Doing it your way
By Walter Ang
July-August 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine
When it comes to taking risks in life and business, Emelda Teng tells Walter Ang that there's absolutely nothing wrong with
Doing it your way
Emelda started selling candies to her classmates and teachers. "By the time I was in high school and college, I was selling denim garments," she says. Growing up around her father Carlos Yung's textile business in Binondo, Emelda was exposed to the ins and outs of sales transactions and had easy access to inventory.
Nevertheless, she took a little detour before establishing her name (quite literally) in the garments industry. The third of four children, Emelda took up advertising at the University of Santo Tomas. Together with husband Eric Teng, she then parlayed her selling skills to open the P99 Store in Tutuban Mall in the early 90s.
Luck and timing played a part in that first venture of selling knick knacks and gift items, and was to become constant companions in the couple's business efforts. "I was told of a vacancy in the mall," says Emelda. "But I only had until the end of the day to claim it. I rushed home and my husband decided right there and then to get it."
The store's novel concept became successful enough that when the couple inquired at another mall for space availability, they didn't face the usual red tape and stringent selection process. "They told us that they'd been looking for a way to contact us for the longest time! Apparently, our store had become popular with the market," she says. Other malls soon sought them out.
Emboldened by their success, the couple decided to leap into the garment retail business with their own brand, Maldita. "We wanted to create a line of women's corporate wear that was edgier than what was available at the time. The brand conveys the concept of `power dressing' and `dressing to impress.' It's not as soft and feminine as other brands. Maldita is a little more aggressive," explains Emelda.
There are no direct English translations for maldita, but a close word would be "sassy." "It's a play on my name," says Emelda. "And also, every woman we know is a maldita," Eric laughs. Despite some negative cultural connotations with the word, the couple took a risk and ran with it.
"We were happy because the brand was accepted from day one," Emelda notes. "Even though the brand primarily targets 18-25 year olds, there was a family composed of a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter who came to our store and each bought something. In fact, out of the three, the grandmother ended up buying the sexiest outfit, a cocktail dress with a plunging neckline!"
Another big risk they took was to use Ara Mina, then a very popular sexy actress, in their billboard. "We wanted to prove to people that you can look sexy with your clothes on," says Emelda. "That billboard was put up in 2003 and until now, people still come up to us to say how much impact it had. The funny thing is, it's mostly men who remember that billboard, but the women always remember our clothes."
The couple exudes an almost rebellious vein in the way they've gone against accepted norms in the garments industry. However, they point out that they're merely doing things their way. "We like doing our own thing. We don't want to copy what other people are doing because it will end up being half-baked. We don't want to pretend, we only try to do things that we understand or know. We don't mind being a smaller competitor compared to the industry giants, as long as we enjoy what we're doing," says Emelda.
This formula apparently works well for them since they now own thirty Maldita stores, including a 350-square meter flagship store in the Mall of Asia. A far cry from using Eric's old bedroom as their office and his father's bedroom as their stockroom with only a staff of four.
Emelda leads Maldita as president, handling operations and finance, while Eric, who took up business management in UST, handles the marketing for the different brands. They've steered the growth of their company not just in the quantity of their outlets but also into new brands like Diego, a counterpart for young men, and Black Sheep, for girls 16-22. "We're preparing our newest brand `o.u. Little Maldita' for young girls and we've just opened our couture shoe store, Gaupo, at Greenbelt 5," says Emelda.
She notes that while there've been bumps along the way, one should never stop aiming for the win. "We've had errors, we've had to close down some stores, but that's how you learn," she says. "Never stop learning. It's important that you keep reinventing. Don't do something that's been done before."