A Short History of Zenco Footstep
When we need new clothes or shoes, the default destination seems to be to the nearest shopping mall. (Either that or we go online). Most of us just automatically head to department stores or specialty boutiques for our sartorial needs.
But for people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, there are certain names that would trigger pleasant memories of shopping for our necessities. When we need new shoes today, we head on over to the footwear section of any gigantic shopping mall, but there was a time when the go-to place to get the newest set of kicks was at the nearest branch of the chain of stores called Zenco Footstep.
What happened to Zenco Footstep?
History of Zenco Footstep
First off, Zenco is a contraction of Zenith Commercial Corp., the company started by a man named Yao Khaphu to distribute sandals and shoes in 1957. Khaphu started his footwear business in a little space along San Fernando Street in Binondo, Manila, although he opened a much bigger store and warehouse in Caloocan City two years later.
In May 1961, Khaphu opened his first store in Divisoria, Manila and, by 1967, he had started expanding his stores to provincial areas, including Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Naga. It wasn’t until 1972, though, that the company introduced the trade name Footstep and the now famous Zenco Footstep brand was born.
If the 1970s were all about establishing the brand and expansion, the 1980s were about collaborations for Zenco Footstep. In 1981, it partnered with Rubberworld Philippines, a company that manufactured footwear, bags, and garments, to distribute the latter’s merchandise across the Zenco Footwear network. As a local company, Rubberworld was known for its brands that included Kaypee, Mighty Kid, and sandals like Islander and Spartan.
Kaypee, Grosby, and Mighty Kid
Kaypee became a household name after it entered into a sponsorship arrangement with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Longtime PBA fans must surely remember “Kaypee at the Half” and, of course, all the PBA players that chose to wear Kaypee shoes, including Alvin Patrimonio.
At one point, Rubberworld had the exclusive license to locally manufacture brands like Australia’s Grosby and Adidas. Grosby, in particular, received a big boost after it caught the attention of prized PBA import Billy Ray Bates from the U.S.
“Way before Michael Jordan wore black and red, Bates was sporting Philippine-made basketball sneakers in black, red, green, gray, yellow and other eye-catching combinations,” sportswriter and commentator Bill Velasco writes in the Philippine Star. “This continued well into his days with crowd darling Ginebra to the early 1990s.”
Mighty Kid, meanwhile, became the choice brand for children. Many a school kid excitedly went into a Zenco Footstep branch to pick out their new Mighty Kid shoes, especially at the approach of a new school year.
An old TV commercial for Zenco Footstep
Other brands that Zenco Footstep carried included Dockmaster, 100% Kydd, Designer, Wings, Espressioni, Cambridge, Vita, and Islander for Kids.
Rubberworld was hit by a series of financial and legal setbacks until it shut down operations in 1994. Adidas also chose to open its own office here in the Philippines and therefore no longer needed a local manufacturer and partner. The early 90s also saw the emergence of retail giants like the Sy family’s SM and the Gokongweis’ Robinsons, both of which began building gigantic shopping malls that carried pretty much everything consumers would ever need, including apparel, groceries, and, of course, footwear. All of these contributed to the slow decline of specialty retailers like Zenco Footstep.
Today, however, Zenco Footstep is still alive, with outlets owned by franchisees scattered mostly in cities outside Metro Manila. Based on social media posts from netizens still tickled at seeing the familiar signage of Zenco Footstep, there are still Zenco Footstep stores in places like Vigan, Ilocos Sur; Santiago, Cauayan, and Ilagan, Isabela; Baguio City; Lucena City, Quezon Province; Magsaysay, Sorosogon; Urdaneta City, Pangasinan; Cavite City, Cavite; Masbate City, Masbate; Legazpi City, Albay; Catbalogan City, Samar; Naga City, Camarines Sur; and Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. For people indulging in nostalgia, or those who genuinely like the products offered by Zenco Footstep, these stores will hopefully remain standing for many years to come.