Marikina City

Marikina shoemaking industry’s journey of resilience and revival

Mari-An C. Santos

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Marikina shoemaking industry’s journey of resilience and revival


There's a scarcity of skilled zapateros, a situation blamed on the treatment of previous shoemakers who earned less than their artisan status deserved

MANILA, Philippines – Marikina, once a farming and fishing town, has emerged as a renowned hub for exceptional shoemaking. After facing various challenges over the years, the craft is now on a path of continued success.

In 1887, Laureano “Kapitan Moy” Guevarra tasked his staff members with reverse engineering the process of shoemaking based on an imported pair he purchased in Manila. The community quickly acquired the necessary skills, leading to the establishment of shoemaking workshops within homes.

Handmade shoes require meticulous craftsmanship, involving tasks such as pattern-making, cutting, material shaping, gluing, sewing, sun drying, finishing, quality control, and packaging, each demanding significant time and effort.

The exceptional quality of Marikina’s shoes not only resulted in stores lining the town’s main thoroughfares but also expanded their presence in commercial hubs like Santa Cruz and Quiapo in Manila, and Cubao in Quezon City.

By 1935, the Marikina shoe industry employed 2,450 people, and this number increased to 3,000 by the 1990s. Shoemaking accounted for 70% of the local economy.

However, the mid-1990s saw trade liberalization opening the Philippine market to much cheaper footwear imports from China, leading to a rapid decline in the local industry.

“Our factory [production] price was the same as the selling price of shoes made in China!” lamented Russell Martirez, whose parents ventured into the business in the 1980s. 

During its peak, their enterprise employed 150 workers who produced 1,000 pairs daily to supply various boutiques.

Mirla Carlos reminisced about their heyday when their team of 30 workers provided handmade shoes to major department stores, including SM and Syvel’s, averaging 1,000 pairs per week. They even ventured into exporting.

In the early 2000s, direct-selling companies placed orders with the so-called “Magic 8” factories that had an average weekly quota of 2,500 pairs each.

Martirez recalled that during the industry’s lowest point, they barely made a profit of P5 per pair. 

They continued operating solely to ensure job security for their workers. Eventually, they closed down, and Martirez now works for a business process outsourcing company.

All of the Magic 8 factories have permanently ceased operations.

The shoemaking livelihoods also suffered significantly from the devastation caused by typhoons Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, Ulysses (Vamco) in 2020, and Karding (Noru) in 2022, which led to flooding and mud in the region.

From 513 registered shoe manufacturers in 1994, the number dwindled to only 153 in 2018.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 80% of the industry had to halt operations by August 2020, with the remaining 20% transitioning to online sales.

With a little help

The decline of Marikina’s shoe industry has not gone unnoticed by those who hold nostalgic memories of their high-quality footwear.

Fourth-generation Marikenya Zena Bernardo was deeply moved when she witnessed discarded shoe lasts being used as firewood at their community kitchen during the pandemic. 

This experience prompted her to lead Project Hulmahan, an art-driven mutual aid fund-raising initiative aimed at supporting livelihood projects, a community kitchen network, and art workshops. 

The project acquired shoe lasts from closed factories, including Carlos’, and over 700 artists have contributed works made from them. These items are available for sale online through their Facebook page, and an auction will be held on May 21 at the Manila Hotel.

Joseph Aaron Angeles, from Godfather Shoes, represents the new generation of entrepreneurs investing in Marikina. 

Established in 2016, Godfather employs a team of a dozen craftsmen who create high-quality handmade designs using local leather. 

Angeles brought innovation to both finishing and personalization, with the latter aspect helping them navigate through the pandemic by offering personalized shoes and complementary accessories for weddings.

Angeles lamented the scarcity of skilled workers, as many of his zapateros are in their 40s and there is no one to succeed them. 

He attributed this situation to the treatment of previous generations of shoemakers, who earned less than their artisan status deserved. 

Angeles said, “The younger generation didn’t see their parents or grandparents’ lives improve [from shoemaking].” 

At the bottom of the shoe manufacturing chain, they had to compromise to deliver lower-priced shoes.

“If you give them good quality materials and a sustainable salary, they can make wonderful shoes!” he attests.

Angeles intends to offer training to cultivate a new generation of shoemakers.

But the children of the shoemakers prefer to secure employment as business process outsourcing (BPO) and even construction workers than make shoes.

Noel Box, the officer-in-charge of the Marikina Shoe Industry Development Office (MASIDO), established in 2012 to support the local industry, has been advocating for better compensation and benefits for shoemakers. 

Box acknowledged that shoemaking has become a less appealing career choice for the younger generation.

To provide a solid foundation and comprehensive training, shoemaking courses have been integrated into the senior high school curriculum of San Roque National High School and Marikina High School. 

Marikina Polytechnic College and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina also offer BS Entrepreneurship courses focusing on footwear technology. These initiatives aim to professionalize and expand the local shoe manufacturing industry.

Martirez said he was concerned about the conditions that force marketers to choose between meager profits or closing their shops. 

“Stores will take between 90 to 150 days before paying you for an inventory of 150 pairs worth P100,000. In the meantime, what are you supposed to do? How can business be sustained?“

Box suggested that investors leverage financial institutions that can provide loans to establish their businesses.

Gigettte Javier-de Luna, the president of MVSM Bank, which traces its roots back to Marikina’s first bank (Marikina Valley Rural Bank), expressed their desire to revive the shoe industry. 

In celebration of their 70th anniversary, they will offer financing to interested investors in the Marikina shoe sector, in cooperation with the Philippine Guarantee Corporation. 

Carlos, who has retired, said she was optimistic that the third generation of her family would continue, pointing out that her children have established their own scaled-down shoemaking enterprises. 

Carlos said, “Lagi kong sinasabi sa kanila: naging maayos ang mga buhay ninyo sa sapatos. Huwag kayong titigil! (I always tell them: our lives were built on shoemaking. Don’t give up!)” –

Mari-An Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

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