A couple of weeks ago, I released a post on Facebook informing everyone of a marketing holiday. I didn’t state any specifics at the post but with inquiries the official PR is that we have to fix our backlogs and focus on the rebrand. I will explain some reasons and plans here so as to avoid confusion and give you guys a heads up on what has been going on inside my head the past few months.
There is quite a number of delayed orders on my queue list. I think we are generally 2 to 4 weeks delayed on certain orders which encountered admin and production errors due to internal changes and challenges that we have encountered the past couple of months. We have currently made changes on the admin side (I got 2 people focused on this during workhours now) in order to get up to date on and update the clients as well. Implementing the concept of triage into our queue, we are slowly cleaning up the delays and meeting orders to finish before the client needs them. The delays are fundamentally caused by internal changes in the production method in order to arrive to a better shoe for clients.
I have always been innovating our internal processes without stating it out loud but this is a good time to say it. I, as a producer/manufacturer/designer, have always been observing on how we can provide a better service and a better shoe to our clients. I have set boundaries also so as to keep our focus on our core, which is the shoe. That is why we never do marketing campaigns and post boosting. It is also why sometimes, there is quite a delay in responses to message inquiries. The brand is run primarily by me and my wife; she handles the Facebook account and we have our children to attend to first before we can even start on checking the messenger. I on the other hand, focus on running the business and directing individual shoe production whenever I can; that is why I hardly handle message inquiries. It is a microbrand and I don’t intend on growing it past that unless we can be sure that the output quality will still be maintained which sadly could not if we just churn out more shoes. This is why instead of focusing on expanding production capacity, I have decided to pour my energies into improving product quality instead.
As most of the recent clients would notice, as well as old clients who had their measurements updates, I am now back in the front taking measurements myself. I have updated the measurement method to include more details than before to ensure that we give the client a good fitting shoe. It’s basically like map making, so now I have included arch and instep profiles, as well as foot topography in our traces. Understanding the foot is a key element to making great fitting shoes.
I have been retraining our shoemakers in last making as well, resulting in a weird hit-or-miss output. All things being standardized in production but fitting outputs are better now but we still do get the occasional botched fitting which makes us look like amateurs. It is quite a challenge to make great fitting shoes without the need for major adjustments after all, we we need to get as close to that as possible in order to make custom fit more affordable while creating a new service tier which is made-to-measure. Currently, I am employing a hybrid of the two which is the main cause of the delays. Prior to these changes, Black Wing is a purely “custom fit” service. Meaning that while we make the last to your measurements, patterns and fitting profiles remain standard. We “make do” with what we have and tweak the fitting slightly with heat sculpting or footbed modifications. Recently though, due to my exposure to bespoke footwear while doing more research on it, my aesthetics have changed and have become more strict in terms of patterns and fitting. This is why, almost all new shoes have individual patterns created per client. This is the reason why the delays have increased. We now have to wait on each individual pattern even if the pattern already exists in our database rendering 5 years worth of pattern inventory useless. Our labor cost per unit also increased significantly since our production rate dropped by 30% and the new rejection rate increased by 50% (coming from an average of 1 pair rejected per week due to pattern/fitting issues).
In order to maintain sustainability, we have to stop production; or should I say have a production cutoff. The current internal cutoff is August 31, 2019 which has already been filled up. This is in order to make time for our current shoemakers to undergo further in-house training and setup a new business model which will implement service tiering. I have devised a system wherein we can determine if a client would need just a made-to-order (standard fit), custom fit, or made-to-measure service. This will greatly increase productivity as well as introduce artisan seniority based on strengths and skillsets.
We would also be producing our Series 19e lasts which is a bit of a wide fitting last made from the average of the measurements that Black Wing has collected over the years. You could say that we have made a last that was designed for Filipinos taking into consideration that there is a large number of our population with wide feet due to local factors such as genetics, weather, and footwear used while growing up. We would also make a Series 19d set of lasts for more standard fits with mid to high arch and instep profiles. This is yet another reason for us to stop because we need to produce these lasts in-house due to a large margin of error if we have them produced in local shoe last factories.
In tandem with the Series 19e lasts, we would be producing what is hopefully our first RTW collection to be made available via our potential partner brands. An inventory will be ready for outright sales on both online and partner channels which would include the fundamental styles with a new collection being released every few months. I would need time to retest our lasts and patterns.
So stepping back in what we normally do is in preparation for moving forward. We need to become more streamlined in terms of production, matching client needs with tiered services to maximize value while at the same time, being fair to the brand and our artisans; always striving for that win-win-win situation. I’d also take this time to build our new apprenticeship modules which will be aimed at teaching practical shoemaking based on experience not from manufacturing manuals.
I will be talking about the deeper reason for this move on my next post. Suffice to say that like life, plans didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to be especially when looking at one of our original goals. I became too busy doing what I do that I forgot to do what I should be doing. Yes, I have a responsibility to our clients and patrons but if I don’t stop to try to fix our industry nobody will have custom shoe makers that provide baseline service qualities 5 years from now.
I know that most people tell me to have a more upbeat outlook but without realizing and accepting and living the reality of the situation, I would not be compelled to make drastic moves which hopefully rocks the boat enough for people to take notice. I have worked in both the public and private sectors and I could honestly say that we are all procrastinators. We all know what needs to be done but we put it off because “there is still time”. The only reason why those who can help are not helping is because it has a conflict with their own present interests. There is no such things as “too busy to help”. I realized that when I made a decision to take a step back. So Black Wing is stepping back production, smaller quantities via in-house marketing and some with our partner brands. I will focus my energies in training entrepreneurs and artisans, passing on the little knowledge and experience that I have gained over the years working this business in the hopes that if we all thought of the greater good we would be able to keep our heritage of Marikina being the shoe capital of the Philippines alive.