“Great looking boots,” “cool sandals,” “beautiful pair of sneakers.” Thanks, they’re from the shoe company I work for. “Philippines?” Um, no – China. Goes the conversations I have either with random people or with family and friends whenever and wherever I go to various parts of Asia, EU, and the US.
Nothing wrong for made in Chinas, I can attest to that at least for brands I worked for where standard quality and processes are followed. But why not made in Philippines? Sure, the country can do the same level but due to a lot of factors, just can’t compete commercially on volume.
Can’t remember how many times it’s been the topic with fellow Pinoy shoe expats. But I think a locally made world class design and quality footwear can be done, for even at least a small group or niche of consumers, marketed and known worldwide. But how, and then why bother?
Concept Building and Initial Challenges
Having been just out of another failed business venture, I was excited to start a new one because I love shoes and quite good with it with my 20 plus years prior experience. Initially thought making only exclusive footwear and apparels for the craft beer industry that I really like then later on expanded the concept for sort of live, work, and play lifestyles. But brainstorming the concept and design with me and myself (you know, the person you sometimes see with a blank face but as if talking to someone?), it’s so bothering that I might just end up as another failed me-too brand if I can’t come out with a clear difference and purpose. Henceforth, after many months of deliberation - the direction of the brand will not only be through the fashionable but much abused words sustainability and eco-friendly, but also as transparent as ethical the company can.
First dilemma is how far my designs could go. No way I should open my own set of outsole mold (the bottom of the shoe) with my own logo, plus quality leathers tanned locally are very limited used mostly for semi and formal shoes like loafers and driving shoes. Then a light bulb in my head – why not use the famous local fabrics to either use 100% on uppers or in combination with local leathers. Then instead of the cheap and mostly non-biodegradable rubber is the expensive but environmentally friendly vegetable tanned leather sole bends. So, born the Filipinian, a luxurious athleisure sneaker to be made on hand woven Piña-Abaca-Silk and Inabol fabrics upper with the country’s national costume Baro’t Saya inspired embroidery.
Next, where to get the materials and have the samples done. While searching answers for it, I started working on the last, patterns, down to manually making the prototype from mostly scrap cloths and rubber of old sandals laying around, by hand, from stitching to lasting. Never seen such a nice concept done before and merely give me confidence to continue.
Partners and Struggles
Most factories or shops I visited recommended by some friends and the city government of Marikina, the shoe capital of the country of possibly collaborating with my work, at that moment could not help for some reasons like their overcapacity (good for them I thought) or type of products I have in mind not suitable to them. That almost make me stop or think of going to China where I know a lot of factories who can help if not for my resolve of making the shoe company built entirely in the PH. In between those visits, I would drop by some shoemaker friends’ shops whom I knew abroad back in those years and chat anything under the sun over some meals and beers. Till I decided to start working with one of them.
As with any ventures, it’s not smooth sailing at first working with the veteran shoemakers. I have to retell, impart my thinking, that if the shoe is not world-class at all to just forget it. After 2 years, the product is ready along with the second style for Mens I named Reppinas, a playful word for “Representing Filipinas” because of my goal of finally having one Philippine design and brand to make it on the list of world’s top loved sneakers. Side note, I plan to trademark this name if not for Covid19 but if I haven’t yet and you the reader already have done so, let me know and I’ll change the name of my shoes.
The Pandemic and Beauty of Doing It Yourself
But how to price the shoes? I know too costing shoes but how much should I offer the consumer is another story. And marketing them? I have worked with marketing managers in many parts of the world and I can tell you they are breeds of dedicated smart creators to their babies (how we call the shoe projects under them). Sure, I picked up some of how they worked and executing each season’s project but man, now just me and on my own project?
The pandemic made ecommerce in PH and with it the third-party providers and tech supports popular and turn many retrenched and out of work Filipinos into business owners overnight. People have come to appreciate the sellers and the convenience buying online brings to them, what with the lockdown and fear of getting out for essentials and other stuffs. But then, mother obstacle – putting up one is expensive (yes there are frees if that’s enough for your target). I have to afford at least the basic plan to be able to compete better. Then again, I have to learn how to put the website on my own so goes more reading, trials, reread, repeat. I came up with a minimalist theme which because need less photos and videos, they must be of high-quality else consumers easily finds out how amateur or cheap you have put up your ecommerce store. Good thing I’ve some education and experience with my old DSLR camera and put them into good use. With my wife as the model for Women’s shoes, it’s not so much a hassle but a different story when its my turn to model for the Men’s and had to teach her the basics of the camera and shooting. Photoshop is difficult at first but after weeks of learning and trying I became comfortable on editing the photos good enough for the website. Then the videos. I didn’t know that with free apps you can already make quality movies and I think with learning on line I’ll be able to know this stuff as well. But I think it will take me another lengthy months of getting it so I have to settle for now to the very straightforward video editor/maker that comes free with my purchased PC.
The wordings for the website is another nightmare I have to confront because you see, even though English is our other national language besides Filipino, it’s not my mother tongue and so I am not comfortable. You probably noticed already after reading this long that I merely used simple terms with grammars elementary. Sure, I can converse and write some short captions for social media posts but then writing stories and descriptions in that? What else could be more difficult? While doing this, my other thought again has been telling me to just give up, find a new job elsewhere, look at LinkedIn.com, forget it.
On those days, our months old daughter began standing up, slowly learning to walk, and started approaching me intensely to play with her. Add to that is the constant questions and help her 7 y/o big brother is asking about the modules (a set of learning and testing materials from his school) he is working on at home (it’s been a year already that face to face classes is suspended due to Covid-19). Didn’t know it but one afternoon while sipping coffee, I have come to realized that those “disturbances” my kids are giving have helped me greatly actually on recharging and refocusing on my work. The bit nuisance I felt before became a welcome relief and made me happier with breaks I am getting. It worked, please trust me on that. All of these sufferings are for them after all and those are their own little way of appreciating back.
It helped so much that even without reading references, my mind is producing more bells and whistles I can incorporate in the website. Just that, most of them are either not practical to the brand or very beneficial to the consumers at the moment, or not allowed (or maybe I didn’t know how to apply) to the plan I paid for. In the end I applied the basics that methinks are more important for the brand and most importantly to the consumers, because anyway I don’t have a third party or middlemen which means I can give the best terms for them without losing money on my end.
The fine tunings made me at ease and thought the brand has a better fighting chance to survive since the products we crafted wont only make their lives better but as well give the benefits the direct-to-consumer of our brand has for them (really hope we can relay this message to them).
The Moment of Truth. Or is it?
Finally, while writing this piece of sheet the website is almost ready to launch if not for my own prodding to add more touches. I even changed the prices again for the third time, lowering further, after reading additional blogs about it and articles on strategies of winning customers.
Am I and the brand, my partner suppliers and workshops ready? I’ll never know to be honest until this is launched, advertised (typing that dreary word raised my skin hair again because its equal to spending money), and fulfilled the first 100 pairs maybe. Who knows? I tried my best anyway to make everything as transparent as it can be, sustainable as any company can do, at the very least ethical to everyone on the chain, and to the highest quality craftmanship I can think of. That’s what TSEC [say: check] is all about. And that answers the question of why bother putting up my own brand and why make it here in the PH.
Will let you know, as my favorite set of words to email recipients back in the days, on reports to be given after more due diligence of research to the project I’m working on.
Now, should I share this already? Or after launching the website?
By Allan “Baldis” R. Agala
Allan, aka Baldis to his family and friends is an admirer of well-made shoes and is good in selecting what beers to drink.