Passionate Sole: How Black Wing’s Buddy Tan Made a Mark in the Shoe Industry
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By: Famela Dahonog
Buddy Tan, 36, started his business back in 2012 as an experiment with no commercial activities. Growing up in a family of leather textile suppliers, he worked as a middleman for his family’s business and even traveled to China earlier in his career to expand the enterprise to include importing shoes from there.
But instead of exporting shoes from China, Buddy decided to put up his own shoe manufacturing business at home, in Marikina, known as the Shoe Capital of the Philippines, where he was born and raised.
The Black Wing Shoes was created out of Buddy’s passion. A graduate of Political Science, this young entrepreneur pursued the shoemaking industry knowing he could defy the taboo with leather shoes.
“Generally, Filipinos have developed this idea that leather shoes would hurt their feet. Masikip ‘yan. Kailangan i-break in.” Buddy, said. So, he researched and studied Marikina handcrafted models and those made from abroad.
With one regular shoemaker and two other staff to handle administrative tasks in 2012, Buddy invested in machinery and experimented with prototypes. The first two pairs of shoes that his company made during that time — which never made it beyond the walls of his factory — were still displayed inside his office in Brgy. Sto. Niño in Marikina. He showed them to us during the interview.
In 2013, he started to make a test run with his own pair of shoes during his wedding. His goal at that time, was to survive the whole once in a lifetime occasion comfortable wearing his own leather shoes. He believed that he could not market something he hasn’t used or in this case, worn. From there, he proved to himself that it was possible to make comfortable made-to-measure custom shoes that will last a lifetime without sacrificing style and beauty.
Struggles, Breaking Even and Getting More
In 2014, the first year of exploring the market, Black Wing had produced five to 10 pairs of shoes per month. Their goal was to hit at least 30 pairs of shoes each month just to break even.
Despite the initial setbacks, including having finished shoes returned by customers because they did not fit perfectly, Buddy pushed through with his passion.
Through his persistence, continued improvement of his product, word of mouth from satisfied customers, Black Wing tasted its first success the following year when production began hitting around 50 pairs of shoes a month, allowing the company to gain back its seed capital. In 2016, production reached the 60 pairs a month, giving the business some margin, and allowed Buddy to expand his team to eight shoemakers.
A project that started from living in a home where one can smell the rich scent of leather textile and galvanized with a passion for shoemaking, Buddy made his way in the industry and he now caters to a wide array of clients. He recently ventured into a newline of bespoke shoes for kids.
Your Made-to-Measure Custom Shoes Material
Each Black Wing is carefully handcrafted and fitted based on the diagram of the client’s feet to achieve highest comfort and best possible result.
Since Black Wing specialized in men’s shoes, adult clients come to their shop in Marikina City for fitting. Each pair of shoes is meticulously sculpted to ensure the right fit and comfort for the wearer.
Black Wing uses exquisite, locally-made leather from Bulacan, his way of bolstering the Philippine-made pride.
While it usually takes four to six weeks to make a made-to-measure custom Black Wing shoes with multiple fittings in between, customers are not complaining. They are just too happy to wait knowing that after a long wait, their feet and soles can tread on perfectly crafted shoes that suit their every whim.
Prices too maybe a bit higher than those available in the department stores and other retail outlets, but Black Wing’s clients are willing to shell out extra cash. A pair of semi bespoke Black Wing shoes costs from around P4,750 to P8,500. A full bespoke pair of shoes — which Black Wing plans to launch in the market in the near future — may cost a client anywhere from P20,000 to P30,000 a pair.
Little Italy of Asia
Buddy defied the leather shoe industry in Marikina with his passion. He took persistence to the next level and to this day, continues to push forward.
He sees great potential in the Marikina shoe industry and he wants to inspire other shoemakers. Right now, he has his hands full in helping the Marikina Shoe Industry Development Office (MASIDO) revive Marikina as the Little Italy of Asia, where one can buy well-crafted shoes that can rival the best in the world.
Because for him, success in the industry while the rest is failing would be an empty victory.
To know more about Black Wing Shoes, please visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/blackwingshoesph/.
(Photo credits: Alfred Javier of MASIDO and Black Wing Shoes)
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