This post was written by Hannah Theisen: founder of A Beautiful Refuge, a fair wage sewing and screenprinting workshop, and sustainable lifestyle advocate behind This July, Hannah is hosting a trip to the Philippines, where she is currently based working on a startup project to create a transparent and ethical garment factory. Part sustainable living retreat, part eco-tourism, part ethical fashion school, the trip is designed to bring participants behind the scenes to meet the women who make our clothes, learn from local leaders about the reality of what goes on in a social enterprise, and connect with other ethical living enthusiasts for a heartfelt beach sharing session or two.  Learn more about the trip, and how you can join, below!

We were sitting on the floor, in a circle. She took a deep breath and started to share her story. How she hand-stitched leather gloves for less than $6 a day. Gloves that were sold by a luxury brand overseas for $300, stamped with “made in the USA” even though they were truly made here in the Philippines. How the pressure to stitch faster, make more gloves, fill a quota, began to wear on her. The other women in the room chimed in with their stories, too: the American brands they’d worked for, the factory floor managers that had harassed them, the wages that were too low to allow for any saving, keeping them stuck in a cycle of exploitation. I thought to myself “I should share this”- but didn’t feel like social media was the perfect avenue. “What would be better”, I thought, “would be to just bring everyone here to sit on this floor and hear this stuff for themselves”.

In that moment, the idea for a “discovery trip” was born. I started sending emails to all of the awesome Filipina entrepreneurs, artisan groups, and sustainable living gurus that have taught me so much during my time in the Philippines, determining the best way to bring a group of conscious living enthusiasts on a learning tour. After several months and lots of planning, we launched our first two 10-day discovery trip dates, with the first being slated for the very end of July.

Our goals for each participant are threefold:

Learn about the social enterprise climate in Southeast Asia from local innovators

In addition to visiting a total of 8 social enterprises in 4 different regions of the Philippines, learning sessions with local innovators will be sprinkled throughout the itinerary. Speakers for this trip will include Reece Fernandez-Ruiz of Rags2Riches, Anya Lim of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, Hannah Theisen of A Beautiful Refuge, Mark and Rochelle Martin of Precious Trading Company, and Kylie Misa of WVN Home, covering topics ranging from zero waste fashion to fair wages to sustainable farming.

Learn from women who know the inside of the ethical fashion industry better than anyone.

We’ll visit weaving communities, production facilities, and ethically-run workshops. You’ll have the chance to sit alongside artisans and be involved in the process of making a garment. You’ll learn how to repurpose fabric scraps into a unique accessory, sew and print your own tee shirt, and more through several exclusive workshops for our group. You’ll get to hear workers’ experiences within the conventional fashion industry, and learn what’s next as we look toward the future of ethical fashion in the Philippines.

Be immersed in the colour and beauty of Filipino nature and culture while participating in tourism-gone-right 

It would be ridiculous to spend ten days in the Philippines without taking in the beauty of the turquoise waves, coral reefs, and mountain vistas that make this tiny chain of islands one of the most beautiful places on earth, so we’re going to do a bit of tourist-ing. You’ll get to experience Surfing Lessons, snorkeling, waterfall hikes, and more- but even those moments will be laced with learning opportunities and positive impact.

We’ll learn to surf from a female surfing champion who’s smashing gender barriers, stay in a beach hostel that’s fighting single use plastic, take a walking tour of historic Manila that will tackle important topics like colonialism and development, eat at a bakery that provides job training for marginalized youth. Tourism dollars play an important role in the Philippine’s economy, and we’ll make sure to funnel all of ours into people and initiatives that are contributing toward the local community in a helpful way.

Don’t worry about a thing- we’ll do that for you  

We’ll plan all your travel and lodgings, make sure that you have delicious vegetarian/vegan food for every meal, and cover all the costs once you land in the country- all for far less than the average price of a 10-day all-inclusive immersion trip (we did the research on that, too).

You’ll have a small but dedicated local team making sure that the trip goes smoothly every step of the way, and I’ll be your 24/7 guide. Because we’re keeping the trips small, we can help tailor it to give you the best experience possible. Want to try a specific food or buy a certain souvenir or take a look at the deadstock fabric markets or make some connections for your fair trade boutique? We’ll work with you to set it up!

Ready? Let’s Chat.   

Want to learn more (and maybe say hello so it feels a bit less like flying overseas to meet up with a stranger)? Send me a quick email to set up a facetime chat or pass along any questions you have. You can check out a full itinerary here, and read the trip agreement here.

(Note from Fran: I decided to publish this here not just because I think this is a great idea, but because I’m planning to go on the September trip. Hope to see you there!)