Black Wing and the New Normal

First of all, I hope you are all doing well. This has been a tough time for all and the impact of this event has caused us to reconsider how we do things. Our plans have all been derailed and I have had to reconsider our strategy on how we can keep operating while exercising safety precautions for all. There were already plans since last year on how we can innovate and evolve as a business to cope with the shifting trends which have started to affect our operations. Market and buying trends shift every few years and 2019 presented to us a glimpse of the new trend which was to be the predominant market behavior for the next few years. I guess there was a reason as to why my plans were always held back because as we were set to launch the new strategy, this pandemic happened.

I’d also like to take this time to share to those who are not familiar with Black Wing yet. Black Wing Shoes started out as an experiment and proof of concept wherein I wanted to prove that we can produce shoes that can compete with imported brands while debunking industry common knowledge and practices which I find unfair and which have caused the industry’s decline. It was originally designed as a business model for microproducers or mom-and-pop setups which are prevalent in Marikina. More on the business model in the upcoming posts. Suffice to say, this is a hobby business and I do have other businesses which I have to lead. Black Wing, being a passion project, took up a lot of my time. Since the other businesses have already been established, it was easier to manage and my time has been better allocated managing a sustainable endeavor.

Like most people, I have spent quite some time learning about the virus and what the “new normal” would look like. Health safety has become a priority now and businesses have to formulate new strategies so that we can still provide our services while practicing social distancing measures. Just like barbershops/salons, when we take measurements and fit shoes, we usually get into close contact with our clients which is why we have to consider carefully how we’re going to accommodate new and existing clients. This is one of the primary reasons as to why we have not been scheduling any appointments even though we are already allowed to proceed with limited operations. While it is possible with strict scheduling, it is ultimately financially unsustainable. Hence we have to shift towards creating a new process where we can still make custom shoes while operating purely online. I actually have been planning this for a couple of years, and we have been testing a process which some of you might have seen on this site before as a page which was the “Alfit System”.

Alfit System

The Alfit System, short for altered fit, is a process wherein we have stripped down the procedure to the basics in order to consistently deliver a comfortable fit while keeping it strictly non-contact. I have developed this process using my experiences over years of measuring feet and assisting client fittings. It relies on a basic foot trace and some information on what size you’d normally get from the various shoe types. This process is based on information and experience that I have collected from existing clients over the years. Commercial shoes follow a certain standard which we use in order to extrapolate the appropriate size. This system has been deployed and tested for certain cases and have a good success rate as long as we get all the basic information that we need. At the end of the testing phase, the system has around a 90% success rate.

The Alfit System requires a physical foot trace (which can be sent via courier) comprising of an outline of the outer foot and of the insole. The outline of the outer foot can be acquired by tracing the foot while the pen/pencil is perpendicular to the paper. The insole trace can be gotten by tracing the tip of the pen/pencil under the foot in an angle. We would also require the normal shoe size used for leather and/or rubber shoes. This is normally enough for us but if some information does not line up, we’d contact the client to get more information. If sending a physical trace is not possible, additional steps would have to be taken in order for us to be able to accommodate an order. With this, you would have to take a cross section measurement of the trace so we can have a more accurate basis. This means marking the highest, lowest, and widest points of the trace then measuring the distance between the points, which I can use in order to fix the trace once it is printed. For digital traces, we would require that the traces be done in short bond paper for uniform printing. Then all that’s left is to send the trace via email or share with us via Google Drive in order for us to print it and start the process.

This is how the final trace should look ideally. Markings and measurements have to be clear.

We will publish a video soon detailing how to take the Alfit trace. The Alfit System is also designed to be the innovation for the industry to be able to provide custom fitting shoes purely via online, giving those who cannot make it to the fitting venue because of geographic constraints. In trying to find a competitive advantage for Marikina artisans to be able to compete in the online space without resorting to offering price wars. Cheap handcrafted goods often require questionable labor practices in order to be feasible. Yes it gives satisfaction to the consumer and the brand owner, but ultimately it takes advantage of the poverty of the artisan. This is not acceptable. So we will continue to search and test for ways for our industry to become competitive online and create a win-win-win (consumer-business-artisan) situation where all parties really benefit. This system hopes to open up new opportunities for our local producers to be able to offer something that big and established brands cannot, an MTO model which can custom fit shoes which can ensure a positive experience for the consumer.

My Reasons for Deploying the Alfit System

The immediate implementation of the Alfit System is brought about by my decision to put everybody’s safety first, making safety my first reason as to why I’m suddenly changing the whole process. We cannot fully ensure the safety of our clients and staff if we start taking in appointments for measurements and pickups. While we can employ a disinfection protocol, I do not want to take the risk given that our venue is an enclosed office. I am sure that you all would understand and agree that safety comes first. To be honest, disinfection protocols would take too much effort and then we can only take in one client at a time, making the whole practice unsustainable in the long run. Why risk it if we can still service your requirements for comfortable and quality footwear even without personally taking your measurements?

This ECQ lockdown has affected all my other businesses as well and now I have to focus on getting them running properly again, this is my second reason. Going back to the office last week felt like picking up the broken pieces of all our hard work. Suffice to say that I have to spend some time building it back up again since our supply chains have been severely affected and most of our suppliers have yet to figure out how to operate under the new normal. While I have to fix my other businesses, I cannot just put the artisans under me on floating status. Thus I have decided to deploy this system since we can still stick to offering custom fitting MTO shoes while requiring less of my personal time and attention because for those who are not familiar, I am the one who takes the measurements and orders while also making the preliminary patterns, shoe last development, applying patina finishes and taking care of client fittings. Due to safety concerns and time constraints, we also have to adjust to our new normal and I believe that the Alfit System gives us that opportunity to achieve our goals without having to compromise quality and our service standards.

I believe that this system is the way forward for Black Wing and for Marikina microproducers which is why I want to show that it works in a real world setting, which is my third reason. With all the fancy 3D scanning and CAD models being floated around as the future for custom shoes, it is hard to imagine that one of the primary barriers to online shoe shopping is sizing problems. Majority of the time, the main problem about buying shoes online is buying the wrong size, and thus a tedious and often frustrating process ensues when you end up buying a wrong size. This system minimizes the risk since we will be checking your foot trace, along with the other information that we have collected, against our shoe lasts. While we have already tested this system last year, we have yet to fully transition from face-to-face meetings into what might become an online consultation with one of our partners in order to assist you with your order. Our existing clients already have an experience with this when they place their repeat orders usually via Viber or Facebook. With this system, we also hope to fully transition to delivering the shoes once they are done instead of waiting for the client to be able to go to Marikina to fit the shoes since the shoes will surely fit. Our after sales services would still be available if there are any concerns about the delivered goods of course. Once we have ironed out the process, we can then proceed to train other micro workshops in this process and assist them to be able to reach clients previously unavailable to them. Every situation requires a proper tool to address it and I believe firmly that going purely online will help micro manufacturers like us to be able to be competitive in an online landscape by offering custom fit servicing while providing consumers with the best value for their money’s worth.

New Normal, New Black Wing

So what will happen now and how will we do things? Black Wing will still operate albeit will focus more on utilizing the Alfit System to get new client measurements. For older clients whose trace is still on record (we might have lost some over the years) we will use a hybrid between our old custom fitting system and the Alfit System. I will still be overseeing operations and production still. So for new clients, we will use Alfit and for old clients, we’ll use your existing trace, if available, for a hybrid system. Aftersales service will still be available of course, if there should be any concerns with the order.

For clients who still have pending orders in production, I will be checking in on them soon. The artisans to whom they are assigned to just returned to work recently and we will be contacting you soon. We just need to do inventory and pick up where we left off. For pickup, we will coordinate since we wont be accepting walk-ins at the moment. At most we will schedule you for pickup for us to be able to ensure that there would be no one when you pick up. This gives us better control to implement our disinfection protocols. We also wont allow companions for now.

For those in need of custom shoe lasts because of special foot concerns, we can discuss first online before setting an appointment. We will most probably hold one-on-one online consultations in order for us to get an initial assessment of your requirements. Again, we will initially use the Alfit System, and if that is not applicable, we escalate it to our custom last service since the fit would most probably be so far from the standard that we need to sculpt a personalized last for you.

Rates will also be published soon. We have a new member of the team to handle our marketing so expect some positive changes soon. We will also start collaborations with other brands as well. Again, I personally need to free up time so I can focus on fixing this and the other businesses while still be able to ensure that the quality of the shoes will still be the same. I will personally handle the special cases though once proper arrangements have been made. So marketing and social media inquiries will be handled by our new team member. Another channel to access our products and services would be through our collaborations. This is something to watch out for.

Repair and shoe lounge services are still ongoing. Again rates will be published but for existing clients, just leave a message on Facebook or Viber and we’ll get to it as soon as we can.

So the major change for this phase of our young brand’s life would be the implementation of the Alfit System as our primary tool to be able to create custom fitting and custom designed shoes while minimizing contact as much as possible. The new normal presented by the pandemic just made me realize how vulnerable we are so aside from modifying our frontend operations, I have also been working on how to make our production operations more resilient to community lockdowns.

I personally want to push for the new system as well because I believe that it is the future for microproducers and artisans to be able to service markets that are geographically separate from them. While we are rooted in our local traditions, I still believe that we should push to innovate various aspects of the industry in order to compete in an increasingly online Filipino society. Selling online is but one aspect of the new normal after all. This is long overdue since we have been testing this with some clients for over a year now.

This pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are. It also showed us that our artisans are most vulnerable especially if they are contractual which is the case for most. The new normal shouldn’t just be the old ways with social distancing added to it. The interest of business should never supersede safety. Of course this new strategy is not set in stone yet and we’ll definitely make improvements as we go along but we will be guided by the principles that have been stated on this post. The lockdown period gave me time to think this over, hence the reason why I have not posted almost anything during that time. This decision did not come easy, in fact, it is downright scary. We are stepping out of our comfort zones and into unfamiliar territories. But as we now carry with us years of experience and skill which have been honed in the frontlines. I am confident that we can give great service even if we migrate our process from the traditional to the new. Let us make this work so that the industry will have another avenue to explore and hopefully, empower our local artisans to pursue their own microbrands to keep the industry competitive and vibrant.

I am happy to announce that we are soon launching our first collaborative effort with other makers with products that will compliment our own. The brand has been in development since early this year and the ECQ just sped things along. We will have a variety of products that are developed specifically the local market and produced, as much possible also, locally. 

Stay safe everyone and I hope for your continued support as we push onward to a new and hopeful future.


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