The office was packed with shelves lined with handcrafted shoes of Filipino make and material. Displayed at the back of the office was a carved tarsier hugging one of the high heels. Tucked away at the side was a pair of flats hand-painted with baybayin I couldn’t understand.
“The walis tingting is a symbol of solidarity. One stick is useless, but together, it has more function,” Risqué Designs’ Tal de Guzman recalls the story of how she designed a pair of high heels with a walis tingting carving. Everyday objects have value, she says. Every object has a story.
She was talking about her design process. At that moment, while her unique designs, her easy-going employees, her workshop painted with motivational advice, and her cared-for shoemakers were all around me, I understood how the power of stories inspired her whole outlook on life, outside of Risqué Designs and her design process.
A story of creation
Even before graduating, Tal de Guzman knew that she wanted to start a business centered on local materials and artisans. After finishing her degree in Art Management from Ateneo, she pursued further studies in the School of Fashion and Arts to find that one inspiration which would spark her business. She also went to The One School for a degree in Entrepreneurship. For a time, she focused on locally made bags, but soon scrapped the idea when she saw how saturated the market already is.
It was only upon visiting Paete, Laguna, that Tal stumbled upon the idea to focus on shoes. This little town’s streets were lined with workshops carving out santos, handmade furnitures, and the bakya. She wondered, “Why hasn’t anyone modernized the bakya yet?” And thus, Risqué Designs was born.
Risqué Designs makes custom shoes by hand using local materials sourced from all around the country and brought together by professional artisans. Flats, high heels, and hand-painted shoes are available. Tal and her team of collaborating artists customize the shoes in three ways: the fit, the design, and the material. Customers come in and present their preferences which Tal then interprets into the design of the shoe.
Part-time to full-time
The business’ story wasn’t fun and games at all. Risqué Designs’ sole responsibility rested on her. Tal had to do all the designs, develop the sales and marketing, talk to suppliers, and go to events. In one minute, she was fitting a client’s feet at a coffee shop. In the next, she was driving to Laguna to meet with suppliers and artisans. This happened every day, every week. Needless to say, it was taxing physically, emotionally, and financially.
Eventually, Tal had to pause her studies at SoFA and The One School. “When you have your own business, it could mean that you have your own time, but it could also mean that all your time is taken by your business.” She had become a full-time entrepreneur. She is still looking to finish her degrees, but most of her time has been given to Risqué Designs.
Her dedication has expanded Risqué Designs into a much bigger enterprise. Currently, she employs five shoemakers, two full-time employees, and several part-timers and interns. Last year, she acquired a showroom in Katipunan. A year later, an investor took interest in Risqué Designs. She moved her operations to a much bigger workshop in Marikina.
Taxing as it was in all aspects, Tal’s biggest challenge didn’t come from all the things being an entrepreneur sucked out from her. It came from the pressure she put herself through. As a solo entrepreneur, no one else was there to push her to action. It was all her. Now, there’s more at stake. “Before, it was just myself. I give salaries now. I hire people with their own families to feed.”
The materials come from all around the Philippines. Just a few of these regions are Cebu, Abra, Baguio, and Negros. “If I’m decided on a certain material or a community, I spend time with the weavers. I recently gave the community in Negros new looms. I’m focused on increasing the usage of these materials.”
“The biggest problem I want to solve is increasing the demand for local textiles. Before, no one liked local products because they were too traditional. We’re lucky to be in a generation now who are driving to support local industry. We’re excited to see local products.”
Every pair of shoes is the product of a lot of hands. Tal wants to increase demand for these products because it will mean more recognition and salaries for them. “They usually don’t get a daily rate, unlike here. We help them with finances and how to systematize their products.”
Vision for the country
Tal hopes to see Risqué Designs in fashion districts all around the world, such as Paris and Berlin. She hopes to explore other accessories like bags. “We don’t have a shoe brand that really carries the culture of the Philippines. I have designs that tell legends and show endemic animals. Being seen internationally will give these artisans and the country dignity.”
She hopes to spark creativity in other entrepreneurs. In five years, she hopes locally made products would be a normal display in malls. She hopes to reduce importing products from other countries.
“Importing is okay. Globalization means that we can access everyone. But at the same time, it means that everyone in the world can also access us. We’re only finding out now what it means to be a Filipino. If there’s nothing they can source from us, how can they know us? Sometimes it’s sad to think that people from outside the country appreciate our products more than we do here. That’s changing now and we have local innovations to thank for that.”
Risqué Designs by Tal de Guzman is available online through http://www.risquedesignsph.com. Their flats start at P550. Their heels start at P2500. Their men’s collection starts at P2950. Customizations are available through an online or personal consultation.
This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of 2nd Opinion.