by Stella Quimbo 31 March 2014

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Miro and I have lived long enough to have experienced the glory days of the Marikina shoe industry. My school shoes were Gregg shoes. And practically everyone in my school also wore Gregg shoes. Miro and his older brother Rico, as teenagers, would bring their GQ magazines to the local shoemaker and make pasadya "genuine" shoes. 
So in 2010, when I first thought of opening this shoe line, I was completely shocked when the factory supervisor told me - "Naku mam, kung gusto nyong mag paggawa ng leather shoes, may problema tayo. Hindi na kami marunong gumawa ng leather shoes. Nakalimutan na namin. Puro synthetic na ang gawa namin."
Of course I was undaunted. The people who know me can attest to this stubborness of mine. So it goes without saying - I went on with my shoe project and became slightly obsessed with the idea of wanting to save a dying craft. #savetheshoemaker #letnothebethelast
But beyond this social goal, I had to run a business. My immediate task was to produce shoes with 4 attributes: (i) genuine leather shoes, (ii) handcrafted, (iii) classic designs with an exciting twist, and (iv) most importantly, they had to be Marikina-made.
About the name... Lupe is my daughter and Saenz is Miro and Rico's middle name. Yes, my product is half named after my mother-in-law. In a sense, "Saenz" is a symbol of the traditional shoemaking craft while "Lupe" symbolizes everything new about the brand - the advocacy, the designs, the drive to reverse the inherent backwardness of the local shoe industry.
Sadly, backwardness is the present state of mind. After several iterations on my first shoe design (which took close to 6 months), I felt that the prototype was close to being ready for mass production. I profusely thank the shoemaker, who tells me: "ayaw na po naming gumawa para sa inyo, kasi perfectionist pala kayo."  There is no premium attached to the making of prototypes for the simple reason that the prototype maker is paid the same rate as a tried -and-tested design. So why sweat it out on something new which takes 6 months to make? Economics provides the key: provide the right incentives. The prototype maker cannot be paid piece rates.
I also chose a name that conveys a global feeling. My long term vision is to conquer the export market. #librengmangarap
Our tag line is plastered on the wall: inspired by the women who wear them. The shoes are designed with specific women and lifestyles in mind. For example, this summer, I wanted to sell the lowly chinelas. The inspiration was Leni Robredo, who as we all know, attaches special meaning to the chinelas. Of course now that she's in congress, the chinelas has to be a level higher than the usual. So we combined cow leather with snakeskin to produce the Leni slipper.  The Anna ballerina was named after my niece who at age 12 had already decided she wants to be a professional dancer when she grows up. The Nina pumps was inspired by my mom who as former cabinet secretary had long work hours peppered with a few social events throughout the day and night. The Judy shoe was named after my husband's BFF, a darn good lawyer but who also believes in "making arrangements" for good fortune. The Jeannette wedge was inspired by my banker friend who has casual Fridays to think about. And the list has gotten longer.
For two years, Lupe Saenz was sold in GB5 at a store called Bonne Bouche, but which was recently sold by its owners. So I became homeless and have since decided to retreat back to Marikina where it really all started. Primarily, I want to be closer to the makers.  I have also decided to go online, which has a far greater reach than a single store.
I enter this new phase, with excitement and a bit of fear of the unknown. The only one sure thing, I walk tall on Marikina-made, genuine leather shoes and handcrafted with devotion.