Corporate Bulletins

A step towards success: 
Ester Vitto and her Bahag footwear business

Posted on January 04, 2016

From the humble rubber slippers, 41-year-old wife and mother Ester Shiela Vitto - the 2015 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA) Regional Awardee for Luzon, was able to build a multi-million peso business.

Regional Awardee for Luzon Ester Shiela Vitto (center) receives her award from National Selection Committee member and Ayala Corporation President Fernando Zobel de Ayala (2nd from right).  She is joined by representatives from CARD MRI (left to right) Managing Director Dr. Jaime Aristotle Alip, account officer Rosechelle An Noble, and CARD Bank President Dolores Torres.rnrn
A partnership among the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Citi Philippines, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc., the CMA is a nationwide search for the most outstanding micro business owners. Funded by Citi Foundation, it started in 2002 as part of the celebration for Citi’s 100th year in the Philippines. The CMA has since recognized more than 100 winners across the country.

Ester, who hails from Pinamalayan, the center of commerce and trade of Oriental Mindoro, is the proud owner of Bahag Footwear and Repair Shop, a small business that offers homegrown sandals and slippers using old tires for the footwear’s outer soles.

Ester started her business with an initial capital of P10,000. This was the money she and her husband Ronald received from well-wishers during their wedding. Ester was inspired by her brother, who also made sandals from recycled tires, to get into the footwear business.

While creativity and hard work are key ingredients in developing your own company, the best trait to have is courage, and Ester was not lacking in that department. She had the courage to take the plunge and risk what little she and her family had for an uncertain future, “Noong hindi pa kami kasal, naranasan ko na yung magtrabaho sa office. At doon napansin ko na una, kulang ka sa time, tapos pangalawa, limited pa ang opportunity mong kumita. (When we were not yet married, I experience working in an office. There I saw that there’s always not enough time and that what you earn is limited.)”

The quality and durability of the sandals by the Vitto couple soon attracted loyal buyers. In 2007, with word-of-mouth creating more interest in Bahag footwear, Ester took out an initial loan of Php6,000 from CARD Bank, Inc. This helped her to grow slowly carve out a market for her homegrown sandals and slippers in Oriental Mindoro.

Today, the Vittos employs two women to sew the straps from home. Five laborers assemble each piece of footwear by hand. From making 10 pairs of footwear per day, they can now produce up to 70 pairs, with Bahag’s sales averaging from 25 to 30 pieces daily. The products, which are partly made of recyclable materials, are sold not only in Bahag’s three stores in Oriental Mindoro but also through wholesale buyers all over the province.

Along with this growth came challengers to Ester and her business, most of them companies trying to copy their product. However, Bahag’s source of pride is in the quality of their worksmanship, which has gathered the brand a loyal client base.

Aside from the impact the business has made on their workers and business partners, the Vittos have seen many positive changes in their lives. “Malaki po ang kaibahan kasi noong nagsisimula pa kami, nananalangin pa kami para makabenta ng isang piraso, (There’s a huge difference because when we were starting out, we would pray to sell ar least one pair,)” says Ester. “Ngayon, dumadagsa na ang mga customers, kaya iyong income, pamumuhay at finances, iba na. (Today, customers come by the droves so our quality of life has improved.)”

Bahag footwear currently yields an annual profit of Php1 million, with an average annual sale of Php2.1 million. The present value of its business assets is Php1.2 million.

Ester plans to expand the business by adding items like bags into the existing product line. She also wants to start offering free franchises to microentrepreneurs all over the Philippines. Now, she and Ronald are set to build their own factory out of their newly-purchased land. And with the CMA prize money, Ester plans to buy new machinery to increase the production of Bahag footwear to keep up with the high demand.

With her dedication and passion to improve the lives of her family and community, Ester is a step closer to reaching her dreams of making it big in the footwear manufacturing industry.