By Chupsie Medina
First Posted 03:28:00 12/12/2008
Photos by Walter C. Villa
If there is one thing you can be sure about Ino Caluza, it’s his extensive knowledge of jeans. The founder of Viktor Denim Republik Inc., 30-year-old Ino is a self-confessed serial jeans collector. “I have about a hundred pairs of jeans,” he admits. And these are not your commercial mall-available brands.
Ino’s passion for jeans is largely the reason why he became an entrepreneur five years ago. Many in his collection, while carrying premium and exclusive brands, did not fully fit his expectations. “I ended up wearing three to five jeans over and over again,” he says.
The other reason why he chose to buy his own materials and have them custom-made was the cost. Good Italian or European jeans were often priced in five figures. His earnings as a graphic designer were no match for his fashion appetite. “I saw this as an opportunity to save money,” says Ino.
“I went to Divisoria [Manila’s flea market area] to buy cloths, brought them to Marikina where all those fake jeans tailors worked, offered to pay them double their rates as long as they stuck to my meticulous sewing and cutting instructions,” Ino says.
Friends liked the custom-designed jeans they saw on Ino and placed orders. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ino put a name on the jeans.
First, it was the Viktor tag. Then, to differentiate age segments, Ino introduced Vik to cater to the youth aged 22 and below, and Viktorino for children. Recently, to establish his premium brand, Lord Viktor was born.
“This is the higher-priced jeans not only because of the more expensive materials but even the sewing process,” he says.
Capitalizing on the brand, Viktor jeans set out to reach a new market that he saw was largely untapped. Like most party animals, Ino and his friends were fastidious dressers, who would pay for good quality clothing at premium pricing, even if these were locally made.
Pricing indeed became one of the differentiating factors in Ino’s business. He opened a new market in the country among fashionistas, who were willing to buy a pair of branded jeans that was not as expensive as those coming out from signature denim fashion houses in Japan, the United States and Europe, but were well made.
By paying P2,000-P4,000 more, Viktor clients were able to buy perfectly fit jeans to suit their taste, and still be comfortable wearing them at a star-studded occasion without fear of bumping into someone donning the same designed pair.
The Lord Viktor tag, which sells for P1,000-P2,000 more than the ordinary Viktor jeans that go for P3,000 to P5,000 each, likewise found a clientele base that preferred only the best materials and workmanship.
With the growing number of customers queuing for their fitting, Ino’s carefully designed corner in his condo unit became too small. This was when he decided to open a shop in The Podium, an upscale mall in the Ortigas business district. Incidentally, this also encouraged him to pursue a ready-to-wear line.
Moving to The Podium gave the business more accessibility, not only with his long-standing clients, but with new customers, who would patronize other shops at the high-end mall.
In early 2007, a year after opening Viktor in The Podium, he brought the brand to the newly opened TriNoma mall in Quezon City. Sales were low in the first few months, which Ino attributed to the fact that the mall was relatively new and the specific location of the jeans shop was not the most ideal.
In contrast, the new Viktor in the high-end Greenbelt 5 mall in the Makati business district is faring better and opening doors that Ino had only dared to dream of.
“We have more expatriate clients in Greenbelt 5, foreigners who do not quibble too much about the cost of a pair of jeans and instead are happy with good quality fabric and make,” he says.
One FilipinoAustralianclient had become so enamored with Viktor jeans that he proposed to bring the brand to Sydney. That’s now in the pipeline, although Ino says he has already started shipping pairs by the bulk to the city.
This month, Viktor will definitely be in Singapore’s pricey Black Market, a boutique that is known to carry exclusive brands. “I have always believed in thinking big. I had dreamed of Viktor in Asia. I continue to dream of Viktor in the world,” he says.
Now that Ino has with finality chosen the path of entrepreneurship, he has also opted to don the role of a socially responsible provider to his employees and family. “My three sisters and their husbands are part of the business. And my employees are part of the family,” he says.
There is now a three-story building in Antipolo City, where his atelier and production line are housed. Many of the people, who work with him are the original staff—cutters, sewers, fitters—who Ino had trained when the business was just starting. And Ino intends to keep these people for as long as he can.
The growing responsibility perhaps is also the reason why he cannot stop innovating.
“You have to have a new idea every month. Never be complacent,” he says.
True enough, there is always something new in his shops.
Through it all, despite the demands of the business on him, Ino says he continues to enjoy what he is doing. “You have to have a passion for your business. This is what keeps me going.”