For Jojo Bragais, shoes are his source of joy. They got him through the most painful heartbreaks and gave him his second shot at life after deciding to abandon his practice as a licensed midwife and nurse. After discovering his talent in making shoes, Jojo took a great career leap that led him to design a now-iconic piece of history: Catriona Gray’s national costume boots.
Below, we get to know more about Jojo Bragais as he shares how he creates his signature pageant heels, which Filipina beauty queens claim to be their most comfortable pair.
How did you become a designer?
“After a terrible breakup, my mom got so worried and devastated so she said I needed a new environment to move on and take my mind off of things. She called my aunt who lived in Binangonan, Rizal, and asked if I can stay there for a while. Filipinos by nature are happy people and will introduce you to even the most distant relative. One day, on our way home, she said, 'Dating gawaan ng shoes yan (That’s an old shoe factory).' This piqued my interest as I have never seen a shoe factory in my life. When we came in, it was not even a factory that you can call. It’s a very small space and had only one sewing machine. I got very interested and asked the old owners about shoe making process until the old man offered to sell me the factory.”
"I started supplying to a certain direct-selling company and had 3,000 pairs ordered, but the factory couldn’t deliver all at once. From this mistake, I started all over again, taking smaller orders from people [and] earning only a P20-50 profit per pair, but I didn’t care. I wanna do good and told myself that eventually it will spread through word of mouth that my shoes are good. Things slowly picked up from there on and the rest was history."
You mostly design shoes. What got you interested in this craft?
"My sister loves shoes and she swas the first one to try my designs out. She has a really strong personality so she straight up told me what needs to be improved or anything that I needed to hear so I can better my craft. Filipinos also love to walk, so my primary mission is to make sure the shoes are comfy, especially my pageant shoes, which you can walk in for a whole day without having cramps."
Your brand specializes in platform shoes. How did you decide on this signature Jojo Bragais shoe?
"I make all sorts of shoes—from flats to wedges and heels—but since the Philippines is a country [that's passionate about] pageants, I started making comfy shoes for pageant queens."
Where do you usually draw inspiration from? Could you walk us through your creative process?
"Inspiration, for me, comes from the person. I take joy in seeing people wear my designs. So, when I design, I base it on their personality, on their capacity to walk on high heels, and on the event. If it's for a simple event, I make sure they look regal and if they want the shoe to look a bit edgy, I make sure they will still look appropriate for the event. I can't really draw so what I do is create prototype of shoes and improve the pair from there."
Who do you have in mind when designing shoes? Who is the ideal Jojo Bragais muse?
"I design base on the person. And my ideal muse is someone who is not afraid to express themselves through fashion. He or she is open for ideas."
How long does it take to make one pair of shoes?
"If it's a simple pair, I can make it for you in a day or two. But if it's a signature one, it might take a little longer. It took me a month to finish Catriona's national costume boots."
We saw you recently opened your physical store. Apart from shoes, what else do you sell there? Anything else that you design and manufacture?
"Yes, I recently opened my flagship store at 42 Scout Borromeo St., South Triangle in Quezon City. Other than shoes, you will see leather bags, button-down shirts, perfume, lipsticks, and belts."
You supplied Catriona’s pageant shoes. Could you tell us how you two met? How long have you been designing shoes for her? Does she have a favorite pair?
"I met her thrugh beauty queen Valerie Weigmann. The two are best friends. I met Val back when she was prepping for Miss World in 2014. Since then, we became good friends and travel buddies.
"Catriona's favorite pair would be the design I named after Valerie and, of course, the one designed after her because she put her own input on the shoes. Her toes are weird, so it's a challenge to design one for her."
What future projects or products should we expect from your brand in the coming years?
"In the coming years, I am planning to complete the makeup line, explore more on men's shoes and women's bags. I'm just excited for all things that are to come! But right now, I am focusing on putting up more physical stores where people can avail of my pieces."