Not so hard to buy few
Niña Corpuz Rodriguez
Owner Nina Inabel
“When we become part of this movement that promotes tradition, makes young people proud of their heritage and promotes livelihood, life becomes more meaningful.”
WHEN broadcaster/TV host Niña Corpuz Rodriguez started her Nina Inabel garments, she discloses it was never about business. To begin with, what kind of business owner would tell her customers not to buy a lot? In 2017, Niña was merely on a dilemma in finding children’s clothes that represented our culture for her two daughters.
“I wanted to use pure cotton inabel fabric from my hometown [Ilocos Norte], but I didn’t want it to look like a costume that you only wear for events or Linggo ng Wika,” Niña tells Keep In View. “I wanted it to be wearable and comfortable enough for them to use everyday.”
“Inabel” is the word for “woven cloth” in the Ilocos region in northern Philippines, where experienced weavers use traditional wooden pedal frame to design and craft handmade textiles.
“[Neurologist] Dr. Joven Cuanang saw my post on Facebook of my two girls wearing inabel,” Niña shares. “He called me up and asked me to do a fashion show with another Ilocano designer using inabel. He had just started a project to give livelihood to the weavers in Ilocos Norte and had already established a community that made inabel.”
“We had a couple of shows and an exhibit showcasing children’s clothes in inabel. Then, the parents of these kids, and other friends started asking me to make clothes for them, as well. It just grew from there,” she says.
Surprisingly, fashion design wasn’t Niña’s background. However, when she decided to cease working as a TV reporter for ABS-CBN, she turned to fashion design, which became her “passion and advocacy” inevitably.
“My business is based mainly in Quezon City, where I live,” Niña says. “It’s a small business of five people. We’re very lean because we mostly do our selling online. I have people in Ilocos Norte who do the purchasing with the weavers and communities if I cannot do it myself. I also have a residence in Batac and an office in Laoag City. I am homegrown.”
“I grew up in Ilocos Norte and I have a personal connection with our weavers there. Inabel, for me, is part of life — you see it all over our house from beddings to runners to curtains, it’s everywhere!” she says.
The kind of fulfillment Niña gets from promoting inabel fabrics is simply incomparable for her. “The feeling is priceless when the weavers tell me they are inspired to create more, because it also puts food on the table,” she says. “When we become part of this movement that promotes tradition, makes young people proud of their heritage and promotes livelihood, life becomes more meaningful.”
(Clockwise) Niña Corpuz Rodriguez, owner of Nina Inabel; some of Niña’s creations; and with her daughter Stella CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
The tagline of Niña Inabel fabrics, “Buy few, live purposefully.” Explains Niña: “That is meant to encourage people to live a sustainable lifestyle and, in this way, naturally help the people around them.”
Niña doesn’t manage any other business venture that complements her other endeavors. Yet, starting a business wasn’t a real challenge for her as she grew up in a business environment.
“If you go to Ilocos Norte, the N. Corpuz brand is quite popular before my name as a reporter for ABS-CBN became known,” Niña smiles. “All our names start with N because of my grandfather, Nicomedes, who built N. Corpuz Enterprises Inc., which had businesses like gas stations, tire distribution and, of course, the bookstore known as ‘the largest bookstore in the North’. The bookstore has branches all over Ilocos Norte and we are also distributors/suppliers of school and office supplies. Our cousins took over the gas stations, and my family became the owners of the bookstore.”
“My mom, who is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant)-lawyer, was the one who had business sense, she’s running it until now with my dad and they are already in their 70s. I saw my mom work so hard. She was the original ‘girl boss,’ that’s why the concept of having a woman run a company or a business is not foreign to me,” she says.
In 2019, Niña even showcased the handwoven Nina Inabel fabrics made of pure, organic cotton in Paris, France. However, like everyone during this pandemic, her business suffered losses. She even thought about throwing in the towel, especially during the height of the lockdown in March 2020.
“So, we pivoted to making face masks — again they were not meant to be for
sale,” Niña says. “I saw some of our famous local designers who stepped up and made PPE (personal protective equipment) to donate to our frontliners. The gesture inspired me, but my business wasn’t as big as theirs — I couldn’t afford to make lots of PPE [sets] — so I thought of making face masks for our doctors.”
“After some trial and error, we finally came up with Niña Inabel face masks that I could not be more proud of — premium inabel fabric, reversible, adjustable, breathable, water repellent, comfortable and comes with a nose grip,” she says.
Being a journalist and TV personality undoubtedly helps Niña in her garment business now. “I always get reactions like, are you the one on TV? Natutuwa sila because suddenly, I’m this tindera (sales lady) selling them clothes.”
She says, “I take pride in this because I’m proud of what we do. I can go on and on about the inabel fabric, I tell stories, I like explaining it to them, where it comes from and why it’s important. Because of my background as a journalist, I think I’m able to communicate what we do better, so that they will appreciate every piece they get from Nina Inabel.”
Fortunately, Niña’s fellow celebrities, like actress Marian Rivera and Miss Universe Catriona Gray, patronize her inabel fabrics. “Marian has been a wonderful supporter of local products and she really buys,” Niña says. “It’s great to see a big celebrity promote our very own without asking for anything in return.”
“Same goes for Catriona Gray who has really imbibed the ‘love local’ spirit. Prominent personalities who show their support by a simple post or tag means a lot not just for the brand, but it goes all the way back to our weavers and sewers. When they see celebrities wear inabel, they get inspired to continue their craft and make it better.”
‘Not just about the money’
“It’s not just about the money. It’s about pride in our tradition and heritage. Most recently, Maria Ressa wore different inabel blazers in Oslo [Norway], but the most special one was the organic binakul blazer she wore when she received her Nobel Peace Prize last year.”
Niña initially wanted to become a lawyer like her parents, so her first course was political science. Then, she shifted to broadcast communication in UP Diliman.
“I really thought that was the path I was headed to,” Niña says. “I was a reporter and host for almost two decades. Who would have thought that when I turned 40, I could still have a career change. Dr. Cuanang calls me ‘the accidental designer.’ Well, then, I welcome this ‘accident’ with open arms! I love it that I’m doing something so different now.”
She was a Chevening scholar in the United Kingdom and took a course in International Broadcasting at Cardiff University in Wales. She has not totally left media as she still gets occasional offers to host and moderate events. “I still have my online health and parenting web series. I think whatever I do, I will keep interviewing people and telling stories.”
Niña has been married to Vince Rodriguez for 14 years now. They have three kids: Stella, 10; Emily, 7; and Luke, 4. Vince works as general manager of Upstream.ph, the streaming service created by producer Dondon Monteverde and director Erik Matti, in partnership with Globe, that was born this pandemic as a result of cinemas closing down.
“Vince has always been a very supportive husband in anything I do,” Niña says. “He cheers me on, even if I fail. It’s important to have a partner who motivates you, understands you and loves you no matter what.”
“He is also very busy with his work but many times I ask him for fashion advice, really! He’ll probably laugh, but he is my ‘fashion consultant.’ His advice is always the same, somewhere along the lines of less is more, keep it simple and classic or he will just ask me, ‘Will Angelina Jolie wear that?’ Tapos ang usapan (conversation closed).”
From her lawyer-businesswoman mother, her “superwoman” of a mom, Niña learned to be generous. “She always told me that ever since I was a child, paulit-ulit (repeatedly).”
“When you give, you get more in return. She showed us how this was done — it starts at home and with the people around you. Her employees stayed with her, 20, 30, 40 years, since I was born, they are still with us.” Niña learned to surround herself with people that constantly inspire her. “They should be leaders that set by example or everyday heroes that act at the moment, to make someone’s life better one person or one community at a time.”
[Neurologist] Dr. Joven Cuanang
Be happy and healthy to see my kids grow old
Editorial assistant for Mega Magazine
I cannot begin my day without Vince’s espresso or black coffee or cortado.
I’m a true blue Ilocana, and I can eat pinakbet everyday!
I can make the best Levain inspired chocolate chip cookie, according to my kids!
TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Oh no! Two hours a day? It’s also part of my job.