Maria Macatbag is the artist behind ArawAraw.Co

Meet Maria, the artist designing earrings and stickers for your everyday life

Building a business rooted in community

Maria Macatbag brings her creativity and Filipinx identity into everything she does. These days, she’s taking business classes at the University of Washington and working on ArawAraw.Co, her small business that celebrates Filipinx culture through stickers and earrings. We sat down with Maria to learn more about her work.

Where did the idea of your small business come from?

“Whether I was creating stickers or redesigning my room, I’ve always been a creative person. Back in Nov. 2019, I started going to the makerspace at the University of Washington and stayed up all night printing stickers. The next day, I shared them with my friends and people at the Filipino American Student Association (FASA), and I ended up selling around 150 stickers. They were the first people to buy from me, and it’s helped my business grow.

Fast forward to summer 2020, I invested in a Cricut machine so I could design and print stickers myself. Now, here I am.

What made you expand your business from stickers to earrings?

Circular earrings with a jade semicircle and a white flower on a chain that runs down the middle
Circular earrings with a jade semicircle and a white flower on a chain that runs down the middle
Sampaguita jade earrings

I’ve always been a fan of dramatic earrings. When I moved back to California in March 2020 to quarantine with my family, I left all my accessories, jewelry, and earrings in my apartment because I thought I’d be back in a few weeks. I ended up staying in California for months, and I missed having my jewelry and dressing up. During my spring quarter classes, I would sketch earrings and clothing designs to pass by time.

All of this accumulated and eventually manifested into me designing and making earrings myself.

You don’t have to wait until everything is planned out and perfect — sometimes you just have to take the leap and see where it goes.

All my earrings are unique and handcrafted with love. Instead of buying beads or charms all the time, I make most of them myself using wire, polymer clay, and shrink plastic, which is a good alternative to acrylics. With shrink plastic, you can cut it with a Cricut machine and put it in the oven, and they’ll shrink to create charms that I can add to earrings.

Some artists or small business owners might be afraid to start until everything is perfect, but you seem willing to try new things and learn from the process. Have you always felt that way?

There are moments when I question myself and ask myself, ‘should I even try this out?’ I’ve learned that it takes some time to turn your thoughts into action. Manifestation is real. You don’t have to wait until everything is planned out and perfect — sometimes you just have to take the leap and see where it goes.

I see my brand as a way to make art, share my identity, and express my creativity. If people buy it, that’s great. For me, my top priority is sharing who I am through my work. It’s also nice to see people wearing my art. I’m happy that others like my products and are using them to share their Filipinx identity with the world.

How does your identity as a Filipina American woman inform your work and designs?

My top priority is to represent myself and my experience as a Filipina American, and all my designs are completely different. For example, the Sampaguita jade earrings are inspired by women in the Sisterhood of Pi Nu lota, a Filipinx-interest organization at UW that focuses on community work, academic excellence, and women empowerment. They inspire me to grow personally and professionally.

The womxn in the University of Washington chapter of Pi Nu lota, a Filipinx-interest organization

The Saba leaf earrings remind me of all the banana leaf trees in the Philippines. I visited last December, and I would always see them when we’d go on road trips.

Remember that Filipino American History Month is not the only time to talk about our identity and history. It’s the first step in a larger conversation.

I also donate 20% of my proceeds to Filipinx non-profits like the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, the Bayanihan Community Center / Filipino-American Development Foundation, and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. In October. We raised over $300 for these organizations, which also supported members of the Filipinx community who had been displaced due to Typhoon Goni in the Philippines.

Filipino American History Month just passed. What does that month mean to you?

I’m glad that there is finally a time of the year to celebrate the hard work of the Filipinx people in America. Every October, we can celebrate representation as much as we want, but it won’t really mean anything if we don’t dig deeper into our identity and history. At its root, it’s a time for people to support and become more aware of other cultures and businesses, but sometimes these events can become whitewashed or only show one narrative. In reality, the Philippines is a very diverse place. We are not monolithic. There are indigenous people, people with different religions, and hundreds of languages.

Remember that Filipino American History Month is not the only time to talk about our identity and history. It’s the first step in a larger conversation.

There will always be ebbs and flows in sales, but I stay grounded in my mission: showcase my Filipinx culture through handmade products. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy.

When do you feel most connected to your identity as an artist?

Balikbayan box sticker

I feel the most inspired when I sketch and come up with new designs.

Other times, my inspiration will come from others. My roommate suggested that I make a sticker with a Balikbayan box, which is a cardboard box full of treats that’s shipped to another country. A few weeks later, I was watching We Bare Bears, a show that I’m a big fan of, and I had this light bulb over my head telling me to put the bears into a Balikbayan box. After that, I just started drawing it and made it into a sticker! I’m always thinking about how I can combine others’ ideas with mine and bring them to life.

What’s your advice to other artists?

Let things fall into place. I had been contemplating starting my business for a while, and I was asking myself, ‘am I putting my time and money into something valuable?’ It wasn’t until August that I decided to give it a shot, and I wish I had started sooner.

I’ve also learned to see everything as a learning opportunity. It’s better to try something new and learn from your mistakes than wonder what could have happened.

There are a lot of ways to measure success when you’re running a small business. There’s the personal validation and sense of creativity that comes with building a business from the ground up and making people feel represented, but you also want to sell products that others will buy. When do you feel the most fulfilled by your work?

When I started my small business, I would often compare myself to thriving businesses on Instagram that had a huge following. They all seemed to have huge markets and a lot of people who are vying for their products.

I took some time to reflect to understand what I wanted to do with my brand. I started listing out my mission, vision, and values, and I realized that being the number one brand wasn’t my goal. There will always be ebbs and flows in sales, but I stay grounded in my mission: showcase my Filipinx culture through handmade products. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy.

I also encourage everyone to donate to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in its effort to help those affected by typhoons in the Philippines during COVID-19. You can also research your local community organizations and find ways to help the people around you!

Check out the ArawAraw.Co website, and follow along for updates on the ArawAraw.Co Instagram.

Writer at Microsoft | Human Centered Design and Engineering Alumna | Lifting as I climb | www.aleenahansari.com