Tal de Guzman, a Rarity in Shoe Biz, Champions Filipino Craftsmanship
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Tal de Guzman is a breath of fresh air, a rarity, in the business world -- particularly in the competitive and cutthroat world of fashion.
Instead of fostering competition, the 29-year-old entrepreneur and shoe designer for Risque Designs wants to develop a culture of collaboration where everyone is helping each other out instead of trying to pull each other down.
This is one of the reasons why she is helping put up an online marketplace for shoe entrepreneurs and working together with other like-minded individuals. The online marketplace will be called Stride Collective Ph.
“Within the collective, we are trying to make the environment healthy. We will share resources. Help each other out. Make things more accessible and friendlier to people,” said Tal, in an interview inside her office and manufacturing facility in Marikina City.
“Fashion is a dog-eat-dog world, where people are trying to put each other down. We want it to be different in shoes. We want to influence a culture of helping each other out. Of being more collaborative instead of being competitive,” said Tal, effortlessly glamorous in a simple white top, with the long sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and jeans.
An advocate of fair trade, she also makes sure that the people she works with – the weavers, wood carvers, shoemakers – are well compensated and not exploited.
Champion of Filipino Designs
As a designer, Tal champions the Filipino craftsmanship. She travels around the country in search for indigenous materials. She works with local weavers as she is enamored with locally made and designed textiles, including those from Valladolid in Negros Occidental and Buhi in Camarines Sur.
“Ever since I have been working with local textiles. I also work with carvers from Paete, Laguna. I put together different materials and I use the skills of Marikina shoemakers for the shoes. I combine leather with different kinds of materials,” said Tal, who finished arts management at the Ateneo de Manila University,
One of her previous collections included shoes with animals like tarsiers, alligators and even the ubiquitous “walis tingting” (a broom used for sweeping made from the midribs of coconut leaves) carved on the heels.
Tal had also collaborated with Tessa Prieto-Valdes (who calls herself the “Sea Princess”) for the Amansinaya collection inspired by the Philippine marine life. One of the shoes with a tower of mollusks carved on the heel was on her table during the interview. Amansinaya is the Goddess of the Sea in Philippine mythology.
“Shoes became my medium for my art. I use a lot of Filipino inspirations,” she said. “I always had a creative side to me. So this is something (designing shoes) that enabled me to express my creativity.”
“When I started, none of the known designers back then were really focusing on Philippine inspiration. They were being inspired by Greek mythology. There were a lot of foreign influences, but no one was really focusing on the Filipino,” she said.
That became her niche – designing and making shoes with distinct Filipino flavor and inspiration – that has become a hit among a lot of women, who would troop to her store at Glorietta shopping mall in Makati to buy her flats, stilettos and other footwear designs.
“In general, my customers are advocates of Filipino products. So you would see them buying from other local brands. Even their food, their gifts are made locally. I have a lot of titas of Manila customers. And surprisingly, a lot of millennials who are very conscious of what they consume and what they buy,” Tal said. "A lot of people wear them. Especially on their "porma" days when they want to dress up and showcase Filipino culture."
She makes ready-to-wear and custom-made, one-of-a-kind shoes. The ready-to-wear shoes using local textiles are affordable, while the custom-made ones with wood carvings are pricey.
Her off-the-rack shoes (mostly flats) are priced at around P1,500 to P3,000 a pair. The ones with regular heels and no carvings are sold at P3,500 to P7,000. For those with carvings, they start at P7,500 up to P15,000- P20,000 depending on how intricate the designs are.
Journey to Shoe Biz
It was a tough start for Tal.
She had tried other paths before finding her way into the world of shoemakers, pattern makers, weavers and carvers. After graduation, she worked with artists briefly and then at her family’s construction and fabrication business.
After that, she worked as an assistant director in an art gallery, Galleria Duemila, founded and owned by Silvana Ancellotti-Diaz, sister-in-law of former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz, the first ever Filipina to win the crown.
Then she went back to school at School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA). After that, she took up a course in entrepreneurship. It was around this time that she began her shoe retail business where she was subcontracting the manufacturing of her own designed shoes in Marikina.
In 2015, she put up a manufacturing facility in Marikina and moved here as well. She hired local artisans and skilled workers to make her shoes. She also started doing subcontracting for other shoe entrepreneurs because she did not want them to encounter the difficulties she faced when she was just starting out in the business.
This is the culture of collaboration that she was talking about earlier in the interview.
“That’s why I started my own manufacturing facility because I want to help other shoe entrepreneurs. I want to empower them. Make it easier for them because my journey was difficult. I want their journey to be better, easier so they can focus on their business,” said Tal, who finds the time to mentor others and share her knowledge and experiences by conducting workshops on how to start in the shoe business and how to make shoes.
The industry surely needs more people like Tal, young, idealistic and full of brilliant ideas.
For more about Risque Designs, please check out its Facebook page -- https://www.facebook.com/RisqueDesignsPH/
(Photo credits: Noel Box of MASIDO and Facbook page of Risque Designs)
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