Zapateria: Shaping Shoemakers Into Successful Entrepreneurs

PIO Department


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It was a quiet Saturday afternoon on January 5 inside Zapateria.

Gone were the gentle noises of leather being cut and shaped into human feet; the rhythmic beating of a small hammer into wooden shoe lasts; the soothing sound of the sewing machine; and, the friendly banter among workers who were busy putting together what may become tomorrow’s successful footwear products in the global marketplace.

Outside, the usually fierce three o’clock sun was gentle, hiding behind clouds. Threats of rain were very much in the air, the better way to start the New Year by washing away alleyways, fences, streets and trees and make them looking brand new for 2019.

Housed in a bungalow that is actually bigger (homey and spacious too) than how it looked like outside of the gate, Zapateria is the hub of passionate designers and makers whose ideas may put the Philippines back into the world map of brilliantly crafted shoes, ushering in another golden era of shoemaking in Marikina.

Just as the world welcomes the optimism ushered in by the advent of the new year, Unyx Sta. Ana – who founded Zapateria together with her dad Rico Sta. Ana – is hopeful and even confident of the future of the shoe industry, dismissed several years ago by some skeptics as a sunset industry as it grappled with the flood of cheap imported shoes in the local market.

“When I look at the shoe industry, I don’t see it as a dying industry. I see it as a thriving industry. It’s full of potentials and possibilities,” said the 32-year-old Unyx in an interview inside the Zapateria workshop and office on Dragon Street in Marikina City.

“One of our main motivations here in Zapateria is to redefine the kinds of shoes that we can produce here in Marikina and in the country. I always tell our team that we should push ourselves to make the most beautiful product that we can put out globally, but with the distinct Filipino craftsmanship and artistry,” said Unyx, pictured below with artist Efren Madlangsakay, who created the artwork for Zapateria, during its launch in February 2018.

Sheltering Designers and Makers

But first, what is Zapateria? In her own words, Unyx explained its concept.

“It’s a creative hub where we want to be a shelter for designers and makers and to be a platform to foster creativity and innovation in the shoe industry,” said Unyx. “Zapateria serves as a workshop-slash-playground for aspiring makers and designers with the opportunity to get them connected with the market and vice-versa.”

“As a co-creation hub, Zapateria is a platform where different stakeholders in the shoe industry community can connect with one another to collaborate, co-create and exchange value,” Unyx said, and added: “These include collaboration in the form of pooled resources and facilities, shared research and development, and knowledge exchange. Co-creation in the form of design partnerships, crowdsourcing, personalization and mass customization. And exchange in the form of market facilitation and retail.”

Launched in February 2018, Zapateria opened its doors to the public and started offering workshops to would be designers, shoemakers and entrepreneurs only in the last quarter of that year. The February launch was attended by who's who in the shoe industry such as shoemaker Kiko Medina, as well as celebrities like actress Charo Santos, and Congressman (and Former Marikina City Mayor) Bayani Fernando (pictured below with Rico), an indication of how everyone acknowledged Zapateria's importance in shaping the future shoe entrepreneurs, as well as in injecting a fresh blood into the industry.

Among the workshops that Zapateria has successfully held and handled included a three-day patternmaking where participants can experience hands-on and practical techniques in creating and perfecting patterns for shoes. There was also a two-day sneakers workshop where participants made their own sneakers and were given techniques on how to design and prepare their own shoes.

There was also a workshop on the freestyle ladies footwear making that had one of Marikina’s leading shoemakers and designers as resource person and trainer from Roweliza Shoe Bags and Manufacturing; and another one on “Shoepreneurship 101” that gave participants the idea on how to start their own shoe business with shoe designer and entrepreneur Tal de Guzman of Risque Designs sharing her experiences and knowledge.

Zapateria has also launched a Bootcamp Shoemaking Experience Program allowing makers to learn and have hands-on experience on how to execute shoe designs from concept to working patterns. The bootcamp teaches pariticipants to create an actual pair of shoes by making the shoes themselves from upper preparation, sewing, lasting, bottoming to finishing at their most convenient time. It includes one-on-one sessions with trainers.

Zapateria charges minimal fees for workshop passes. It also has open slots for scholars or sponsored participants.

Last month, Zapateria held a symposium, free of charge, celebrating the history of Marikina’s footwear industry that included demonstration on shoe design and pattern making. Invited speakers were Prof. Concepion Lagos, PhD., from the Asian Studies at the University of Asia and the Pacific; Tal de Guzman; Teofisto Santos, former mayor of Marikina and owner of Marlet Shoes; and, Rico Sta. Ana himself.

Zapateria hopes to be able to hold a quarterly meetups for people who are interested to learn and talk about shoes, as well as about Marikina’s heritage where the shoe industry played an important role.

Five Generations of Shoemakers

Unyx and her father, Rico, are no strangers to the shoe industry. Rico, a fourth generation shoemaker, started working at his father's (Jose) shoe factory at 13, polishing shoes. It was at his father’s factory where Rico learned the ABCs of making shoes until he started his own shoemaking business years later.

During the glory days of the Marikina shoe industry, Jose Sta. Ana was often photographed with famous celebrities wearing his company's shoes as pictured below with Ms. Gloria Diaz, the Philippines' first ever winner of the Miss Universe title in 1969.

When Rico met an accident in 2016 (he decided to retire from shoe business years before that), Unyx, a computer science graduate with honors at the De La Salle University, was left in a quandary. Her heart was really into information technology, where she founded a company – *Orchestrack at the age of 24 in 2010 but she was also thinking about her family’s legacy: who will continue the works started by her great grandparents, her grandparents and her father?

(*In 2017, Orchestrack was acquired by Amihan Global Strategies, where she now serves as the vice president of product innovation. She is also the co-founder of Nimble, an omnichannel engagement platform that leverages Big Data, AI and dynamic content for companies in the Philippines.)

“The idea of putting up Zapateria came about when my dad got into an accident. Because no one from our family will follow his footsteps in the shoe business, we thought of putting up a hub that will cater to the new generation of makers and designers in the shoe business. It doesn’t have to be within the Sta. Ana family,” Unyx said.

It was while working in Zapateria and meeting mostly young passionate people interested in making and designing shoes that Unyx's passion for the footwear industry was rekindled.

“When I finished school, I have to work obviously. We have a love and hate relationship with the shoe industry. It’s a resilient industry. It went through various ups and downs but it survived and continued to flourish. But I never thought I’d still be part of that. I feel like I am already comfortable in the area of technology,” she said.

“But when I realized that nobody in our family would continue the family legacy after my father decided to retire, and especially after his accident, it dawned on me that the shoe industry has been very good to me and my family. I finished school because of it, including my two older brothers. At that point, I decided that I want to help in giving a bright future for the industry. To be able to, in a way, contribute to the development of new talents,” Unyx added.

Since it opened its doors to the public in the last quarter of 2018, Zapateria has collaborated with various young talents in the shoe industry, notably Maco Custodio, who launched his Lalapatos brand recently. Maco used preconsumed foil (“mga pambalot ng sitsirya” was how Unyx described the upcycled materials) and leather that were woven together by hands. This early, the shoes have already attracted a lot of interest.

At some point in the interview, Rico politely approached Unyx to show her some heels for the shoes that were being made. It was heartwarming to see father and daughter talking briefly (and quietly) and agreeing on the design of the heels. This must be how they interacted with other designers and makers that they were working with right now: polite, business like, convivial, and most of all, supportive. None of the shouting matches and heated arguments that often figured out between passionate people with artistic temperaments.

No wonder then that Zapateria has already gotten a wide interest and enquiries from a lot of people not only within Metro Manila but outside of the country as well. Their reputation for being easy to work and collaborate with must have spread like wildfire.

Still, social media and referrals helped a lot in spreading the word of how Zapateria helps in nurturing future successful shoe businessmen, designers and makers. These shoe aficionados found Zapateria through social media – Facebook and Instagram and through referrals from shoe entrepreneurs, the Marikina Shoe Industry Development Office (MASIDO) and the Philippine Footwear Federation Inc.

The Zapateria office may be quiet on the day of the interview (it did not rain, by the way), but the noise generated by its recent workshops and collaborations is already reverberating beyond the four walls of its one-storey office and workshop. It’s not farfetched to predict that years from now, the whole world will be dying to see what Zapateria and its collaborators have created.

Fore more about Zapateria and how it can help you start your own shoe business, please visit its Facebook page

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