You have a unique logo for a shoe brand. What is the story behind your logo and name?
Kai is my seven-year old daughter, who loves shoes as much as I do and who has always been my inspiration in this venture. Our first logo is a caricature of Kai trying out my own shoes, which she was fond of doing. When we checked in the internet, “Kai” can mean loveable (in Swahili) and strong or unbreakable (in Burmese), the very qualities which we strive to be the ideals in coming out with aesthetically lovable, wearable and durable shoes.
We also read somewhere that “kai” is a kind of stingray (‘Kai stingaree’) specie, and we thought it would be perfect to choose it as our logo. The stingray is known for its incredible sturdiness yet enchanting beauty in the ocean floor. Despite its size and shape, stingrays maneuver themselves quite well and blend into their surroundings with such restraint and balance. Finally, stingrays are also associated with strong themes on nurture, sensitivity and protection, which we could very well use as a symbol for our advocacy.
Your advocacy is “Wear your culture”. What do you stand for?
SbK is for me more than just a business enterprise. As a sociology major in U.P. Diliman, when I was in college, I always aspired to work someday in advocating our culture and Filipino identity. I was hoping this boutique business could become a medium for such advocacy, where shoe shoppers and consumers could sense and be aware of the richness of the Filipino tradition as represented in our local exquisite fabrics and the skilled craftsmanship of our weavers and shoemakers. If SbK could help instill in Filipino buyers the appreciation and need to nurture, protect and preserve indigenous and local traditions and materials, then I could say our enterprise had been a cultural success!
Define the people who wear SHOES BY KAI?
“SbK’ers” are non-conformist shoe shoppers, who deeply understand that they are wearing a bit of tradition on their feet. They are able to appreciate and share the same passion for well-made shoes, using non-conventional materials and design.
What makes you different from other indigenous inspired shoe brands?
SbK is different because it never really claimed to be exclusively indigenous. The advocacy is not just about the indigenous weaves but the ‘tradition of hand-made shoes’. Before the influx of mass-produced footwear, the Philippines is known to produce durable but elegant shoes. We envision SbK to be a testament to that tradition. Even without modern machinery, we have the creativity and skill to produce world-class quality footwear.
Moreso, SbK strives to be an “indie” shoe brand; that is, ‘independent’ and ‘indigenous’, but not in a constricting fashion. We do not let the category get in the way of our creativity. Hence, SbK tends to embrace fusion of indigenous fabrics with contemporary aesthetics. Our point is that the quality of traditional shoe-making can be tapped to create modern, fashion-forward shoes, yet retaining its classic durability and wearability.
Finally, we always wanted to ensure that SbK should not turn out to be an exclusivist, luxury shoe brand. In line with our advocacy that more Filipinos should ‘wear their culture,’ SbK shoes are reasonably priced and within the reach of ordinary but discriminating shoppers, without sacrificing the quality and elegance it is proud of.
What did you first take in consideration: designs that appeal to you or designs that appeal to your target market?
Initially, as a bona fide “shoeaholic’, I came out with styles that appealed to me. I tested the market with no specific target market in mind. I remember designing loafers made of “abel Iloko” but with spikes. I was thinking, it would be for the young and hip, but as it turned out, more middle-aged ladies bought it.
Perhaps shoe preference is becoming more relative, with buyers becoming more adventurous and cosmopolitan in outlook. I would rather play along with creativity with that outlook in mind. To simply state, I started purely out of motivation by my love for shoes. Until now that is what drives me to create shoes, not any market consideration. With so many beautiful handwoven fabrics, there will be plenty more durable, chic and comfortable footwear to be designed, that will captivate the market.
Just two years in the business and you have a huge fan base; what would be the main factor behind your success?
Loyal buyers. In less than two years, I never deliberately asked for feedbacks from clients, but it has become a regular thing for my loyal buyers to send their pictures proudly wearing SbK and even sending messages like they already have 15 pairs of my shoes or that they have travelled to different countries using only SbK, etc. These pictures and messages inspire and strengthen my motivation to keep up.
You’ve covered shoes, bags, clothing . . . your brand seems complete. What would be next for “Shoes by Kai”?
I would rather say that the enterprise is still on experimental stages, experiencing birth pangs. We only tried the other products to try the use of indigenous fabrics on such items. Hopefully, I am targeting to put up a stand-alone concept store, since we still do not have a regular business outlet. We are only accessible online and in a few bazaars in World Trade Center, Rockwell and Glorietta from time to time. But hopefully we’re going there. For now, I am still mainly focused on shoes and learning more about the craft of shoemaking, so we could offer more in design and quality. We’re also checking other fabrics in other parts of the country to add to our innovative materials. I have also started with shoes for men and for kids, with our couple and mother-daughter pairs.
If you were to start the brand all over again, will you change anything? Why?
I started with very limited capital in this business. If only financial constraints were out of the question I could have started on a spurt by engaging professional services in marketing, advertising, branding, graphic artists, etc. But then again, it would have cost me valuable lessons in entrepreneurship. As they say, the journey is the destination. This business, in spite of all the strain and challenges along the way, is definitely a journey worth taking. And I relish every step I took and continue to take with SbK.
What’s your biggest Shoephoric moment?
I have met and was endorsed by Ms. Jessica Zafra, who happens to be my favorite local writer. I have been invited to exclusive pop-up stores that feature the “choicest” brands in Manila. I was named by one blogger as among the “Four up and coming Filipino shoe brands to watch out for”. I was featured in several local magazines. But nothing beats the incident when my daughter Kaizzy saw the crowd in our booth in a Rockwell bazaar and exclaims, “Gosh, you’re doing well, Mama! I’m so proud of you.”
What can you share to aspiring shoepreneurs?
It’s really a leap of faith that can take your guts out. Take the leap, but make sure you have good shoes on your feet! By that I mean a good advocacy, a sensitivity to your clients, and a superb quality of your product, which you should never cease working on . . .
Define yourself as a Shoephoric.
A head-over-heels shoelover; creative, and passionate. I always say," It's all for the love, baby."