Black Wing is not only about making shoes. This is a personal endeavor to introduce something different to the industry by offering an alternative, not only for consumers but for entrepreneurs and shoemakers as well. I am not trying to change mainstream business, I am trying to provide a new dimension to it. By incorporating sustainability and social enterprise into the core business model, I am hoping to gradually increase the sphere in which we are making our impact in the industry.
When starting something new, one has the opportunity to start it right.
“New Industry Enterprise”
New industry is a concept emerging from the opportunity created by the wake of mass commercialism which has saturated the market with mass produced goods which conform to the standards set by trends, maximizing profit and minimizing risk. So while most people fall under the standards, in terms of taste and fit, there are those who are left to bear the pain of not being able to get the bare minimum required of the product to fit their need and want.
Paradoxically, new industry is not necessarily based on new technology. While new technology helps, new industry is based on more traditional methods and is closely rooted in the beginnings of any product or service. Take for example craft food, it cannot be mass produced and is developed by food artisans (not necessarily chefs) and is priced by a niche market because their craft addresses their need but does not necessarily appeal to the general public. It is the difference between buying standard honey glazed donuts to getting Super Floss Bronuts. New industry addresses a niche hence could charge higher rates for their custom products and services. The same trend happened in men’s fashion as it experienced a renaissance recently with custom/bespoke being the theme. This is also the same concept which has triggered a boom in the wedding industry a few years back as suppliers strove to find new ways to give clients new and unique experiences based on traditional and cutting edge technologies.
It utilizes a mix of traditional modes of production and modern creativity to create something different. The outputs of new industry thus offers a new experience done the old fashion way. It is thus a balance of technical and the creative to provide a unique and custom experience for the client.
New industry thus created a new class of entrepreneurs who have an opportunity to create something even bigger than their business. It is an opportunity to create a new middle class by growing and developing the industry rather than just the business. Industry and business are two similar yet very different concepts. While both are rooted in commerce, business tends to focus more on profits to advance while industry is driven by innovation and higher moral goals.
The New Middle Class
I always believed in giving credit where it is due. I also believe that leaders should take responsibility of their flock and ensuring that they are given the opportunity to grow and provide for their families. One of the major differences of business to new industry is the behavior of the entrepreneur. Growing a business means maximizing profits and minimizing costs; this gave rise to labor systems which took advantage in various loopholes in the law which led to the “end of contract” or endo system so prevalent in most businesses be it from retail to manufacturing. While skilled labor can weather the effects of endo, most workers are left wasting a good portion of their lives working jobs which offers no skills development and after their last contract expires, they are left with little to restart their lives with.
Manual labor is often looked down upon and creatives often exploited by businesses. Skilled manual labor takes years of practice and yet can yield the least financial benefits because their focus in their skills leaves little to develop their business sense. Creatives can also suffer from the same problem. Both can be exploited by the companies that they work for and the distribution of earning higher on the top management, marketing and sales while the very persons who produced and developed the products receive the smallest piece of the pie. I am not saying all companies are like so, but there are those which take advantage of their workers while reaping all the benefits.
Most businesses and industry are built upon the hardships and output of its workers. While the current economic system cannot absorb higher wages without affecting inflation, this is where new industry can truly shine. Since new industry offers products and services at a higher premium, it can also afford to grow and give opportunity to its workers. I remember a client telling me as I was discussing the vision of BWS for the future of shoemakers in Marikina:
“So you want to create a new middle class.“
What new industry should strive for is to give opportunity for its workers to improve their chances for upward mobility. While they themselves may not reap the immediate benefits, the more equitable distribution of the earnings can give better opportunities to their children thus ensuring that they live more fulfilled lives. The new middle class created through years of working in new industry also develops their skills and in retirement, can use their experience and skills to start their own small enterprise which can produce outputs for their former employers and possible become new industry entrepreneurs themselves.
Last time, I talked about giving dignity back to the shoemakers. The dignity is rooted in giving them the opportunity to rise beyond their current status in order to provide for their families better. Having a permanent job with a career path and skills development is one way to create a new skilled middle class from the likes of carpenters, welders, seamstresses, shoemakers, leather workers, embroiderers and the like.
Why do we need to create a new middle class? Because there are less and less craftsmen training with each passing generation. Becoming a craftsman takes years of apprenticeship and experience. In the shoemaking industry, one would need around 2 years apprenticeship before you could learn all the skills required and another 5 years of working experience in order to become a full fledged shoemaker. Even then the training isn’t complete. Today, the youth want to earn quick and would look for the highest paying job that they could find as soon as they are allowed to work. This is also one of the reasons why employee turnover is so high, promises of better opportunities always lures workers away from their current jobs. And this is why we have less young people training in the art of shoemaking. The craft takes years to learn and without proper compensation, the youth tend to consider higher paying entry level jobs like promodisers and waiting staff. Without creating a new middle class for craftsmen, we run the risk of losing valuable heritage which are rooted in the crafts.
New Industry and a New Middle Class
New industry can afford to create a new middle class. It doesn’t meant that the entrepreneur wont profit from the earnings, it simply means utilizing the higher returns from outputs and putting it on developing the workforce. In a cost driven product or service, one of the first thing to receive cost cutting would be inputs (materials and labor) in order to be competitive and profitable. In a New Industry Enterprise setting, the seller gathers the best inputs at the level of quality expected of a price point and charges appropriately. This model creates a win-win situation for all as buyer, seller, maker, designer and creator all get a fair share of the value that is created from the output product. Because it is all about value and not bargain for outputs of new industry. This will then foster the creation of a new middle class from craftsmen which will make it a viable career option for younger people who would to consider going into mid – high range crafts manufacturing.
So to summarize:
- New industry enterprises are created from niche markets which utilize both a mix of creatives and traditional craft methods with a modern twist.
- It charges higher than market rates but gives the best value product for the price point.
- New industry can create a new middle class by being fair in labor practices and giving credit where it is due especially for their craftsmen as it should not burdened with traditional cost methods.
- The new middle class created will make skilled craft into a viable career alternative for those who have no resources to learn in higher level educational institutions. Becoming part of the middle income earners purely through experience and skill.
- New industry can revive interest in heritage crafts and with proper management, ensure that the heritage does not die out by propagating the skills driven by the demand for quality crafted products and services.
- The new middle class can develop skills and knowledge which upon their retirement, can be used to create their own company thus continuing the growth the new industry by adding a new layer of supply.
- New industry should aim to give dignity to its workers and strive for a more equitable distribution system which is fair to all parties.
Remember, every great designer is a team of craftsmen who work to realize the design. Behind every great brand are the creatives and skilled workers ensuring that consumers get the most out of their products. This is not trying to change mainstream production, it is simply creating a more equitable system for all stakeholders since we are already creating something new and out of the box anyway. Innovative and developmental enterprises such as new industry is a take on incorporating social responsibility as a business model which ensures fair practices and focuses more on sustainability rather than profitability. As I said before, leave big business to big businesses and let them deal with mass production and profit maximization.