This Upcycling Social Enterprise Employs a 100% Deaf Team
Highlighting the importance of balancing purpose and profit, Dwellbeing founder Che Secillano shares the story behind her upcycling social enterprise, Dwellbeing.
In the Philippines, Republic Act No. 10524 entitled “An Act Expanding the Positions Reserved for Persons with Disability” states that “Private corporations with more than one hundred (100) employees are encouraged to reserve at least one percent (1%) of all positions for PWDs.” While many companies in the country have complied, there is one social enterprise that has taken it a step further by employing a 100% deaf team. Dwellbeing, a social enterprise that champions upcycling, is a business committed to its purpose, not profit, as it empowers communities, and gives back with every sale made.
According to its founder, Che Secillano, Dwellbeing produces “all-natural personal and home care, functional everyday items for your home and well-being guided by environmental kindness and the upliftment of our community and marginalized folks.”
In an interview with The Business Manual, Che Secillano shares the story behind Dwellbeing and what it means to be a social enterprise.
Searching for Purpose
Che Secillano started Dwellbeing in 2021 at a time when she left her corporate job during the pandemic after decades in corporate retail.
“I reached a crossroad where I had to choose [between] going back to doing all those corporate stuff, or choose the road less traveled that has more purpose,” she shares. “I chose the latter.”
For Che, taking the road less traveled began when her son’s hands started getting dry from frequent washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. A friend of hers formulated an all-natural hand soap that worked on him. And this led her to the realization that if the product worked for him, then it would work for others as well.
“That’s the start of our very first product, the Lemongrass All-Natural Liquid Hand Soap,” Che reveals. “But it cannot be just a product alone.”
Finding inspiration from books such as Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation and Anita Roddick’s The Body Shop, she decide to prioritize creating a business that benefits society.
She asked herself, “How do I make my business a force for good?”
At this point, Che chose to run a social enterprise instead of a business focused solely on profit. She began with the company’s products: Dwellbeing’s all-natural product line is not just about well-being. At its heart was a deeper purpose.
“We also advocate upcycling discarded bottles, paper, cooking oil, plastic and fabric and use it as our product components, creating a product of higher quality or value than the original,” the Dwellbeing founder explains.
More than just creating a positive impact for the environment, Che and her company aim to use the business to empower communities. They do this by employing persons with disabilities (PWDs); in fact, 100% of Che’s team is deaf.
“We are also committed in giving back a percentage of our gross sales in support of hunger relief efforts by providing nutritious family meals to Project Pearls, an NGO uplifting those for whom pagpag [eating food leftovers from garbage] is an unfortunate reality,” she adds.
What It Means To Be a Social Enterprise
According to Che, “Dwellbeing comes full circle as a social enterprise that advocates upcycling, empowering, and giving.” But what exactly does it mean to be a social enterprise?
“For me it simply means to marry purpose and profit, with purpose defining profit,” Che says. “It goes back to using the business as a force for good or [being a] catalyst for change.”
“There are social enterprises for personal care only. There are social enterprises for sustainability only. There are social enterprises for beneficiaries only. There is no social enterprise for upcycling,” she adds. “And Dwellbeing combined all the above.”
Che admits that it is actually not easy to run a social enterprise despite all the positivity it brings to the community. In fact, during its first three weeks, Dwellbeing had no sales and received zero inquiries.
“We realized we were in the wrong sales channel, so we moved to Instagram and we gained more ground,” she reveals. “As a brand, we realized we don’t need to force-fit ourselves to follow what is popular, especially if it contradicts what we stand for.”
She also admits that balancing both purpose and profit can be challenging.
“You need profit to sustain purpose. But between the two, it has to be purpose first, then profit is secondary,” the Dwellbeing founder points out. “Purpose fuels the business. Profit sustains the business.”
Challenges of Being a Social Enterprise
Che Secillano’s focus on upcycling has created numerous challenges. In particular, it became more difficult to source discarded bottles as Dwellbeing increased production.
“We now work with hotels, bars, restaurants and a team who collects and washes these bottles,” Che shares. “For sanitary purposes, we don’t collect bottles from junk shops and garbage.”
Finding partner communities to work with is also not an easy task, as Che wants to work with communities that share the same values of work and discipline. For her, it is important that Dwellbeing’s partner communities are cooperative and understand that they are operating a business and not performing charity work.
“As a business, it requires a collective effort to remain a significant contributor,” she says. “To strike a balance between purpose and profit.”
Secrets to Success
Today, Dwellbeing has enjoyed much success as a business. However, the company and its founder choose to highlight the collective impact they have made to the community in non-traditional metrics. Numbers show that they have upcycled over 20,000 bottles, served over 10,000 family meals, worked with more than 10 livelihood partners, and given two full scholarship grants.
Che says that she considers “being authentic to our customers and our audience in social media” as one of her secrets to success. She likewise makes it a point to keep in touch with customers to ensure that quality products are delivered consistently.
Constant research for product innovation is likewise essential for the Dwellbeing founder. But, above all, it is communicating their story and advocacy to their customers for them to appreciate conscious consumerism.
“Word-of-mouth is still the best marketing ammo,” Che notes.
While running a social enterprise can be a challenge, Che advises aspiring entrepreneurs to have patience and examine their intentions.
“A lot of times you will be challenged to source elsewhere [for] cheaper, [or] somewhere easier, but you need to check your heart,” she reminds entrepreneurs. “It goes back to serving your community despite the cost.”
What’s Next for Dwellbeing?
Two years into the business, Che and Dwellbeing got their big break when hospitality chain Megaworld Hotels and Resort reached out to them to produce the signature Sampaguita scent. Now, the scent is used prominently across the company’s hotels and resorts.
Despite the fortuitous break, for Che, there is still more to achieve. She shares that she wants to expand Dwellbeing’s reach further so that they can help more communities.
“We are now working with another hotel to upcycle retired hotel linens,” Che reveals. “We are working with more communities to understand their skill set and see how we can incorporate new products utilizing their talents.”
“We are targeting to double the numbers in terms of bottles upcycled (from 20,000 to 40,000) and family meals donated (from 10,000 to 20,000) by end of year,” she adds.
Che shares that the process of upcycling requires a lot of work. Given logistics costs, labor costs, and washing costs, it is actually more expensive to recycle and upcycle. She reveals that it is cheaper to just buy a brand new bottle
However, she points out: “It goes back to intention again. What is the intention of the business?”
Without a doubt, Che Secillano knows her intention as she continues to drive Dwellbeing and the communities she supports to success.