends, and garment construction,” she explains.

And in her quest to broaden her knowledge in fashion, she leveraged what she could find online. “I also turned to online platforms like YouTube, where I watched informative videos on fabric properties, design techniques, and industry best practices. Browsing fashion magazines and websites further expanded my understanding of current trends, consumer preferences, and the broader fashion landscape.” 

“Through these self-guided educational efforts, I was able to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to create high-quality garments,” she shares proudly. “While I may not have had formal training, my dedication to self-learning and exploration has allowed me to grow and adapt in the fashion industry.” 

Aside from educating herself, Laarni also made sure to make strategic investments when it comes to equipment, materials, and sourcing channels. “Locally sourcing within Bulacan, where our workshop is located, was a priority to support the community and reduce our carbon footprint,” she explains. 

“For equipment, I chose a sustainable approach by purchasing secondhand, refurbished sewing machines, not only saving costs but also aligning with our commitment to sustainability. In terms of materials, I developed direct partnerships with local linen suppliers from Bulacan and Metro Manila. These suppliers work closely with us to source high-quality linens, ensuring the best fabric options for our clients.” 

“Other materials such as threads, pins, and needles were bought locally from nearby sari-sari stores,” the entrepreneur reveals.

Launching Callelily 

Laarni launched her clothing brand in 2019—making sure her business stood out and had a unique selling proposition that made it unique from its competitors. Firstly, she prioritized quality craftsmanship, likewise ensuring that every garment is meticulously crafted using high-quality materials.

This attention to detail, she points out, results in exceptional products that not only look stylish but also stand the test of time. 

“Secondly, affordability is at the core of my business model. I firmly believe that sustainable fashion should be accessible to a wider audience,” Laarni emphasizes. “Therefore, I offer competitive pricing without compromising on the quality or ethical practices of my brand. By providing affordable options, I make it easier for customers to embrace sustainable fashion and contribute to a more eco-friendly industry.” 

Last and certainly not least, the Callelily owner ensures her business offers a distinct advantage through the availability of made-to-order designs. “Unlike many other brands, I never phase out any designs. This means that customers can always order their favorite styles, customized to their preferences.”

“Not only does this approach provide a more personalized fashion experience, but it also minimizes waste by producing garments only when they are specifically requested,” she goes on to add.

Growing Her Business

Growing a business after its launch is not a walk in the park, and this is something Laarni experienced firsthand with Callelily.

One of the many struggles she faced is finding the right seamstress for her brand. “It took me months to find reliable partners who understood my vision and had the capacity to handle the orders. During this time, I maintained a persistent and patient approach, reaching out to numerous seamstresses to find the right fit,” she recounts. “Eventually, I found a talented seamstress who shared my passion and commitment to quality, and we built a strong working relationship.”

Being a newbie in the market also brought its fair share of challenges, and Laarni found herself having to leverage social media platforms like Instagram to showcase her designs, engage with potential customers, and build a loyal following. 

“It required consistent effort, creative content, and responsive customer service to establish trust and credibility with my audience,” the 32-year-old says. “By consistently delivering high-quality products and focusing on customer satisfaction, I was able to gradually grow my customer base and foster positive word-of-mouth recommendations.” 

However, all the hard work to overcome bore fruit when she received a significant boost in online engagement and sales—after a well-known fashion influencer featured her brand on their social media platform. “The exposure generated a surge in website traffic, a spike in followers, and a noticeable increase in orders. It was at that point that I realized the power of digital marketing and the potential reach of social media in expanding my business,” Laarni shares.

She also began to receive an overwhelmingly positive response from her customers. “It was when I started receiving repeat orders and seeing an increase in customer loyalty. This indicated to me that people were not only enjoying my products but also recognizing the value and uniqueness of my brand.” 

Affordability and sustainability became the brand ethos that Callelily was built upon, as Laarni dedicated her business to providing long-lasting outfits that are accessible to a wide audience.

How Starting Young Helped Her as an Entrepreneur

It has been six years since Laarni launched Callelily in 2019 and both the entrepreneur and the business have gone a long way since. Looking back, Laarni sees the wisdom and the advantages of starting her business in her 20s. 

“Youth brings a fresh perspective and a willingness to take risks, allowing young entrepreneurs to explore new opportunities and disrupt industries,” she says. “I personally wish I had started sooner, [having begun] my entrepreneurial journey at 27.” 

“Moreover, starting young allows for a longer time horizon to learn, adapt, and grow,” the girl boss adds. “Young entrepreneurs have more years to refine their skills, make mistakes, and iterate their strategies. They possess high energy levels, resilience, and enthusiasm, attracting support from mentors and investors.” 

To any young aspiring entrepreneur, her advice is to follow your passion and start a business in an area you love. “I keep telling this to friends. And as the saying goes—‘Do what you love and you’ll never work another day.’”

Laarni advises young aspiring entrepreneurs not to hesitate to seek guidance from experienced people in their industry and embrace technology and utilize digital platforms to reach their audience. “Network and build connections,” she reminds. “Stay adaptable and continuously learn and grow.” 

Aside from this, she also advises young aspiring entrepreneurs to manage their finances wisely, invest in personal development and acquire relevant skills, stay persistent, resilient, and maintain a positive mindset. “Take a break but never stop until you’re proud of what you have achieved,” she says. 

What’s Next for Laarni and Callelily

The future, for Laarni, looks bright for her and Callelily, and it is one filled with exciting possibilities. “One of my goals is to establish a small boutique, where customers can have a more personalized and intimate shopping experience with our linen clothing,” Laarni shares. “This boutique will serve as a physical extension of the brand, allowing us to connect with customers on a deeper level.” 

The 32-year-old girl boss also wants to increase their visibility in the market and reach a broader audience. She plans on doing so by expanding Callelily’s online presence through social media and e-commerce platforms and engaging with more people who share their passion for sustainable fashion and quality linen garments. 

Lastly, Laarni remains committed to making a positive impact on both the community and the environment. “As Callelily grows, I aspire to provide more livelihood opportunities, particularly by creating jobs for local artisans and seamstresses in our workshop,” she explains. “Supporting our local community is a core value of the business.” 

When it comes to sustainability, Laarni shares, her brand will continue to advocate for eco-friendly practices and responsible sourcing. By promoting linen as a sustainable fabric choice, Laarni and Callelily hope to contribute to a more conscious and environmentally friendly fashion industry.