The story of Tonic Bags, a brand that can be found at the Glorietta, TriNoma, and Shangri-La malls, started as a young girl’s love affair with bags and shoes.
“Ever since I was little, my love for bags and shoes has always been evident,” Tonic owner Kim Chupeco tells Entrepreneur. “I could still remember a phase I had back in grade school when upon arriving home from school, I would automatically go to my mom’s shoe rack, remove my black Mary Janes and slip into my mom’s shiny silver pumps—even if they were four sizes too big for me—and walk around the house in them.”
With this keen love for bags and shoes, her special requests for birthday and Christmas gifts shifted from Barbies and Polly Pockets to bags and shoes. “When I get bags and shoes, I would just stare at and admire them lovingly. I have always loved fashion, but bags and shoes do hold a special place in my heart,” she says.
This love for bags gave Chupeco and some college friends the idea to make bags just for fun and sell them in bazaars. “We did have fun during the process, but to our surprise we were also making so much money! It was at that point that I realized, without question, this is what I want to do for a living. And so I did,” she says.
With the help of her mother, Eleanor Lao Chupeco, she started her own bag and shoe business in March 2008 with a stall at the Greenhills tiangge. “It was my first real venture into the business world. I remember going home at around midnight during my very first day of setting up the stall. I used to be at my stall every single day, acting as a saleslady to the customers and getting a thrill every time someone purchased an item,” Chipeco says. Later, she also set up a store at Tiendesitas in Pasig City.
Chupeco said she could not have done all these without the support and encouragement of her mom, to whom she is thankful for supporting her throughout the business process—financially, emotionally and psychologically. “She believed in my capabilities, which made me believe in mine, too. This is why I decided to brand my business as ‘Tonic.’ Tonic is defined as any agent that invigorates you, that strengthens you—and my mom has been exactly this, someone who invigorated me and gave me strength, especially when I was just starting. Without her, my business would not have been possible and I dedicate Tonic’s success to her,” Chupeco says.
With her intense passion for bags and shoes, Chupeco designs all Tonic products. All products are personally designed and locally manufactured.
“The designs take inspiration from fashion trends, the things I see around me, and personal tastes and preferences. I personally choose the materials used, from the leather to the lining to the buckle or snap. It took some time to familiarize myself with the different locations of suppliers; but now every time I pay them a visit, it feels like home—everyone is so warm and entertaining every time I visit,” she says.
Chupeco decided to move to the malls because stall assignments at the tiangge exhibits in Greenhills are shuffled every month, and some of her loyal customers have had a difficult time looking for her stall. “I then decided to build a permanent store in Tiendesitas, owned by Ortigas & Company, which also operates the tiangge in Greenhills. The rent is very reasonable and the size of the store is just right for my products, making it a perfect first permanent outlet for my products. My suki now frequent my store in Tiendesitas, without having to go through the hassle of looking for my new location in the tiangge every month,” she says.
She adds that Ramp Crossings is a perfect outlet for Tonic Bags, with its branches in Glorietta, Trinoma and Shangri-La. “Recessionistas are their target customers, or those fashionistas who want value for their money—and that’s exactly my target market as well,” she says.
Chupeco says she was to open a branch in Cebu by end-June this year, since she has also developed a following outside Metro Manila through online sales on her Multiply site.
“There is a demand for fashion items in the provinces, yet they do not have access to young Manila brands except through online shopping. I therefore paid Cebu a visit, and decided to put up a small store there,” she says. “My Cebuano suki can now visit my store anytime they want and have the chance to actually see the bags or actually try on the shoes they are about to purchase.” Now that’s being fashion forward.