The Story of a Dreamer: Via Galang
By Viva Alvaro-Galvez
HMU: Alvicel Cee of Alluring Vision by Cel
(May 24, 2017) When she was 4, she used to name all of her shoes. Never had she imagined naming her own brand of shoes, fast forward to more than 20 years later.
She started making a living at a very young age. From Marikina, they moved to Mindanao (Butuan City). There, she recalls selling hair clips as early as 11. At 10, she was selling stationeries in school, and pinasugbo (a local delicacy) a year later, to have an extra on top of her daily allowance.
At 17, back to Marikina for college, together with a friend, she would post photos of foot wears and sell them online through Multiply (a social media giant that time). A journey she would later on continue by herself, due to some circumstances. That’s where all the magic started.
She reminisced some of the most unforgettable moments when she was starting on her own. During that time in the Philippines, only few people knew about an online market, and the main communication medium was only through text. Today, almost everyone can sell almost anything and can be reached out on Facebook.
None of us would have made it like her — a nursing student with an iconic all-white uniform and neat hair bun rummaging stalls and put-up-stores along the sidewalks of Marikina, knocking on the doors of shoe factories, saying, “hello po, ako si Via Galang, may online shop po ako, nagtitinda po ako ng sapatos” (“hello, I’m Via Galang, I have an online shop where I sell shoes”). She is nothing but an epitome of a bold, and brave persona. And because of that, she finally had a shoe factory “to-go-to”.
The owner was generous enough to let her take pictures of all the shoes, however this time, she could not do reservations, so she should buy the items outright. With a limited budget as a student, she could only afford one pair of shoes to start with.
She recalled one of the most beautiful items on her list. It was the Gretchen shoes which is (according to the factory owner) designed by the famous Filipino actress Gretchen Barreto. It was only available in black, and red, and since it was in demand, the factory only had limited stocks of it. The shoes remind her of her bitter-sweet experience while she was embarking her journey into shoe-selling. It’s through these shoes that her perseverance, and determination was tested.
In an extraordinary afternoon, she had to meet a client in Sta. Mesa who ordered Gretchen shoes. The rain was pouring real hard; the flood was already on the waist level while walking to the destination. She was on the way to V. Mapa Station when she had to carry her school bag all the way to the top of her head, for the shoes were there, while the flooding was persistent which then reached chest level. Her mind was saying “huwag lang mabasa ang shoes” (“the shoes should not get wet, no matter what happens”). She had to do that so she wouldn’t have to spend another penny for another pair, since part of her savings out of the school allowance was spent for it. She was thinking that’s probably the last pair in her bag right there. “It was the most difficult delivery I had to do” she said.
From then on, she gained a lot of followers and resellers. “I was the first seller of Marikina shoes online before. The factories did not have online accounts, there was no Facebook. If you find the same type of shoes sold in Multiply, I was the supplier, and the pictures on their page were from me” she said. She had more than a hundred resellers/clients from Mindanao, Vizayas, and Luzon.
Her venture continued until she graduated from College and she was able to buy herself a better camera phone that she’d been dreaming of. In the hopes of expanding her inventory, she would get Korean sandals from Muslim sellers in the basement of Farmer’s Market. She had a huge competitor selling imported shoes from China and Korea, and she also tried to sign up and import shoes from the same suppliers. “I think the market wants to have different designs, so while I don’t have the budget to create and design my own, I’d just be everybody’s reseller” she said.
She was a writer/copywriter in a company, when Multiply died. When she changed her career path, the shoe business led to a full stop. That was May, 2012. All the while she thought that the shoe-selling journey would stop from there, but no.
She would recollect glimpse of difficulties in importing, versus selling locally made shoes. According to her, there was not a lot of earning because of tax and payables in customs. “The designs are really nice, and if ever it gets manufactured in Marikina, it would be way cheaper. Since I am already living in the Shoe Capital of the Philippines, I feel like I have to take advantage of that” she said. That’s when her fascination of designing her own shoe collection started. Little did she know that this would turn into a reality in the next coming years.
In December 2015, she met her Prince (John, now her fiancé). Like a fairytale story, there would be moments full of sparkles, and moments that are too tough to handle. This chapter of her story made her realize that in creating a masterpiece, one doesn’t just need perseverance and determination, but also people that could be trusted; the ones that won’t let nor bring you down, through thick or thin.
In 2016, amazed by her compelling stories, John motivated her to continue what she has always wanted. He introduced her to the very first client who needed 37 pairs of shoes (same style and color) for an event in one of the known Universities in the Metro. This was when she made her very first shoe design. She signed up simply because she wouldn’t want to turn her first ever clients down. She found a shoe factory owned by a family friend who was willing to her design and get the job done just 3 weeks from the day of the event. “I was assured” she said, so she trusted.
The event was to be held on the 19th of May, however, the most painful part of the story set in — the factory sent the items a day late from the promised delivery date. Worst, that was morning of the very day before the event, with only 9 pairs finished. “We had to magically create 28 pairs a day before the event. I was already bad shot with my client because I was supposed to deliver the items on the 17th” she said. What a very unpredictable villainous plot by that factory.
But in the dark times, Via has always found her calmness through her very own fairy god mother (her Mom, Gina). Afternoon of the same day, she asked for an early out (from work) to meet her mom. “Whenever I have problems, I always tell it to my mom, because she always has a solution” she added. Hours later they had bags of 28 pairs of shoes sourced from different malls from Cubao all the way to Ortigas. She had spent more than what she prepared for, not thinking about the profit, but the commitment and promise she made.
Sad to say, her mom never got to see some of the latest designs after the first one. In January 2017, she passed away. When asked about her mom being an inspiration, she said “I am what I am now because of her, and my taste is greatly influenced by her” she said.
This May, just in time for the very 1st anniversary of Versaheel (her very own shoe-brand), she met MJ Racadio (a long time Publicist of the famous Filipino Eco-couture fashion designer John Ablaza). Both of them was in an event of the famous designer Francis Libiran. She never thought of meeting brilliant designers and some of the notable celebrities in Fashion and Entertainment industry. Days after, Ms. Jaclyn Jose (the 2016 Cannes Film Fest Best Actress) got her first ever Versaheel pair. A whirlwind experience she couldn’t believe up to now. “I was not planning to do something like this a week ago. So this opened my mind, and made me think of going out more often, just try new things.”
“For new designers, just play with colors, play with fabrics, do not produce shoes that are already out there. If you want to be distinct, you must take inspiration from your own personality” her answer when I asked her thoughts about aspiring shoe designers.
When asked about her own flavor she’s putting in her design, she said “I want my shoes to be the outfit. Even if you’re wearing sako (sack) or what, when you have my shoes, you stand out. Shoe is every period in your fashion statement. It pulls everything together. I want to be known as Via Galang, the girl in better shoes.”
Nice shoes indeed take us to beautiful places, but it’s us, our perseverance, our determination, our talent, and right people who believe in us take part in most of our accomplishments.
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