THE CHIC INTERVIEW: WE CHATTED WITH THE WOMAN BEHIND THE BAGS’ BRAND THAT EVERYONE WANTS
Lisbon-based entrepreneur Paula Figueras founded the Portuguese brand – GUSTOKO in 2014 and ILHA, the Philippine version in 2019. Paula’s brands are famous for its beautiful handmade bags, that are absolutely one of a kind. The two brands are now sold between the two continents and you can find them in the most prestigious stores, including Antique at Four Seasons Hotel, 21 PR Concept Store, Lavanda Comporta , Cabinet of Curiosities, Loja das Meias, the digital store Melie, and on our Fashion app CHIC Every Weather, just to name a few.
CHIC: How did you start the GUSTOKO journey?
Paula: I created GUSTOKO in 2014 after two years of living here in Lisbon to showcase our artisanal products and to give recognition to the artisans of my home country, the Philippines.
CHIC: What does the term “Gustoko” actually mean?
Paula: “Gustoko” is our Filipino term of “I Like”.
CHIC: Did you think about opening a store here in Lisbon?
Paula: I actually had a store in Principe Real which housed my curation of not just handbags but also several jewellery and homeware products, all from my country. In 2016, I decided to focus more on handbags and in order to be able to reach a bigger market, I started to sell our bags to other stores. It worked so well that I decided to close the shop and focus on a different business style targeted more for shop distribution rather than retail to end users. When everything got more established, I housed a small team of embroiderers and bag makers in my hometown in the Philippines to start manufacturing our own exclusive line of handbags.
CHIC: Who are the people who stand behind making these beautiful handbags?
Paula: Our embroiderers are 80% housewives who work from their home. We have trained them well and gave them the liberty to work in their own houses so they can still take care of their kids and attend to their needs while earning a fair wage. I could say that our hand embroidered bags are of excellent quality because everyone is proud of their work and the fact that they are able to make a living for themselves and for their families, hence the outcome are always exceptional.
We are fortunate that our company is based in my hometown, Marikina City, which is the Shoe Capital of the Philippines. There are a lot of shoe and bag artisans there and we are lucky to have found some of the best ones to do our bags. These people have been trained well and they have been making bags all their lives so the craftmanship is spectacular. They are one of the main reasons why we are able to provide quality handmade bags that are very competitive in the international market.
CHIC: The story behind the production is really amazing and empowering, we will definitely look at the bags in a new different way. Do you still have your jewellery line and homeware products that you mentioned before?
Paula: I still have a small jewellery line to complement the bags and every now and then I supply some customized homeware products to some of my clients. The GUSTOKO brand now has been identified more with our bags.
CHIC: How does the production process of the bags looks like? Do you often go to Philippines to manage the production?
Paula: All the materials we use are sourced in the Philippines and I personally choose and order them from our suppliers. I travel back and forth between Portugal and the Philippines around two to three times a year. The design process though starts here in Lisbon and I work with Isabel Costa, a former fashion editor and stylist, for the bag designs. She injects the European/Western inspiration in the design and we mix it with my Asian aesthetics. Perfect match!
CHIC: What kind of materials do you use for the bags?
Paula: I use a lot of natural materials for our handbags, such as natural fibers (buntal, raffia, abaca and rattan), snake leather for trims and straps, semi-precious stones, shell and wood.
CHIC: What is your main philosophy when designing bags?
Paula: My main design philosophy is to create bags that are beautiful, different and FUNCTIONAL.
CHIC: How do you balance having a family and running your own business at the same time?
Paula: I have been married to Nuno for 8 years, but we have decided to not have any kids right now. He travels a lot for work and me, on the other hand, loves to go back and forth to my country to be able to see my family and work with my team there. Having kids would make our lives complicated with the lifestyle that we have so I treat GUSTOKO as my baby in a way.
CHIC: Is GUSTOKO popular in Phillipines?
Paula: The brand is getting popular in my home country as well. For Filipinos, it is always a joy to see a fellow countrymen or our own Filipino products thrive in other countries so my brand was accepted warmly in the Philippines, even if it was created and based here in Lisbon. Since last year, we have been joining exclusive pop-ups there such as Katutubo Pop-up Market and Designer’s Holiday Bazaar which made the brand even more popular there.
CHIC: Did you have any problems with having your own brand in two different countries on different continents?
Paula: The only problem though that I encountered was pricing. I couldn’t sell the bags in the Philippines with the same prices that I sell them here in Lisbon. As all the bags are made there, I needed to take out the shipping costs, import taxes, IVA and other related costs of selling the bags here in Europe. People would often ask me, why I have different prices and I have to repeatedly explain this to them. So, one thing that I decided to do is to create another brand that would be based mainly in the Philippines, thus ILHA brand was born! (@ilha.philippines).
CHIC: It sounds impressive! When did you launch it?
Paula: The brand was launched January last year and I have asked my younger sister who lives there to manage it. I used a wonderful Portuguese word for our Philippine-brand that I think is a good description for our country. The Philippines is an archipelago which is composed of 7,107 islands,thus the name ILHA. So far it has been a wonderful roller coaster ride, but along with other businesses, we have experienced the tragic blow of the pandemic.
CHIC: We totally understand. It hasn’t been the easiest year. What are you hoping for in the future?
Paula: I am hoping that things would get better soon but as I have always said to my team and to my family, don’t worry so much about anything other than our health and our loved ones right now. These have been some trying times but I am sure that we would bounce back stronger and wiser.