From Student Entrepreneur to Thriving Business Owner Selling Marikina Shoes

The owner of The Heel Project Manila, shares her story of turning her college requirement into a full-fledged business selling Marikina shoes.

The owner The Heel Project Manila shares her journey from being a student entrepreneur to a business owner of a thriving women’s footwear line selling Marikina shoes.

Back in the 1990s, the Marikina shoe industry employed around 3,000 people and accounted for 70% of the city’s economy. Those numbers have since shrunk dramatically, but many entrepreneurs are making the effort to revive Marikina shoes, an industry the city has long been known for. 

One of these entrepreneurs is Nicole Salvador-Reantaso, the owner of The Heel Project Manila. Proudly championing customized and proudly Marikina-made women’s footwear, the brand actually started as a college requirement Nicole had while studying Entrepreneurship. 

In an exclusive interview with The Business Manual, Nicole shares how she started her business with just PHP5,000 and how she grew it into a full-fledged business. 

Fulfilling a College Requirement

The story of The Heel Project Manila started in Miriam College, where Nicole took up BS Entrepreneurship. Faced with the task of starting a business as part of her course requirements back in 2012, Nicole chose to zone in on something she has always loved. 

“My love for shoes and the desire to offer quality, affordable, and trendy footwear to women like myself inspired me to start The Heel Project Manila,” says Nicole. 

Armed with PHP5,000 and everything she learned from taking up Entrepreneurship, she started her women’s footwear business. However, she eventually learned that starting a business, especially as a student, is easier said than done. 

“As a student entrepreneur, I faced challenges such as limited capital, balancing academics with business responsibilities, and navigating the complexities of starting a business,” the 31-year-old entrepreneur admits. “I overcame these challenges through resourcefulness, time management, and seeking guidance from mentors and industry experts.” 

Championing Customized Marikina Shoes

For Nicole, it was a no-brainer where she wanted to have the shoes made. As someone who lived in Marikina for most of her life, she wanted to support local shoemakers in the city. She  saw how the city took pride in its shoemaking industry, and this greatly motivated her to put up The Heel Project Manila right from the country’s shoe capital. 

“I chose Marikina for footwear production because of its rich history and tradition of shoemaking, as well as the high quality of craftsmanship offered by local shoemakers,” she explains. “Producing in Marikina also allowed me to support the local industry and promote its heritage.” 

Aside from championing Marikina shoes, Nicole makes sure that her business is able to stand out from competition by offering custom-made footwear. She had always been in search of the perfect pair of shoes and thought offering custom-made shoes could answer the needs of others.

“Our unique selling proposition lies in offering custom-made footwear that caters to the specific needs and preferences of our customers,” says Nicole. “This personalized service, coupled with our commitment to quality and affordability, sets us apart from competitors.” 

Transitioning into a Full-Fledged Business

While The Heel Project Manila was initially a means to help her graduate, Nicole saw the potential for growth and success. Specifically, she began to see the business’ potential when she received continuous positive feedback and repeat purchases. She likewise began to see her business as an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the local shoemaking industry.

However, making the transition from a school requirement to a full-time business wasn’t an easy one for Nicole. 

“Transitioning from a school requirement to a full-fledged business posed challenges such as scaling up production, managing finances, and establishing a sustainable business model,” she shares. “However, with dedication, perseverance, and strategic planning, we were able to overcome these challenges and successfully grew the business.” 

Despite the challenges, Nicole was able to secure partnerships and collaborations with well-known brands and personalities. For her, this validated the potential for her brand. 

Staying True to Brand Values

It has been more than a decade since Nicole started The Heel Project Manila, and her business is showing no signs of slowing down. For her, the secret to her brand’s success lies in always remembering what her business is all about. 

“Our success lies in staying true to our brand values, offering personalized service, and continuously innovating to meet the evolving needs of our customers,” says Nicole. “Additionally, strategic marketing efforts and a strong online presence help us stand out in a competitive market.” 

Like her, many aspiring entrepreneurs choose to start their journey by taking a business course. She advises them “to follow their passion, conduct thorough market research, and identify a niche or market gap that aligns with their interests and strengths.” 

“Developing a clear business plan and seeking mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs can also set them up for success,” she points out. 

“For those looking to turn passion projects and school requirements into full-fledged businesses, I recommend focusing on customer satisfaction, innovation, and resilience,” the 31-year-old entrepreneur adds. “Develop a clear vision, surround yourself with a supportive network, and be prepared to adapt and evolve as needed.” 

Staying Grounded in Marikina 

Even as Nicole believes that The Heel Project Manila is poised for further growth and expansion, she keeps her roots firmly planted in Marikina. In fact, she encourages emerging entrepreneurs to consider Marikina shoes “due to its reputation for high-quality craftsmanship, its heritage and tradition of shoemaking, and the opportunities for collaboration and innovation it offers.” 

She likewise reminds that “investing in Marikina supports local artisans and contributes to preserving the city’s shoemaking heritage.” 

Nicole plans to continue innovating and diversifying The Heel Project Manila’s product offerings, as well as expanding their presence both online and offline. She is also aiming to solidify her brand’s position as a leading provider of custom-made footwear.

However, there is one ultimate goal that she continues to strive for with The Heel Project Manila every day. 

“Our ultimate goal is to continue supporting local shoemakers in Marikina while inspiring confidence and self-expression through our products,” Nicole reveals.