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BTS: STORY OF OUR ARTISANS
Meet two of our artisans: both seniors in their field with the same dedication in making great leather goods. They have made all your favorite bags so desirable and durable at the same time.
(Translated from Filipino.)
Nida, 60 years old, Production Manager
“I was born and grew up in Cebu, but in the 1970s, I came to Manila and found work as a helper at Winston Leather Products in Balintawak. I learned how to make belts, wallets—just all about production of leather products until that business diversified. I found work in another leather factory, this time, in Kamuning, where I was employed as a supervisor.
In 1986, I found work in Marikina. I first worked as an assembler, then I rose up the ranks to purchaser and then, supervisor. But in 2009, the company where I worked, which was exporting the leather products, was forced by circumstances and tough competition to close.
I eventually again found work as supervisor in leather production.
Marikina is really well-known for the quality and workmanship of its leather products. My husband and I used to make handmade sandals at home as a side business from leather scraps given to us from my previous job. It did well for a while—we were selling to friends and relatives even as far as Cebu--but there was a massive influx of cheaper products from China beginning in 1994, that we decided to stop the venture.
I still like working with leather and as long as I am able to, I will work in this industry.
Among the younger generation, there are not too many who want to take up leather-making as a career. They prefer the corporate offices.
I like the bags and other items that Katre has us make. The designs look very simple but in reality the amount of attention given to each design is a lot. Ma’am Kat spares no expense in making sure that the bags are durable and well-made so we make sure we are as meticulous.”
Gabby, 57 years old, Pattern Maker
“I used to work for a shoemaker. During our break times, I would watch our neighbor, who was in the business of making bags. Mang Luis was his name. He encouraged me to learn: ‘It is easy as long as you know how to sew,’ he said.
I was interested in making bags because the process was cleaner, more streamlined, than making shoes. I was supporting myself through school, learning how to become a tailor. That was around 1978.
When I finally decided to become a bagmaker, I started as an assembler. When the company I worked for started getting projects for export, I learned how to make patterns.
When you’re an assembler working at a factory, since you are concerned with production, your productivity determines how much you earn. As a pattern-maker, you are the architect of the bag. I liked being able to work with raw materials and then, making a sample bag.
I worked in companies that made leather bags that were then exported, this was in the 1980s, and we had contracts with many Italian businesses. I learned a lot from the Italian principals that came here, as well as from our production manager at that time.
Due to my talent and skill, I was able to work in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and even China—I trained the Chinese on pattern-making.
Our local industries used to do so well, but ever since we started accepting imported goods, the competition has been too fierce. But the Marikina-made ones continue to be of high quality.
I have three children, two of them are girls and one boy. All of them have finished schooling. One of my children, the youngest, used to help around the factory, but I insisted he finish school. He is now working at an office.
Do you know, I never bought bags for any of my children, not even my sole grandchild—I made bags for all of them!
I think I will continue working while I still can. I am preparing my papers for my retirement. But I don’t want to stop working yet.
There hardly seem to be any younger people who want to continue making leather bags by hand. Everything is different now. The buyers like the cheaper bags with so many accessories; the number of leather workers is dwindling.
With the Katre bags, I make patterns and mockups and they make comments on the utility of the design before we finalize anything. Each final design goes through a rigorous process.”
As told to Mari-An Santos