The rise of the pandemic side-hustle

By Adam J. Ang

AS media group ABS-CBN Corp. was battling to keep its Congressional franchise, it began to dawn on Dominique Muli, a production assistant for ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), that her budding media career might be cut short.

The 21-year-old pivoted, in the process fulfilling her longstanding dream of running an online thrift shop selling clothes.

“I accepted that possibility, arms wide open,” she said in a message, in anticipation of retrenchment, though she did manage to stay on the job. “Because if I did not, I wouldn’t have taken the leap of opening up an online shop.”

She is hardly alone — the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has forced wage earners to seek alternative income streams to help them and their families survive.

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Unlike Ms. Muli, Mutya Pancha was already out of a job in late August when she and her family decided to put up a food business.

“At first, we were reluctant to proceed,” the 23-year-old designer said in an online chat. “Most of us in the family are also working or studying.”

Now that Ms. Pancha had more time on her hands after resigning from her old job, her family thought it was a good time to launch the business, known as Oliva.

Combining all their savings, the family started taking orders from the small selection of home-cooked meals and bread that they knew how to make.

Ms. Pancha says it took them some time before finding the right suppliers for ingredients and kitchen equipment, as well a suitable pricing structure for the Oliva product line, which is available for pickup in Taguig or delivery within Metro Manila.

They knew they were good cooks to start with, but competition was stiff. They had to ask a neighbor, a former cook who lost her job during the pandemic, to help out, and eventually, become a partner. “We have to make sure what we serve will satisfy the consumers,” Ms. Pancha said.

Mutya, the family’s eldest daughter, has taken on the role of receiving online orders and helps with meal preparation.

TAKING THE LEAP
In her student days, Ms. Muli was fond of thrift shopping, both in-store and online. At work, she viewed such shopping sprees for cheap pre-loved clothes as an occasional treat.

With only P8,000 in savings from her old job, she put up The Thrift Spies on Instagram.

Her two younger sisters help her scour Metro Manila for used-clothing finds, a segment of the fashion market known in Filipino as ukay-ukay.

“We love handpicking all the clothes kasi (because) if it’s something we’d wear, then it’s something we would sell.”

She was worried that her first two collections would “flop,” she said. “But I had my sisters with me (and) they were as hopeful as I was, and that was enough for me to keep pushing.”

The self-made businesswoman had to buy supplies like hampers and hangers “bit by bit.” Recently, she was able to buy a custom two-level clothing rack, which made it easier to locate products that have been ordered.

ACQUIRING SKILLS
Ms. Muli, a 2019 journalism graduate, was initially not confident about starting a business. She had to pick up the skill as she went along, but one aspect of the job — interacting with clients — did not prove to be a problem.

She spent some time observing how owners of Instagram shops operated, from marketing to advertising. “All these I learned through shadowing.”

Competition became the least of Ms. Muli’s concerns. “You’d be surprised that sellers do not treat you as competition,” she said. “They have been approachable so far. If you have any questions about the business they will help you. There is no tension at all.”

MAINTAINING BUSINESS AFTER THE PANDEMIC
While many businesses have scaled back their retail presence, the Panchas were due to launch a physical store in November.

With the easing of quarantine restrictions and the holidays right around the corner at the time of this writing, they decided it might be a good time to launch a bricks-and-mortar business. Ms. Pancha, whose first plan was to help out in the business as a sideline, eventually decided to go full time.

Meanwhile, Ms. Muli does not plan to let go of her business when her day job becomes more demanding of her time when the health emergency subsides.

With her profits going mostly to paying for apartment rent, Thrift Spies is “something I don’t mind doing,” she said. Still, she hopes it won’t have to come down to choosing between her business and her career.

“I will insist on sustaining my online shop even when normal business conditions return.”

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