Marikina and shoes
Marikina, to many Filipinos, is synonymous with shoes, the same way that ducks and balut are traditionally associated with Pateros, jewelry-making with Meycauayan, balisong with Batangas, and lechon with La Loma. When I saw the video of the giant red shoe that represents the “shoe capital of the Philippines” swept down the raging Marikina River, I knew Typhoon “Ulysses” had done its worst. Before COVID-19, the Marikina shoe industry was estimated to be worth P1 billion. After COVID-19 and Ulysses? It’s anybody’s guess.
Marikina traces its beginnings to a Jesuit foundation in 1630, while the shoe industry began in 1887, the tail-end of the Spanish period, when the area’s name was still spelled “Mariquina.” A certain Laureano Guevara, also known as “Kapitan Moy,” started it all by ripping apart his pair of imported shoes to see how it was made, and put it together again. Then, using the dismantled parts as padron or patterns, he and some friends produced new shoes, first with canvas that was cheaper and easier to handle, before moving on to leather tanned in Meycauayan and, later, cheap leather imports from Europe.
Guevara’s hand-made shoes were cheaper than imports and, I guess, sturdy enough to compete with the originals, so his small town shop’s success ignited the gaya-gaya, puto maya syndrome among neighbors, giving birth to the present Marikina shoe industry.
Guevara’s former home is now a museum that comes with a historical marker, the text of which, translated from the original Filipino, reads: “First shoe factory in Marikina. In this house, that became a school, was born Laureano Guevara (Kapitan Moy), the first shoemaker in Marikina. Son of Jose Emiterio Guevara and Matea Mariquita Andres, he began to make shoes at the end of 1887 with the help of Tiburcio Eustaquio, Ambrosio Santa Ines, Gervasio Carlos, and others. They discovered the correct way of making shoes and their continued success spurred the Municipal Council to draft a resolution on July 2, 1958 making this house a museum.”
A stray reference in my old notebook says that the first Marikina Shoe outlet opened in Escolta in the 1900s and did brisk business. With the industry expanding, the shoemakers decided to form a guild or union to protect their interests, not knowing that it would later be taken over by Chinese merchants who offered them cheap low-quality materials on credit. When the Marikina shoemakers overextended themselves, the Chinese merchants then came to collect their debts. The locals having no cash to repay for materials and loans, the Chinese then dictated the price and eventually controlled the business.
The shoemakers eventually found another outlet in Filipino viajeros or ambulant vendors who got shoes on credit and sold them throughout Luzon and perhaps even as far as the Visayas and Mindanao. This worked out well if the viajeros were honest, but some ran off with the shoes and the payments, leaving the shoemakers little choice but to close shop or return to the credit offered by the Chinese.
When the Americans took over from the Spaniards at the turn of the 20th century, the Marikina shoe industry was already in decline. But the entry of US-made shoes and new fashion gave Marikina shoemakers something new to copy and compete with. In time, the Americans helped rehabilitate the industry by providing the shoemakers with fine imported leather, copper nails, better tools, and modern sewing machines. The educational system also provided vocational instruction to prepare pupils for definite work: farming, housekeeping, carpentry, woodworking, etc. In Olongapo, through an agreement with the US Navy Yard, students were introduced to the operation and repair of engines, boilers, and pumps. The success of the program led to the establishment of the Mariquina Trade School in the 1900s for shoemaking, as reported by the Philippine Commission to the US Secretary of War.
It is ironic that Marikina took in the infamous Imelda Marcos shoe collection from Malacañang and displayed them in a city museum. Mrs. Marcos may be synonymous with shoes, but she only wore imported expensive brands like Bally, instead of the homegrown ones made in the Marikina Valley.
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