Cat Juan Ledesma: In Pursuit of Her Many Loves

Cat Juan Ledesma was already into all things local before it even became fashionable. Her blog, CatJuan.com, featured entry upon entry of wonderful, beautiful things made by local craftsmen and artisans, which she uncovered and discovered through her own initiative.

She explains, “My awareness of local products really began when I moved back here from Australia in 2012. Having lived abroad for five years, it was like everything was brand new again. It was all these little brands that began to sprout out while I was gone.”

Cat had come home just in time to see entrepreneurs shining the spotlight on local designers and artisans reaching out through digital platforms. Some caught on to the technology quite quickly. But unfortunately, most of them floundered. While there were a lot of local businesses offering exceptionally beautiful things, the ordinary Juan just found it too hard to find them. It's either you knew someone who knows about the business, Cat observes, or you were just lucky enough to have stumbled upon it on Facebook or Instagram.

The crusader in Cat thought that there should be a conscious effort to give these small businesses a much-needed awareness boost and enlisted the help of her entrepreneur friends Chesa Zimmer and Kristine Nolan, who were equally passionate on all things local.

She recalls, “They loved the idea. Initially, the idea was to put up a website, a directory. It's the main goal. But to do that, we felt we needed to gather awareness on the brand, awareness on the movement. We decided to first open the social media accounts for TryLocalPH and from there highlight anything local that we felt needed to be shared to a wider audience.”

TryLocalPH's debut post on Instagram last July 1, 2015 was an invitation for followers to discover concepts, places, products, and ideas shaping the country's cultural landscape. It would go on to feature wonderfully designed and handcrafted products, beautiful and still unspoiled destinations, delicious gustatory adventures as well as timely movements and causes.

Cat explains, “For brands to be featured in TLPH they have to be local in concept. No franchises from abroad are showcased. We do try to feature things that are good for the environment and good for the country. We especially try to highlight those that help local communities but not necessarily, made from top to bottom here. For example, in the Philippines, we don't have a textile industry. But if someone were to import the fabric but make the dresses here, that's okay. That still passes the criteria for us.”

TryLocalPH's first Instagram post garnered 20 likes. Today, it has 40,000 followers, and has featured more than 2,000 brands. Needless to say that TryLocalPH has inspired numerous vacations and shopping sprees. More importantly, it has provided business to local entrepreneurs and artisans, inspiring them to come up with even better designs and better products.

TryLocalPH's ultimate goal, however, remains elusive.

Cat explains, “The next step is to get that website up with the directory to make it easier not just for local people to discover local brands but even people from abroad to discover local brands. We've always been a platform. We're happy to be media partners to events. We highlight the local brands that are joining them, but we've never felt the need to be an online store. That's not where we're going with this. We want to earn enough funds to build our dream website.”

She adds, “This has always been a love project. We all have full-time jobs. If one of us didn't have a full-time job, oh the places we could have gone by now.”

Juggling Her Many Pursuits

Most of us know Cat as a lifestyle blogger with two adorable kids. But what most of don't know is that she actually has a full-time job as a communications associate at Beacon Academy in Laguna. Cat describes Beacon Academy as a global school with a Filipino heart. Unlike other international schools, Beacon Academy is a non-profit organization with a huge scholarship fund. In fact, 40 percent of its students are either full or partial scholars.

She says, “We try to find the best and brightest in the country and give them an opportunity that they might not have been able to have. A number of our scholars have been able to go abroad for college or compete in academic competitions around the world. They've been given opportunities they might not have had in traditional schools. It's an educational institution that I'm very proud of. I've been with them for four years now, and I love every day of it. That's my full-time job.”

But wait, that's not at all! Cat is also a beauty writer for online beauty resource Calyxta.com [“I've always loved beauty products. I was the beauty editor of Metro many years ago. This is the way I can be girly and kikay.”] and the producer of online parenting show, ParentFiles [“I invite parents from different walks of life to share their viewpoints and their experiences. There are 10 questions per season and each season, we go through different years of a child's development.”].

How does she juggle all of that and still have time for dates with her film director husband Carlo besides?

Well, some women will tell you that it's just a matter of time management, and that yes, you can have it all and give your best to all, all the time. Cat is refreshingly a realist who graciously accepts her limitations.

She says, “Family is my priority. My kids are my priority. I love that I have a job that allows me to be home by 2PM or 3PM if I need to. Oftentimes, the routine is I drop the kids in school. They're in school until 11:40AM. When they come home, they have lunch and they have siesta. By the time they wake up from their siesta, I'm home. It's a nice life and I can't imagine a type of life where I'm gone till 5 or 6PM. It's not me.”

While her work in Beacon Academy takes up most of her time, she continues to pursue blogging, writing, and producing as it addresses her different passions.

She says, “Each one, I could probably do even better but I've come to realize that I can't do it all. For example, my blog, I could probably have done now an online channel. Everyone's moving towards video but I don't have the time to do that. TryLocalPH, we could probably have the directory up now, but I don't have the time to do that. It is a little bit of everything I love and I do them to the best of my abilities. But at the same time, I've learned to say no. I've learned to be realistic with achievable goals that I could do with each thing, and just be patient with where things need to be.”

Amen to that!