Rex Alfred Layos

(Photos by Edd Buenaviaje)

Behind this successful time-oriented businessman is a woman—and a good functioning eco-friendly watch. Meet Rex Alfred Layos, the man who conceptualized the Kawayan Watch.

As the name implies, the wrist- watches are made of bamboo, while the straps are genuine leather.

At 21, Rex manages the thriving business with his partner, Angeli Ortega, also 21-years old. The couple and business associates are still in their third year of college at the University of San Carlos; and it was only last summer when they took a leap of faith, to invest on this woody perennial grass that
is bamboo.

Bamboos have the durability of timber and known to withstand heavy blows, hence, it is used in many metaphors. It also has the sustainability of a grass so its accessibility makes it a cost-effective material.

What turned out to be a mere interest became an income-generating activity. Besides watches, they’re now making cellular phone casings. In fact, the market demand for Kawayan has prompted Rex and Angeli to put their studies on hold to focus on running the business.

How did you come up with the idea of the Kawayan Watch?
It occured to me while on vacation, strolling through a mall in Singapore in May last  year. We go there twice  a year because my family is based there. I was strolling with Angeli when we saw this store with a wooden theme, which included bamboo. There were different products made of wood. So we thought… why not introduce the concept here? It’s a great idea to use wood instead of steel or plastic since wood is natural. Of course, natural is good for the environment.  Initially, we imported raw materials for only 10 pieces. We just wanted  to see how it’ll work. We looked for watchmen
to do those things. And then we started marketing on social media— Facebook and Instagram —and within our networks. The rest is history. (Laughs).

Where did you get the materials?
Most are sourced  from Southeast Asian countries. The bamboos are from Indonesia. The leather is from Myanmar. The whole mechanism
is from Japan—we can’t find anything like that here in Cebu or the Philippines. We import everything, but we assemble the watches here.

And how’s business so far?
It’s doing really great. We are producing 200 to 300 watches every week.  All sold out.

Where are you now in terms of plans for the business?
We are going to finally legalize the business. We are already doing the paperwork. And we’re hoping to open a store. We also plan to source bamboos here in the Philippines instead of importing them. We didn’t really expect to get this far.

Where in the Philippines would you get the bamboo?
We are eyeing Davao as our source, hopefully by next year.

Will local sourcing |affect the cost of the watches?

It depends on  inflation. (Laughs). Davao has many bamboos.  Actually, friend of mine who is reselling Kawayan there has a bamboo plantation, and he  offered to be our primary supplier for bamboo.  If we go with that, we need to buy machines for molding. It’s already quite expensive, apart from importation costs. We are weighing our options before we make a move. Basically we don’t want to pass the cost to our customers.

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Kawayan Watches: lightweight, durable, eco-friendly.

What’s the price range now?

From P2,000 to P2,800. We have a promo now where all watches are P200 off, with free shipping already.

Do you get business proposals?

We receive many offers from companies that want to resell our items, but we have to decline for now. First, we need to legalizewhat we’re doing. No
other option. We just got our BIR and hopefully by next month we can start on our physical location.  We didn’t expect the market to be welcoming. Come to think of it, this is a risky innovation. In the beginning we were faced with clients who doubted its durability, if it is water-resistant and all that. Eventually, we got good feedback from our customers. Also, many Filipinos buy our products and send them out to their families abroad. Most
of our clients are young professionals, middle class, into fashion… the kind that works in BPOs or banks, generally in the corporate industry. We got a proposal from New York as well, a  Filipino shop there. We haven’t received the written proposal yet, but they already reached us by phone. They wish to sell it there, but we don’t know… Is America even accepting watches made from the Philippines? (Laughs).

What are the pros of using bamboo as a material?

Bamboo is very sustainable. If you plant bamboo, it takes only six months to a year for it to mature and then you can cut it. Also, its branches are long. One bamboo can spread like a bush or a ground vine. It covers a lot of space. One long mature stem can make 50 to 100 watches. Well, we only need it for the frame.  The straps are made of genuine leather.

What is your best-seller?

The Kygo. It’s dyed white. I mean, the bamboos are dyed. It’s coated with special oils so it’s splash water-resistant. The oil also smoothen the surface so it’s not rough on the skin. It weighs 25 grams only. Kawayan is not the only one that makes use of bamboo in their products. Competition is good—healthy competition. It pushes all of us to improve.

How does one order a Kawayan watch?

You can do it online,  for now. We started this off as a hobby and didn’t  expect it to boom.

But you’re still in school, right?

We’re both studying  in San Carlos. I’m taking up Civil Engineering,  and she’s taking up Business.  I’m one year behind in my studies. We’re supposed  to be graduating but we  have put our studies on hold to devote time for this. The  opportunity is there. It would be a loss to pass it up.

What do you do on your free time?

I play basketball, read books on entrepreneurship,  attend seminars or conferences about stocks. Of course,  I go out with family.

Why did you choose to take up Civil Engineering?

I was into engineering from the start. I wanted to build structures even as a kid, and through the influence of my high school friends, we  pursued engineering. When  I got into engineering, I  realized dili gyud diay siya  sayon! So that’s when I ventured into doing business
instead. (Laughs) I wanted to take a Business course pero dili man mosugot akong mom gyud.

What was the reaction of your parents when you told them about your idea for Kawayan Watch?
They were doubtful at  first. And no support because they saw that I neglected  my studies to prioritize this business. They wanted me to end it na. (Laughs). Then they saw the progress, and they’ve became very supportive.  Now we’re on the same side. (Laughs).

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Partners Rex and Angeli

Do you still plan to  complete your Engineering course?
Yes. When we have a physical store, I can continue my studies. I need to get my diploma! (Laughs).

What did you like to build when you were a kid, by the way?
Legos. Malingaw ko magtan-aw sa mga panday gatrabaho.  I wasn’t sure if it’s my calling but I really seemed to enjoy it. High school was not enough
for me to decide which course to take up in college. My first choice was to be a pilot but I wasn’t deemed eligible  because of an operation in my left eye when I was about to graduate.

Who else in the family has a business?
My sister runs a Euro-Asian restaurant in Singapore. It’s  the only restaurant serving that kind of cuisine there in Singapore. I would work there sometimes, help her out whenever I’m there. Her husband is a celebrity chef there so I have also met influential people along the way. I used to tag along with my sister when I was 16.

What do your parents do?
My dad is a seaman while my mom is a housewife. We’re five children in the family. I’m the second youngest and the only boy. (Laughs).

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