‘I want to spend the day with you, can we put it in the diary now?’ My friend K-Bug picked up her diary and opened it. ‘Week after next?’ Sure, I say. We set Wednesday as our day and I feel excited because I get to show one of my friends here in Manila, my side of town.
I make a point of getting out and about, exploring, and discovering. Through my travels I have found a few gems on my side of town. K-Bug was excited by what I had told her about and so our day was set. I was going to introduce her to UP Town Center and another very special place which would be the icing on the cake for our trip, I was taking her to CommonRoom.
Up Town Center
Located in Quezon, next door to where we live in Pasig, the UP Town Center is a shopping mall with a difference. Inspired by the university malls overseas, this is a space created to bring together community and creativity. There is an emphasis is on the promotion and support of sustainable local and small business.
UP Town Center is playful, colourful and delightful. A free book library graces an external wall, where pods are set up for people to leave their pre-loved books for rediscovery. Inside the mall you will find a lounge for relaxing and socializing. Creative facades adorn shop walls and the open spaces provide great meeting places, or exhibition space for markets, pop-ups and events. A lovely garden is in the center outside where large trees canopy bench seating. Strings of fairy lights drip from branches and you can just imagine what a magical sight this would be in the evening chilling to the sounds of live music.
The main attraction to UP Town Center for me, are the shops. This is not a mall filled to the brim with clothing stores, although there are a good number including a big H&M, a department store and supermarket. The charm of this place is all about the small local businesses that fill the space. K-Bug came ready to shop and she did not leave disappointed. So here is my definitive guide to the best, sweetest and most awesome shops at UP Town Center.
This is perhaps my overall favourite local initiative. This is a business whose mission is to spread happiness around. They make canvas pouches and bags that have inspirational quotes and messages printed on them. What is even more wonderful is that this business has been set up to support the disabled community and so all of these products are made by, and the little tiny shop fronts are run by, these members. You will always be greeted with a beaming smile, you will always be able to have a conversation and their products are simply gorgeous. I have a tote bag that is now my day to day bag. It is fully lined and sturdy as anything. I use a small pouch to carry stuff around like hand cream and lip balm.
These guys are my other favourite local initiative. This local business uses up-cycled, recycled and overstock fabrics for weaving. With this perfect weave they make household items, bags and purses. The quality here is exceptional. Rags 2 Riches work with local communities and provide business and life skills training to the individual artists, plus they offer microfinance to assist the artist in their business ventures. This group are passionate about building communities and making them self sufficient. The kids and SB gave me a bag from here for my birthday. It is brilliant. I call it my Mary Poppins Bag because it fits everything into it. Super strong and big, this bag can tolerate anything.
In the new wing of UP, this shop is adorable. This brand was created by two people and a love of washi tape. Here you can pick up craft supplies, choose from an inspiring range of washi tape and buy beautiful creations by local artisans. Hey Kessy also offers workshops and has a little space in store where they are conducted. I brought SB a Father’s Day present here, Beer Soap. Made with locally brewed beer. He loves it. I found myself a gorgeous little plate made by Thursday CraftLove. It is the sweetest little dish and I have it on my bathroom sink to hold my earrings.
Renegade Folk create comfortable leather footwear. It is all designed and handcrafted by local artisans. I say, if you want to get it right on the kind of footwear to save your feet here, the locals would be the experts. The climate is very unfriendly and these shoes look so elegant, cool and designed for Philippine life. I haven’t brought a pair just yet but I will, just as soon as I have had a pedicure because my feet are just gross at the moment and no one should have to get up close to them.
This place is fantastic. Called The Stockroom, it literally is a room filled with stuff. You will find all sorts here. Stationary, chairs, a bit of kitchen stuff, a bit of bedroom stuff. Lights and clocks fill the walls as does a bit of IKEA stock. You won’t find cube shelving here but you will find plastic kids plates and cups, a few storage items and fun things. This place is uber cool.
Found in a few malls across Manila, this is a gorgeous shop filled with gorgeous things from stationary, jewelry to personalized posters. Every time I walk in here I walk out with something. Everything is so affordable and good quality. I love their little earrings and inspirational notebooks that I usually buy by the handful. K-Bug was all smiley as she walked around this shop. This is a family run business. Started in 1967 by parents Benny and Corit, it has grown into a chain now, and run by the five siblings, of whom the name is made up of the first syllables in their names. The siblings design products that reflect their family values which include a commitment to God, family, home, country and environment. I have to say that whenever I walk into one of their stores I feel like I am in somebody’s home. It is warm, snug and just so comforting. You will find something for everyone here.
The Clean Plate
This is a sweet little restaurant that specializes in healthy, organic food. It has vintage charm with its mismatched china, and colourful interior. The walls are lined with healthy and alternative products that can be a bit hard to find here, such as Stevia, fresh milk and dairy products. I have eaten here a few times and the food is fresh and clean so give it a go if you come down this way.
There are so many shops at UP Town Center, so here is a list of a few others worth checking out.
A’postrophe: This shop is a local chain. It is a shop that combines fashion with home décor with toys with popular culture. I am not sure how else to explain it. Look, if you are after that weird coffee mug with a dog in a tiara on the front, this is your place.
Wonder Bake: A fantastic baking shop that provides everything you need to make your wonderful sweet creations. Here you can find bulk sugars, flours and other essential ingredients. You will find a full range of party products such as plates, cups and napkins, not to mention a massive range of cupcake liners. There are cake tins and by far, the best range of cake toppers and sprinkles I have found here in Manila so far.
Wonder photo shop: For all your scrap booking and photography printing needs, this is the shop for you. I am not into scrap booking but this shop is just sweet and definitely worth a look-in. All sorts of little stickers, sticky-on things, stamps, washi tape and albums can be found here. Not to mention cute little ornaments.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory: Okay, this is not a local brand, it says it is America’s favourite chocolatier’. I don’t know if this is true, what I do know is they sit in the middle of the walkway so you cannot avoid them and the children turn wild the minute they see it. They run up to the glass and salivate at the range. Actually so do I. Let’s be fair about it. There are a few chocolate artisans here in Manila but they can be hard to find, so having access to a chocolate brand that is really tasty and fun is a bonus.
After our tour of UP Town Center was over I took K-Bug to my most favourite place at the moment. A delightful little shop called Common Room.
Located in Quezon, down a little one way street off Katipunan, you will find a snug little setup. Housed inbetween a couple of healthy cafe’s and a coffee shop (which makes great coffee) there is a veranda, upon which is a big swing, some comfy seating made from crates and barrels and a few plants hanging around for decoration. Welcome to the Common Room.
Set up nearly one year ago by sisters Roma and Maan Agsalud, this shop was created to provide a permanent, secure space for crafters and artists to showcase and sell their works. The art and craft scene is strong here in The Philippines and thanks to regular bazaars and craft fairs, artisans can promote their products. The challenge is making them accessible all year round to customers. In addition to that, Roma and Maan wanted to create a ‘community’ for the artists, who are considered partners in the business. A place where they can come, hang out and feel a part of something.
Easy going, relaxed and creative, Common Room really is just that. Tables line up to provide room to sit, chat and for partners to host workshops should they need the space. Amongst the treasures you find here are crafting accessories to encourage the inspired. It really is a mark of success that every time I go into this shop (which is actually quite often) with my two children in tow, we feel so at ease. I sit the kids down at the table, or I let them peruse the shelves to find themselves a special treasure to take home. We never leave without having a swing out front and smiles on faces.
Roma and Maan attribute the shop’s success to the partners and their quality products. I think the shop’s real success is in the combination of the products, and bringing to life this delightful vision of what community can look like. K-Bug fell in love the minute she saw the front veranda and left with her arms full of treasure.
Which products am I most in love with here at CommonRoom? Well, I have brought a lot of stuff so far and every time I go back there is more to see. I have two absolute favourite items of the moment though. The first are the origami cranes by Orig.Kami Atelier. The earrings are almost a permanent fixture in my ears and I have a mobile hanging from my bedroom window. Then there is Curly the Sheep made by Knitting Expedition.** The children love the dream catchers, little black boards with chalk, the papier mache icecreams the kids painted for a craft activity. And finally, let’s not forget the swing out on the front veranda.
Address: 216 Katipunan Ave, Quezon, 1108 Metro Manila, Philippines.
Address: 325 Dela Rosa St, Katipunan Ave, Quezon City, Philippines.
Hours: 10am – 10pm
For a short time there is a second shop front in PowePlant Mall, Makati.
**Knitting Expedition: a social enterprise that creates unique toys and accessories, all knitted by the women in the Ifugao region of The Philippines. It is a way to provide supplementary income to the rice fields and keep the women on their lands, rather than moving to the city for work. This is a major issue for people living in the provinces By keeping the women at home, families are staying together and communities become stronger.