Rich Rodriguez honors Filipino spirit through Masaya store
THE THOUGHT JUNKIE CARLA BIANCA RAVANES-HIGHAM For more of Masaya, visit masayastore.com
The Manila Times
AT the heart of Pine Ave. in Long Beach, California is a joyful store that is rich with color, unique products, and a culture that is inspired by Long Beach’s urban and beach life as well as founder Rich Rodriguez’s Filipino heritage. “Filipino history, art, and culture have inspired the brand and the shop since the beginning and it is my way to honor the spirit of the Filipino people,” said Rich. More than just a store that showcases the best of the Philippines, Masaya is also reflective of Rich’s own personal journey and what it took him to finally open this store after 20 years of planning. In an exclusive sit down, Rich shares with us his journey and the many highs and lows of being a Filipino-American entrepreneur. Thought Junkie: Share with us a bit about your background and your journey so far. Rich: I’m Filipino-American and was born and grew up primarily on the East Coast. My father was in the US Navy, so we moved around a bit and lived in a few different states, including Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland, and also Puerto Rico. I attended The George Washington University in Washington, DC, where I completed my undergraduate studies before moving to New York to start a career in fashion. I landed my first full-time job in public relations (PR) at Tommy Hilfiger and next with Levi’s working with editors for some of the top men’s publications and stylists for celebrities, film and TV. After spending almost 20 years in New York, my husband and I moved out the West Coast in 2014 and settled in Long Beach, California, where we live today with our 1-year-old son. What is the story of Masaya store? I had the idea to open a shop back in the early aughts when I was living in Brooklyn, New York. There was something about having my own space where I could be my most creative self, build community, and curate my own collection of goods that stayed with me. I would even visualize putting the key into the doors and opening up for the day! I worked out a business plan at the time, but unfortunately, I was never able to get it off the ground. When my husband and I moved to Long Beach, we fell in love with the city for a lot of reasons, and one was the number of small, independent shops selling unique goods. I got to know some of the local business owners and began talking to them about their experiences and letting them into my dream. By the end of 2019, I began to form the idea for the shop, and it finally opened in May 2022. Since PR is a core part of brand building, I knew it was really important to start with a strong brand identity and story for Masaya that would inform everything from the look and feel of the shop, the types of products I would carry, and partnerships I would form. Authenticity was also key, so I dove into my personal history to help develop aspects of the brand. As a Filipino, I have a rich history to research and explore. I looked into the Philippines pre- and post-Colonial art, the language, textiles, mythology and other cultural touchpoints. The ocean has always been a big influence on my life because of our time being a US Navy family. I’ve always lived in coastal communities and it’s where I’ve found joy and relaxation—and the diversity of people, communities and cultures that make the world thrive. It was important to incorporate references to the ocean and sea life along with a responsible approach to the brands I would sell and the products they make. The result is the creative direction for the brand and shop most directly expressed through the logo, shop design and brand icon – a sea turtle – with a vibrant expression of color and graphics that represents my personal history and long journey to becoming a shopkeeper. How important is it for a store like Masaya to exist in a space today? I think it’s very important for Masaya to exist today because it celebrates Filipino culture and helps to raise the visibility and sensibilities of Filipino and other AAPI entrepreneurs, creators and artists. In fact, I chose the name to honor the spirit of the Filipino people! The shop also celebrates and takes inspiration from other cultures and expresses the cultural fluidity I have experienced as a Filipino American living in places like New York and Long Beach. Masaya is a place for communities to forge connections and support each other through collaborations. I wanted the shop to not only be a place for customers to buy high quality, responsibly made goods, but also a place that would tap into their senses and give them different ways to experience the brand. Obviously, there’s the tactile nature of the materials and fabrics of the different products we sell. There’s the color blocking, murals and artwork and the curated playlists on the sound system. We recently added a scent station for customers to smell test the all-natural soaps and began selling chocolates made from Philippine cacao. I’ve also hosted a number of weekend pop-up events at the shop by partnering with local artists, makers and creators to offer things like home interior décor, fresh bouquets, handmade goods, and even Filipino desserts! Our greater mission as a lifestyle brand is to bring joy to people’s everyday lives through the everyday things we sell and experiences we curate. I think people are craving these types of moments again after a few years of being deprived due to the pandemic. What makes Masaya different? First and foremost, Masaya is unique because it’s an expression of the many cultures and communities that have influenced me, not only Filipino and other AAPI but also American, BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) and LGBTQ+. I think you can see it manifested in our customers who literally come from all backgrounds and ages. They have found a way into the brand because something spoke to them authentically–the shop design, product, stories, events. I can’t tell you how much this discovery excites me. What’s also unique is the way we’re expressing joy, community and collaboration through the focus on a sensorial experience, the multiple pop up events we’ve hosted for customers, and the partnerships with local artists, makers and brands (and one based in Manila!) to create new products and original artwork. We’re creating a platform for what it means to be a Filipino-led brand today. How do you showcase Filipino talent in your store? Last year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to co-design a collection of bags and pillow covers with Rags2Riches (R2R), the Manila-based leading lifestyle brand known for their signature weave. The R2R X Masaya Collection gave us a chance to highlight the stories and beauty behind some of the Philippines’ traditional weaves like Binakol and Pinilian and generate support for the talented artisans who produced the products in the collection. I made a commitment to donate 10 percent of the total collection sales back to R2R to support this community enterprise. I’m excited to say the collection has sold very well and we’ll be introducing new colors soon! Locally, I’ve partnered with a number of Filipino entrepreneurs who offer everything from Filipino desserts and chocolates made from Philippine cacao to fresh floral bouquets, plants, and handmade home goods and interiors. My aim this year is to partner with an emerging Filipino artist to create a new mural for the shop. It’s been almost a year since you opened - what are the lessons, best moments, and what are you looking forward to? Although I have a business plan, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more, veer off the plan at times, and try something new even if I’m not sure it will work out. I would see the fear of failure live out in the corporate world all the time and great ideas would become watered down, which is why I made experimentation one of the core values of Masaya. One of the best things I did while planning for the store was to surround myself with experts who could advise me on the different aspects of starting and running a business. They were the people I contacted when I was trying to problem solve on issues that would come up and brainstorm new ideas. There have been so many great moments, but really it’s when someone stops in front of the shop or comes for an event, walks in, takes everything in and browses, and makes a point to tell me the vibe is refreshing and makes them feel happy. To me, that’s Masaya. These moments are the ones that inspire me to keep going and remind me of why I started this business in the first place. The connection with my customers is so special to me. I’m looking forward to growing the business and brand, including the addition of Masaya-owned products, and collaborating with even more talented creators. There might even be another Masaya store out there in the future! What makes you ‘masaya?’ I read this question a couple of ways! What makes me ‘masaya,’ first and foremost, is the never-ending support from my family and friends. They’ve been on this crazy journey with me and kept me going when it was only a dream and when it seemed really far from reach. The community we’re building through the brand and shop has also shown up in a big way and I’m so grateful. The way they have received the shop since the beginning when we barely had any product until now is amazing. I’m also ‘masaya’ in the brand sense because I’m a Filipino-American who has been influenced by my own culture and the cultures of the people and places I’ve experienced in my life so far. I’m inspired by the beauty of the world in all its colors, sounds, textures, tastes and smells. And, I’m part of many communities–the ones I was born into and the ones I chose.