If there’s a word that can send a voracious shoe hoarder on high alert, it’s this: Marikina. Yup, as in the city.
Any shoe connoisseur would know that the city of Marikina is best known for top-notch quality shoes, at an unbelievably affordable price point. Hailed as the shoe capital of the Philippines, Marikina has always upheld shoes that never fall short in terms of style and durability. The city found its zenith in the late 1880s, but due to the arrival of imported shoes that were cheaper, the local shoemaking industry slowly dwindled.
Years later, the industry finds itself revitalized, and it goes without saying that social media has played a part in making it more accessible. The Philippines still has a long way to go when it comes to championing sustainable, local businesses, but there are already a handful of brands leading the way there. With four proudly Marikina-made brands, we talked about all things design and quality, and where they see the Philippines stands—or is headed—in terms of sustainability in fashion.
1. Renegade Folk
One look at Renegade Folk’s Instagram page will easily render you charmed. There’s something exciting about the way their sandals dance on the line between classic and experimental—their sandals were made for everyday wear but are nowhere near boring. Their sandals, they share, are all made to be part of your staple wardrobe. Each pair is made to last you at least three years—a testament to the meticulous shoe-design process they take into account. “We definitely think both function and form work hand in hand and are equally important, but we always filter it through the lens of everyday use” shares Bea, the brand's co-founder, over email. It’s no wonder the RF community they’ve built responds to them so well: They give them plenty of solid reasons to do so, after all.
When we asked them about where they think the Philippines stands in terms of sustainable fashion, they expressed that “Filipinos are now more appreciative of the provenance of the goods that they're buying and how it was made. The awareness and concern is already there but we're just scratching the surface. Supporting local is appreciated but it's not an everyday choice for everyone—most especially if it's inconvenient and impractical.”
Recognizing their need to compete with imported brands, the women behind Renegade Folk ensure that their success is a mission to make supporting local “a part of our everyday lives rather than just a social cause we sometimes practice.”
2. Studio Josanna
“Dusted off for the new age” is a phrase in Josanna’s "About" page that piques intrigue immediately. The label was founded by Rico Sta. Ana in the '90s, whose signatures include a square-point toe and the most flattering arch that makes any foot look long, shares Anna Canlas, Managing Director.
Josanna’s Creative Director, Karen Bolilia, shares that they “like to think of the resulting style as a direct descendant of one (or more) archived pair.” Their workshop’s archive stands strong as the foundation of all their current styles, and they’re particularly focused on keeping the shoes’ architectural integrity, which they claim is built for day-long wear. They “habitually combine design cues from past and contemporary imagery,” which results in an interesting amalgamation of classic and current trends, something they lovingly call a “remix” of sorts.
In terms of sustainable fashion, both believe that we’re currently in what they call a “transitional phase.” Anna expounds by sharing “Just yesterday our workshop director, Unyx Sta. Ana—Sir Rico's daughter—told us there's a need to train more shoemakers—those who actually put upper to sole—in Marikina because there's really a shortage of them.” She observes that there are more designers than craftsmen, and suggest that the local government contribute significant funding for shoe scholars. Karen also articulates that “Pursuing sustainability involves mindfulness of not just footprint and waste, but also of community.” Rather than merely reveling in the artistry our Marikina artists, she shares that “It would be amazing to see and support these skills being passed down to produce a new crop of artisans,” the most essential factor in the preservation and survival of the craft, in their opinion.
3. Cora & Bear
Cora & Bear’s Instagram page greets you with a delicious mix of zesty oranges and lush limes in high quality suede and velvet. The brand was born out of the founder’s want to create playful, colorful footwear. “We actually started this brand because we were tired of only seeing black and beige shoes, which led us to just deciding to make our own.” The designs are birthed by a rigorous process of research, which come in the forms of looking at new clothing and footwear trends every night, and conducting surveys on Instagram to garner customer feedback.
The latter mode of research proves useful when experimenting with colors, as “buyers are still quite conservative when it comes to colorful footwear.” As for experimentation with materials, the brand is looking to branch our further this year.
According to Ana, she’s definitely seen a big growth in the support for local brands, citing Instagram as a tool that “makes discovering local brands much easier.” Ana’s focus on sustainability seems to gravitate more towards raw and native materials, which she notices is a growing trend in the metro.
Despite the heightened awareness on sustainability, a problem she observes is the abuse of the term “ethical.” She explains, “Any brand can now claim they are ethical even if they aren’t actually so. It’s unfortunately very difficult (and expensive) to track every single raw material in the supply chain to check against environmental and human exploitation.” Ultimately, this has allowed consumers to be more attentive to transparency, “demanding brands to adhere to ethical standards,” Ana shares.
All it takes to fall in love with Tonic is a peek at their sandal collections, which are unique renditions of current shoe trends. Jane of all trades, Kimberly—who serves as the brand’s Founder, Creative Director, and Marketing Head—cites that “there are local brands out there who deliberately copy designs and pass them off as theirs.” This very idea was her motivation for sourcing the best and most unique materials, those that she knows will make her shoes favored among many. Kimberly claims her work is a consistent process of finding inspiration, finalizing designs, sourcing materials, and making these designs a reality. Although this gives her a seemingly never-ending work life, she endures it to differentiate her brand from the rest.
The label plays their part in fashion sustainability by mainly making use of synthetic leather and prioritizing quality, so their shoes would last their customers several years. They also limit the number of pairs they produce, “so as not to exhaust too much resources.” Moreover, they’re in the process of creating sturdy shoe box that can be reused for miscellaneous purposes.
Tonic has been in the shoe industry for more than a decade, and Kimberly attributes the brand’s one-of-a-kind footwear to her Marikina manufacturers. “In return, we are also happy to provide a steady source of livelihood to our small family of manufacturers—our wins are their wins, too.”