Gibi Shoes' Lydia Castro has a sense of detail and diligence

A sense of detail and diligence 
By Walter Ang
June-August 2008 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Given the stiff competition from China, Gibi Shoes, an all-Filipino shoe enterprise,
has not only survived but also thrived. Walter Ang talks to proprietor Lydia Castro
on how she and her husband did it with
A sense of detail and diligence

The one striking thing you realize after talking to Lydia Castro is the supremely practical way she views life. "Accept your situation in life and do the best you can, otherwise you'll never be happy," she says. This mantra has helped her work together with her husband William in building their shoe company, Gibi Shoes, from a backyard operation to one store in Marikina and, finally, to its present network of outlets all over the country.

"My husband and I started out with just five workers," recalls Lydia. "We would make shoes for the stores along Avenida. Eventually, we decided to come up with our own brand." They borrowed capital from her in-laws and worked to get the business off the ground. "It was not easy. We worked from Sunday to Sunday and the money that we would borrow from my in-laws was always paid back with interest."

Hard work is no stranger to Lydia. Growing up, this eldest daughter of four children was tasked to help out in their father's hardware store during weekends and summer vacations. "I did not receive any salary. I only got free merienda," she laughs.

In a time when women were expected to stay at home and keep house, Lydia was lucky to be immersed in the daily workings of a running a business. "My own mother was a homemaker because that was how society was back then, but I got a chance to learn things," she says. "I developed my sense of being detail-oriented and being diligent."

Starting off with a men's line of shoes, the Castros grew their business to include women's shoes and children's shoes, for which they are now popularly known for. Hotsellers these days include office shoes and nursing shoes. "When operations and profits became stable was when we were able to stop working on Sundays. Then when the children were born, I told my husband that we could stop working on Saturdays to give our family more time," says Lydia.

She points out, however, that just because they no longer clock-in on weekends does not mean they actually get to relax. "We still take turns going to China during weekends to source for raw materials," she shares.

There are no regrets, however. "You have to love what you are doing. I actually took up chemistry for my undergraduate degree. It's just that these days, instead of balancing chemical equations, I now balance the books," smiles Lydia. "Life is what it is, I just had to learn the trade. My business philosophy is very basic: I want to make good, quality leather shoes."

Using that vision as a guide, Lydia had to navigate tough terrain to bring the business to where it is now. "In 1997 we almost gave up the business because the competition was very stiff with cheap imports from China," says Lydia. She realized however that starting from scratch would not be easy.

Aside from that, there was one other galvanizing reason for her to carry on. With her being in charge of the company's finances and human resources, she saw an obligation that could not be ignored. "I could not just let go of my employees. I could not leave them without a means of living. When you have a business, you cannot just think of yourself, you have to help others."

The company stuck it out for a few years and finally got back on its feet. Now it remains one of the very few shoe manufacturers that still do local production. "Aside from occasional imports of trendy shoes, all our shoes are made here with local employees," beams Lydia.

The loyalty of her employees was certainly one of the reasons why they were able to ride through the rough patch. "I'm lucky to have people who are faithful and are skilled. I always try to be sincere and compassionate with my staff. It's not just about the salary you give them. I'm very strict and work is work, but I also give them guidance and they know that I'm here for them if they need to talk to me. It goes both ways," says Lydia.

Lydia has actually given out scholarships to five children of her staff. After completing their course in shoe design at the Philippine Footwear Academy, Lydia absorbed two of them. She was questioned by some of her friends why she didn't try to recoup the money that she had spent on these students by taking in all five of them. She had a very simple answer, "When you help others, you shouldn't expect something in return."

This mother of five kids credits her own father for instilling the values that she hopes to pass on to her own progeny. "I admire my father very much. We were a modest family. He provided for our basic needs. He was very down to earth and had no pretensions in life," she shares.

Her generosity extends to volunteering for civic work such as medical missions. "It's fun!" she says. "I have a philosophy in life, everyday I should have accomplished something at work or have done something good. As you add years to your life, you should also add knowledge to your life. If everyone just lazed about, nothing will happen in the world!"