Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Good evening from the Pearl of the Orient!
Marikina shoes, the top pioneering shoe industry in Southeast Asia after World War II, has been among the carcass industries in the aftermath of globalization. Lately though, the industry has been re-surging from the doldrums, so let me share some notes about the matter.
Marikina is a city to the east of Old Manila and is among the model cities for couples of reasons. It’s former administrators, the Fernando couple (a developmentalist couple), were able to tap official development assistance (ODA) funds directly for local infrastructures without needing securitization from national government, thus kicking off a new trend in development financing and urbanization pursuits.
Officially a part of metropolitan Manila that is the ‘Manila of the present’ (old Manila is ancient and diminutive in size), Marikina had been emulated for its cleanliness, efficient traffic management, and participative local governance. It had set off a trend for local governments to embark on ambitious projects without being subsidized by national government.
Those feats are part of the new image of Marikina, just to make it clear. For Marikina also has an older image as the home of the Philippines’ pioneer shoe industry. At one time the exemplar of Asia in shoe-making, Marikina’s exquisite shoes have straddled the planet like conquering commodity champions worth the possession of rising middle class members aspiring to acquire apparel items worth their pockets’ powers and esteem.
Marikina shoes have thus enabled the flourishing of backward linkages such as leather tannery, dye industry, and shoe accessories. Upon attaining industrial maturity circa late 60s through the 70s, product quality was at par with the best that the West can manufacture. And, Marikina shoes were priced so affordably, selling at around merely 1/5 to 1/3 of the western counterpart items.
Trade liberalization however struck a bitter chord in the 1980s, and down came Marikina shoes with globalization’s ascent. Former shoe factories closed shop, tens of thousands of shoe workers were laid off, and shoe retail shops followed the pattern of foreclosures. At the end of the day, only a few notable Marikina brands stood tall amid the storms caused by trade liberalization and serial recessions.
I won’t be surprised to find out that similar industries elsewhere, inclusive of the USA’s, will be shutting down due to the same reason: globalization. The trend is now hitting shoe factories in the USA that closed down production in the homeland as the same (production) were outsourced to developing countries where labor and capital goods (leather, dyes, chemicals) are priced cheaper than the homeland.
As Europe’s economies literally burn, its consumers are cutting down on luxuries, thus opting to buy essentials that are more affordably priced, such as garments & apparel. We shouldn’t be surprised if the prime shoe brands of Italy and France would be knocked out cold turkey by the economic storm in the continent.
Incidentally, Marikina’s local stakeholders were able to address some core social issues concerning their dying shoe industry in the 1990s yet. Those strategic measures, such as relief funds for affected industries, are now reaping fruits for the industry players.
As a whole, Marikina’s show industry was reduced to carcass indeed, but a carcass that is able to stand up at certain junctures. With the wave of China shoes conquering so many shores worldwide, Marikina shoe industry is again getting whacked heavily and paying the price of slow adjustments to make their products more competitive (i.e. attain greater comparative advantage)
Another tranche of relief subsidies for affected industries, akin to a stimulus package on a local level, is now out-flowing from the city government’s coffers. Whether the said funds are able to stave off potential deaths on specific factories and outlets remains to be seen.
For the moment, let me declare that all of my leather shoes are Marikina products. I’ve already decided to shy away from Western imports, and I’m saying no to China shoes that suffer from quality problems. This is my own way of appreciating the craftsmanship of Markina’s shoe designers and the labors of shoe workers in the city.
[Philippines, 11 September 2010]
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