Designer Spotlight: Jojo Bragais
In recent years, the name Jojo Bragais has become synonymous to the nude platform pageant heels which have been the official shoes of the Binibining Pilipinas pageant since 2015.
His is the go-to shoes of beauty queens because they are extremely comfortable to wear, allow them to do their best runway, while giving them an extra few inches in height. More importantly, they love the man who makes the shoes. (READ: Catching up with Team Catriona Gray)
In the past few years, I would occasionally see Jojo in the pageant scene and he was always friendly. In sharing a lot of moments during the Miss Universe in Bangkok, I got to know a little more about him. Recently, I sat down with Jojo in his newly opened Bragais Store in Quezon City.
Jojo Albao Bragais grew up in Albay, Bicol to Diomedes and Elsie Bragais. He is the youngest of 4 siblings. He is a licensed midwife and nurse by profession – but he never got to practice and fate led him to shoemaking.
Growing up, Jojo recalls, “I excelled in academics and was a consistent honor student. But I wasn’t the typical student that always went to school everyday. When we were asked why do you want to go to school, most kids would say they want to get high grades. For me, the mere fact that I’m learning,I was okay with it. I was after the learning. Plus I was also the type who got bored easily. There were times when I felt as thought the teacher was just reading off the lessons, I wouldn't report to class."
“I'm very good at planning and execution. Anything logistics. My Dad has his own business and I learned a lot from that."
He may be the picture of success today but immediately after graduation, Jojo hit rock bottom. In his own words he said, “Tumambay muna ako after graduation for about 6-8 months. I was super depressed at that time and ayoko gumawa ng anything. I was heartbroken at that time.”
(I didn't do anything for 6-8 months after graduation. I was super depressed at that time and I didn't want to do anything. I was heartbroken at that time.)
“Just to give you an idea, I was with someone for 4 years and I felt like I have given everything and she was the center of my world. Then all of a sudden she told me she did not love me anymore."
"That made me very depressed because I felt I wasn’t good enough, I was ugly, and all those negative things. I locked myself in my room, did not go out, refused to get a haircut, and did not want to see people. I was even at a point that I tried to take my own life.”
His Mom was extremely concerned for her son’s welfare and told him, “Anak, pilitin mong mabuhay (Son, will yourself to live.)"
With the best of intentions, she gave Jojo P200,000 and told him, “Maglasing ka, uminom ka, magparty ka and do whatever you want. But just don’t take your life.” (Drink all you want, party all you want, do whatever you want. But just don't take your life.)
Pageant shoes and the beginning of Bragais
She also felt that a change of scenery would do him good and encouraged him to stay at his aunt’s house in Rizal for awhile.
When Jojo got there, his aunt, Raquel Presentacion, took him to Binangonan so that he could familiarize himself with the area. On their way back home, they passed by this house and she said, “Jo, alam mo (you know) that’s an old shoe factory.”
The young Jojo became curious for the simple reason that he has never seen a shoe factory. As fate would have it, there was something about the shoe factory that lured him in. He was expecting modern machinery and high tech gadgets. But it was just a tiny room with one sewing machine and old shoe molds.
Jojo narrates, “Syempre ako madaldal (I'm very talkative) by nature and having come from a political family, I was always a people person. While I was talking to the owner, who was already very old, out of nowhere he said, 'Do you want to buy it?'"
Jojo’s gut reaction was to put a downpayment. He used some of the money from his mom. He felt he wanted to help the old man and this shoe factory would distract him from his sadness – having the responsibility of a small business would distract him from his worries and bring a sense of normality to his life.
More than anything, the old shoe factory breathed life back into Jojo and gave him purpose. When his shoe business started to do well, he suddenly realized something.
On his way home, he thought, “Feeling ko it was an answered prayer. Kasi bago ako umalis ng Bicol dumaan ako ng Naga Cathedral. Penafrancia diba? Yun lang yun prayer na alam kong I was super sincere and I was crying. Sabi ko, 'For you not to take away the pain pero I’m praying that you’ll give me the reason why it happened. I surrender my life to you. I surrender everything to you.”
(I felt it was an answered prayer. Because before I left Bicol, I went to Naga Cathedral. The Penafrancia, right? That was the only prayer I'm sure I was super sincere and I was crying. I said 'For you not to take away but I'm praying that you'll give me the reason why it happened. I surrender my life to you. I surrender everything to you.')
It was then that this distraction turned into passion. This new found passion inspired him to learn more about design and motivated him to push his business beyond his imagination.
His first order was for 3,000 pairs of wedge shoes for a well-known brand. But the novice couldn’t really celebrate as he had only one machine and two workers. He jokingly confessed, “I didn’t know about purchase orders or dealines. Akala ko kung ano matapos mo, yun ang deliver mo (I thought if I finished it, that was your delivery). So when I delivered to them only 300 plus pairs only out of the 3,000 pairs, it was rejected and I lost that deal. At this point, instead of maka move on ako, lalo akong na depress (moving on, I got even more depressed).”
Thinking that he is now responsible for a business and two workers, Jojo went to Marikina looking for possible clients. One of the store owners advised him that he could sell the 300 pairs of shoes to a certain company. Luckily, he was able to dispose this order. But that didn’t really solve his situation.
Jojo said, “Dun ko lang nalaman na sa ganitong business, hindi ka kaagad babayaran. You get a post dated check and magogood siya in 60 to 90 days. So wala pa rin akong pera and ayoko humingi sa mom ko. Yun mom ko kasi wasn’t supportive of the shoe business. Medyo masakit kasi eto na nga lang yun gusto kong gawin, finally I found something I want to do. So I went to a private financer and did that for 3 months. Binenta ko rin yun laptop ko, yun iPhone ko, yun DSLR camera and anything I had just so I could get money which I used as additional capital.”
(That's when I found out that in this kind of business, you won't get paid immediately. You get a post-dated check and will only be enchashable in 60 to 90 days. So I still did not have any money and I did not want anymore to ask my mom. My mom was not supportive of the shoe business. It hurt me because this the only thing I wanted to do. Finally I found something I wanted to do. So I went to a private financier, and that for 3 months. I sold my laptop, my iPhone, my DSLR camera and everything I had just so I could get money which I used as additional capital.)
“Naging subcontractor ako for some well known brands for a few years. Dahil dun, nakaipon ako ng money. Naisip ko na I can now do my own line.”
(I became a subcontractor for some well known brands for a few years. Because of that, I was able to save up some money. That's when I thought I can now do my own line.)
At around this time, he ventured into the pageant universe. His friend from Bicol, Yvethe Marie Santiago, was set to join Bb. Pilipinas 2014. Jojo told her, “Yvethe, wala akong pera to support you financially ha. Pero all the shoes that you need tutulungan kita. Tapos, when Binibini saw the shoes, pinatawag nila ako and asked me if I wanted to be the official shoes in 2015.”
(I don't have money to support you financially. But when it comes to shoes, I can help you. And then when Binibini saw the shoes, they called and asked me if I wanted to be the official shoes [sponsor] in 2015.)
The nude, platform heels may be a pageant contestant’s best friend but many fashion critics are vexed at the very site of them, especially during the evening gown competition. They’d rather see fashionably, chic stilletos instead of these monstrosities.
I asked Jojo how he felt about that criticism.
He said, “My point of view is about the women’s comfort. Pageants run for hours and if they will wear those stilletos for 3 hours, they won't last on stage. If they will walk with a very steep heel, you won’t last from rehearsals to the finals. I want the girls to walk better, feel better.”
“Although I hope na yun mga girls will know when to use the right platform. If the the shoes are exposed, like swimsuit or gowns that show the shoes, then they should wear the shorter platforms. But if the shoes won’t show sa evening gown, then they can go for the thicker platforms. Sometimes the other girls who are shorter, they prefer it because they feel tall, that's why they wear them.”
In the past, Jojo has collaborated with fashion designers Delby Bragais, Jian Lasala and Rocky Gathercole. Jojo is setting his eye on more fashion forward designs and tapping newer markets to expand his shoe business.
From the tiny factory of two, it is now 3 stories with hundreds of workers. Jojo still sees the old man who sold the shoe factory to him. He later told Jojo that they sold it to him because he sensed he had a good heart and is now very proud of his success.
Now, the Bragais line includes shoes, shirts, belts, leather bags, fragrances, and lipsticks. Jojo is an intuitive entrepreneur. He has a knack for knowing what looks good and is also unafraid to try new things. In manufacturing shoes, he said that there are lots of leather scraps. Wanting to make use of these, he decided to create a bag for his personal use. It got a lot of attention and people wanted it.
So, he started making leather bags. “Sobrang ganda ng pagtanggap and nagustuhan siya. Kaya ginawa ko siya at bumenta naman siya.” (They accepted it well and they liked it. So I made them and they're selling.)
His success has allowed him to buy a small beach house in Roxas. Everytime he wants to recharge and relax, he goes there. Jojo is a simple guy who enjoys just being with friends, eating and traveling.
Jojo Bragais has an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for design. He started making shoes to distract from the sadness and his success has only inspired him to do more good.
“I'll never forget and my mom would always remind me – the time when I attempted to commit suicide was around my birthday. So, more than ever I feel that birthdays are a celebration of life and the best way to celebrate it is to be a blessing to others. So now when it's my birthday, I do a lot of charity work. For my last birthday, we were able to give a sick child a much-needed operation, we have musical instruments to kids, and one time, we hosted a pageant in my hometown."
"Yun purpose ko is hindi lang magbigay ng kasiyahan. I want them to see that this guy was part of this community and when you dream and see a different part of the world, malalaman mo malaki pala ang mundo. Kasi madami sa mga bata sa probinsya na pag-aasawa lang ang nasa isip pero meron silang potential pa na mangarap ng mas malaki,” he said.
(My purpose isn't just to bring happiness. I want them to see that this guy was part of thise community and when you dream and see a different part of the world, you'll realize there's more out there. Because of a lot of kids from the province have so much potential to dream of big things but they end up only think about getting married one day.)
Jojo recalls being that problem child at a time in his life. But one of his proudest moments was when he gifted his mom a fully furnished house for her birthday. Jojo gets emotional each time he remembers that moment his Mom entered the house and she cried.
Jojo’s Mom Elsie has yet to see the Bragais Store, which is located in Quezon City.
What many people see now is a Jojo Bragais who is happy, thriving, successful, making beautiful things and surrounded by beautiful people. But it wasn’t always like that. The love and support of his family, his strong faith and the power of prayer helped him overcome a dark past.
Jojo’s story is truly inspirational as he figuratively rose from the ashes to become this explosive shoe designer sensation. But getting to where he is now wasn’t easy. Through heartaches, disappointments, and depression, Jojo pushed forward and just kept on going.
He lost himself only to find his purpose. A purpose that is beyond business or glamour, but one that is rooted in hardwork, perseverance and a giving heart. His story is something that alot of people can relate to. His success is something that many aspire for.
In a way, Jojo’s experience is a Cinderella story – thanks to a shoe, hopefully he lives happily ever after. – Rappler.com
Voltaire has 10 years experience in the fashion industry. He previously worked with a luxury clothing and accessories brand in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated magna cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, major in Fashion Design. He also holds a BS in Applied Economics and BS in Marketing from DLSU. He is now doing real estate but finds ample spare time to pursue his passions.