By Anna Valmero
LILIW, LAGUNA–The art and craft of making slippers in this mountain town may die soon if cheap and low-quality imported goods continue to flood the local market and be patronized by Filipinos.
The quiet town of Liliw is famous for its tsinelas (sandals) industry. The stretch of footwear stores along Gat Tayaw street here attracts thousands of tourists and customers.
Some stores, however, are now selling cheap knockoffs and sandals made from China and Korea – much like elsewhere in the country – hoping to earn better profit. These imported goods are displayed alongside locally made shoes and could fool the “uninformed buyer”.
Ultimately, this poses a threat to the industry that built the town of Liliw, says Julieta Scott, a third-generation tsinelas maker and proprietor of Megansco Footwear.
About 97 percent of the Philippine footwear industry is composed of small-scale, family-owned enterprises providing the employment to at least 300,000 people, according to a study by Dr. Olivia la O’ Castillo.
From shipping 22 million pairs of shoes in 1997, the local footwear industry supplied less than 63 percent in 2001 due to the crisis and the influx of China-made shoes.
According to Julieta, some stores who wanted to meet the price requirements of customers resort to selling cheap imported slippers that require half the capital that selling Liliw-made sandals and slippers.
This is reflected in the same study which found that the value of imported footwear products was about $76 million in 1997 but by 2001, it declined to $53.5 million. The number of pairs of imported footwear increased from 28 million to 60 million, the same report showed.
Over the years, the capital for handcrafted Liliw sandals and slippers has increased as prices of materials in the market also increased. Today, Liliw footwear sells at a premium price of P300 or more for a nice pair.
The higher price, while still cheaper than those sold in city malls, sometimes discourage customers who are short in cash.
To this, Julieta has one worry: cheap knockoffs sold by stores in Liliw may put off future customers and eventually, lead to the demise of the industry. For one, the knockoffs last only for months while Liliw slippers last for three to five years, she says.
Fely San Luis, widow of former Laguna governor Felicisimo San Luis and founder of Gawad San Luis Foundation, is a faithful patron of Liliw-made slippers. She owns dozens of Liliw-made sandals in almost every color.
“They are sturdy and they rival those made abroad, maybe even better,” says Mommy Fely during a tour of her home in Alabang.
“For every pair of imported sandals you buy, one family in the Philippines loses its livelihood from shoemaking,” she says. In Liliw, one or two members of every household are employed either as shoemaker or seller.
Julieta says globalization is inevitable and spares no industry, even small-scale tsinelas makers in Liliw. While every customer has freedom of choice, she is hoping buyers would bear in mind that locally made tsinelas are also of premium quality.
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