IN CONVERSATION WITH JEANETTE AND IVY, FOUNDERS OF MAAARI

In a conversation for Flowe Journal, we ask Maaari founders Jeanette and Ivy about celebrating Filipino craftsmanship, preserving identity through art, and more.
As part of the Filipino diaspora, Jeanette Sawyer and Ivy Ocampo have always felt a natural curiosity and connection to their roots. Digging beyond quintessential Filipino stereotypes, the two found themselves drawn to traditional arts, crafts, and natural island materials. 


Inspired by heritage, they took the opportunity to build MAAARI — a sustainable marketplace and community that celebrates Filipino craftsmanship. A platform dedicated to honoring their roots and reimagining age-old traditions.


For Flowe Journal, we sit down with Jeanette and Ivy to talk about preserving identity through art, connecting with their history, and more.

Walk us through your journey. What inspired you to start Maaari?


It all started from schemes & dreams. Scheming to leave behind our meaningless jobs for a dream of design with purpose. Both being Filipina-Americans, we felt a calling to look to our roots. We found our culture steeped in traditional crafts and an abundance of natural materials from the island landscape. We were incredibly inspired by the people and history behind the craft and saw the opportunity to shine a light on their stories. The journey to learn more and honor our heritage led us to create MAAARI — a dream turned reality and a reflection of who we are and what we value.



Why was it important to you not just to return to your roots, but to share it with the rest of the world too?


Growing up in America, we weren’t fully immersed in our Filipino culture, which naturally led us to wanting to know more. We knew there was so much more to being Filipino than adobo and tinikling. MAAARI means “what is possible” in Tagalog and is a mantra that reminds us of our purpose. MAAARI is a tribute to our parents who immigrated here for a better life — for themselves and for their children. MAAARI is two women starting a business, embracing sustainable and ethical practices. It is designing Philippine-made and inspired goods in a market that lacks representation of it. It is our way of staying connected and connecting others to our Philippine culture. MAAARI is a circle of all these things.


Maaari seeks to preserve cultural identity through traditional arts and crafts. Why art? What is its role in empowering the Filipino identity, especially for the newer generations?


Art is the universal language of expression. Through these crafts, we are able to learn more about our ancestors, their tradition, and their stories. Everything we design and create is inspired by our Filipino heritage — the culture, the craft, and the history. Telling the story behind our goods and the people who made them allows people to learn about and connect with our south pacific culture. Quite honestly, MAAARI’s first field trip to the Philippines in 2016 to visit the Daraghuyan community was life-changing. It was humbling and inspiring to spend time with this indigenous community living in harmony with the land, and in sharing their story, we hope others are as well.


We’ve come a long way in accepting Filipino heritage around the world. Are there any notable changes you’ve seen in celebrating our culture over the past few years?

Absolutely! This year we saw Vice name the Tortang Talong as the best egg dish in the world and Vogue Philippines championing Philippine talent and beauty as a new edition to the globally esteemed magazine. It’s also been so nice to see more corporate brands celebrating Filipino American History Month and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders months.

Maaari’s modern design is rooted in consciousness. Why do you think sustainability and culture preservation go hand in hand?


In 2022, it’s hard to see companies and organizations who are not rooted in consciousness. Sustainability and cultural preservation are so important for the future of our planet. Indigenous peoples are carriers of ancestral knowledge and traditional practices about the biodiversity of their land, making them experts in conservation and natural climate solutions. It only seems natural for us to look to them, their practices, and what they have been doing for generations. It’s important for MAAARI to help uplift these voices and practices so that we can sustain a healthy future.






What are your personal favorite Filipino traditions and rituals?


Ivy: I love Filipino family parties — the food, the laughter, and the tsismis. IYKYK. You know?


Jeanette: I love the Filipino tradition at weddings with the silk cord called a yugal, which is placed over the couple’s shoulders as a sign of infinity. It symbolizes everlasting love and signifies that they walk the world as equals. This cord symbolizes a love that keeps their relationship strong in the face of adversity and that they are mutual in support of each other.


What’s next for Maaari?


Clothing! And more field work in the Philippines now that we can travel again.





Photos are courtesy of Jeanette Sawyer and Ivy Ocampo. Explore MAAARI’s work at maaari.co.