MANILA, Philippines -- For many decades, the town of Liliw in Laguna has been known for its trendy and affordable slippers.
What started out as a small clump of footwear stalls on Tayaw Street became a thriving industry, with Gat Tayaw and nearby streets practically taken over by traders.
Data from the municipal office show there are more than 70 registered footwear retailers and manufacturers as of 2008.
But has Liliw?s famed tsinelas trade been affected by the current global financial crisis, which has taken its toll on a lot of businesses worldwide?
Yes, but only minimally, according to some store owners.
Having an ?emergency? plan coupled with creativity, aggressiveness and optimism certainly helped this town?s footwear vendors cope.
According to Marietta Peñaflor, footwear manufacturer and president of the Likhang Liliw Multipurpose Cooperative, the industry started to feel the pinch about two years ago. But this did not affect the footwear industry in a big way, except for a few small footwear businesses.
The co-op, whose members include more than 30 footwear traders and manufacturers, aims to help small retailers in their enterprise.
Aside from lack of capital, Peñaflor adds, global competition is another challenge the footwear industry is now facing. She cites the influx of much cheaper footwear made in China.
?Their prices are really very, very low,? Peñaflor said in Filipino.
?Puro makina, tipid sa tao (it?s all machinery; human labor is cut to a minimum),? she explains.
Already, buyers may notice the presence of several China-made footwear in some stores.
But, Peñaflor, who has been in the business for years, sees the crisis as an opportunity to reach out to a wider market and to be more creative in making trendy footwear designs and styles.
After all, she beams, Liliw?s durable slippers has already made a name in the footwear industry, and patrons from all over the country, as well as balikbayan, continue to troop to this town to buy the popular tsinelas.
Aside from manufacturing various footwear and delivering them to other stores in Liliw, Peñaflor?s products have also reached other places. She is also fortunate to have been a subcontractor of Natasha for years now and is pleased with the orders she?s been getting.
Slippers cost less than P100 while step-ins and sandals can be bought from P180 to less than P500. The ?3 for 100? slippers are a hit with customers.
Another proprietor, Mario Garcia of Liance Footwear, says that although there has been a drop in wholesale orders from his regular customers, production of slippers continues everyday.
This is because, like Peñaflor, he has tapped other markets outside of town, bringing his wares to Manila, Mindoro, Bataan and Nueva Ecija. Garcia rents a stall on Gat Tayaw Street for P6,000.
He says there has been a slight increase in the costs of materials like the glass/plastic materials used for high-heeled shoes and sandals.
Jundy Arevalo, owner of Yari sa Liliw, also sees the crisis as a ?blessing.?
He started the business in 2004 when the footwear industry was in full bloom.
Although his venture started out small, Yari sa Liliw today has three branches. He says they were able to ?anticipate? the possible effect of a slowdown by continuously producing footwear greatly in demand, allowing him to capture a wider market.
?Wholesale buyers come to us because we offer footwear in complete sizes and colors,? says Arevalo. ?That becomes our advantage. We have available sizes and enough supplies to meet customers? demands.?
He adds that the current crisis must be seen as an ?opportunity [for business owners] to strive harder, think positive and be aggressive? to survive.
Both Peñaflor and Arevalo are optimistic that, with hard work and ?diskarte? (innovation), the town?s footwear industry will surmount whatever crisis.
Sales are also expected to swell when the annual ?Tsinelas Festival? kicks off tomorrow. The week-long event, which seeks to boost Liliw?s tourism and footwear industry, has been a big crowd drawer for years.