Vera Estrada: The Bag Lady With An Answered Prayer
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When Vera Estrada left her job at a research firm, where she worked for a decade, she was at a loss on what to do next. She prayed for three things – another job, migrating to Canada where a sister is living or having her own business.
She got a job, alright. But in faraway Alabang, which entailed long hours on the road. At that time, she cannot be away from home since she also had to take care of her grandmother, who was sick at that time. She lasted only for a month. Then she tried applying as an immigrant in Canada, but it did not work out.
The third one did, though it required too much from her – physically, mentally and her time, especially her time. With a small capital, she tried buying and selling apparels. She would go all the way to Divisoria to buy the goods, carried them herself to her home in Brgy. Nangka in Marikina and then sell them all by herself to relatives and friends.
“Grabe ang hirap ng time na iyon. Nagpupunta ako sa Divisoria mag-isa lang ako at ang bigat-bigat ng dala ko dahil mga pantalon, blouse. Grabe ang mga panahon na iyon. Naiiyak-iyak ka pa dahil aakyat ka ng mga stairs tapos ang bigat-bigat ng dala mo," says Vera in an interview in her still to be officially opened fully air-conditioned store along JP Rizal St. in Brgy. Nangka.
The Path Towards Bags
“Then napunta ako sa bags. Parang doon ako gina-guide na path. My parents used to be in the shoe business, pero hindi nagtuloy-tuloy dahil pareho silang busy sa kanilang work. Hindi nila ma-give-up ang work nila. Meron namang nag-guide sa akin kung paano mag-start ng business. May mga relatives ako dito sa Marikina who were into shoemaking din before," she says.
"I attended trainings on how to make bags, pouches. I started with only three workers and with just one machine. My brother, who is an architect, helped me with the designs,” recalls Vera.
The bags were made in the garage of their house.
“I started making only dozens of bags. I tested the market if they would sell. I produced a dozen and I would sell them myself,” she says.
Luckily, one of the stores where she bought supplies for making bags referred her to a retailer looking for a bag maker. That was nine years ago.
Today, Vestrada Fashion Bags makes and sells bags by the hundreds. The small company that Vera solely owns has also moved its factory out of the garage to a two-storey house. Vera is also set to open a store where her bags, wallets, pouches, name tags for the luggage, among other products, would be sold.
From just three workers, she now employs more than a dozen. And during peak months – September to December – she employs subcontractors, bloating her manpower to around 50 to 60 persons.
“This is an answered prayer,” she says, smiling. “What inspires me to keep going is the aspiration to grow and at the same time, help the community by creating jobs and means of livelihood,” Vera, dressed simply in jeans and sleeveless blouse, says.
“If you really love what you are doing, you feel fulfilled and inspired. Seeing your co-workers happy. Teaching others how to make bags, which becomes their passport to earn a living and provide for their family, is also another source of inspiration,” says Vera.
Because she is passionate about the bag business, Vera herself learned how to make bags.
"May time, wala akong mananahi, ako ang umupo sa makina. Kailangan kasi alam mo rin iyong craft eh. Dapat marunong kang tumingin sa quality," she says.
Aside from opening her own store, she also plans to buy a property to house her factory, and to revive her online presence. Before she got very busy with her business, she used to sell her products online where she developed customers outside of Metro Manila. She also joined caravans and bazaars sponsored by the Marikina City Government.
Because of the caravans and bazaars initiated by the Marikina Government, Vera was able to cultivate customers from the Visayas and Mindanao and other parts of Luzon such as Baguio, where she used to join the Marikina Caravan for the Panagbenga Festival, a month-long flower festival celebration.
Why ladies bags? She says women love bags and are more likely to change bags more often than they do with their shoes.
“Tingin ko kasi sa pambabae na bags mas trendy. Pag bag papalit-palit iyan. Hindi pwedeng isa lang. Kapag shoes, kahit isang pair lang matagal kung palitan. Lalo na kung gawang Marikina ang sapatos dahil matibay. Ang shoes pwede mong i-partner kahit anong outfit. Sa bags mas mahirap i-pair sa iba’t-ibang damit. So dapat iba-iba,” she says.
Vera’s bags are quite affordable, catering to her customers who are mostly students, the usual fashionistas and young professionals. Sling bags are priced from P300 up, ladies bags, P500 up, while pouch bags are from P50. Recently, she began making bags for men, starting with backpacks.
She offers discounts to clients who buy in bulk, especially those who intend to sell them to their own customers.
For more about Vestrada Fashion Bags, please visit its store at 896 JP Rizal St., Brgy. Nangka, Marikina City, or call (02) 746 7271. Or check out its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/vestradabags/
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