Melissa Dragon-Floirendo loves the outdoors, so much so that most of the designs she has created for her organization Mindanao Inspires are for outdoor use. “We’ve practically changed all the accessories in our beach house, where all my overly adventurous prototypes end up. I’ve even clad our guest room wall with loomed magazine paper!” she tells Female Network.

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Since implementing the livelihood program with her husband back in March 2011, Melissa has been working tirelessly to realize her dream of giving back to the community. “We wanted to do something sustainable yet spoke the language of organic sophistication, and since our country has an excess of waste materials, it only made sense to come up with the idea of upcycling scrap materials and transforming them into beautiful functional art pieces for the home.”

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The recycled materials from Mindanao Inspires, however, are not your everyday, average livelihood program products. “From colorful vessels to decorative throw pillows and tableware accessories, we’ve also currently expanded our product portfolio with fashion accessories,” says Melissa.

With close to 30 women in the organization as of press time, the warrior for a cause has certainly helped tip the scales of economy to benefit the community. “The women are grouped based on their skill sets," explains Melissa. "There are those who prep the components, those who weave or crochet and those who do the finishing by sewing the hardware and other materials. It's really fascinating to see the women use recycled materials and weave them in the traditional manner.”

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But perhaps what’s even more impressive is that the organization has taken giving back to the community up a notch by launching their products in the US not long after October 2012. Through Artextural Designs Inc., Melissa was able to secure a “tie-up with a showroom that represents not only talented and bright Filipino designers in Los Angeles, but also markets the same high-end products with artisan qualities.” The collection sold out by December.

Mindanao Inspires also garnered positive reviews from the American Women’s Bazaar. “In fact, one of our loyal clients always tells me that she just loves the touch of tradition in our contemporary designs.”

There are some challenges to heading an organization like Mindanao Inspires. For one, how do you turn trash and scrap material into something that people would actually want to have in their home?

“This is where conceptualization + design come in to ensure that your end product is of higher value,” says Melissa. “Another challenge is sourcing and gathering waste materials that are of good quality. Because we strive to produce well-made handcrafted products, we make sure our plastics and other materials are very durable and non-toxic.”

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It's because of this dedication to quality that Mindanao Inspires is continuing to thrive. What started as a livelihood project for her husband’s barangay in Samal, Adecor has become a self-sustaining source of income for a growing range of barangays. And from the looks of it, Melissa isn’t stopping anytime soon.

“Everything around me is a source of inspiration,” she shares. “I look around our house in Davao or friends’ homes and I try to see what can be made out of recycled components. There’s a lot of trial and error--not all my extravagant ideas can be executed. But we keep on experimenting, which we actually enjoy throughout the process. We tweak prototypes until I’m satisfied with the look and quality.”

Traveling is also a source of inspiration for Melissa. “My imagination is even more energized when I’m traveling. I love seeing the world and I try to imbibe as much of the local culture as I can. Being submerged in different regions, various cities and its little villages has given me a bird’s eye point of view of how the locals live and breathe--these are things that really feed my inspiration.”

(Photo courtesy of Melissa Dragon-Floirendo)

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