Acute business sense isn’t enough—successful entrepreneurs brim with passion for their work. Just ask Kat Erro, founder and designer of handcrafted leather items company Katre.
Katre’s lineup of leather bags and accessories are all made in the Philippines, by Filipinos—craftspeople from Marikina and Antipolo work on leather from tanneries in Bulacan and Valenzuela, or from Marikina importers, with the finished product undergoing a stringent three-stage quality control process.
“I don’t want to stop until it’s perfect, because I feel in my gut that there is a future for Philippine goods,” says Kat.
Bitten by the business bug
Kat started on her entrepreneurial path even before entering college. In high school, she and her three siblings sold their mother’s yema balls to classmates. They also sold buko juice close to their house. “That’s when I realized how powerful presentation is,” says Kat. “No one would buy our buko juice because our table looked so boring!”
Despite their cluelessness, Kat forged on. Even when she made a detour into the publishing industry and then became a stylist, Kat held fast to her dream of someday becoming an entrepreneur.
A brief stay in London with her family sealed Kat’s dream. She found a temp job for about nine months as a sales advisor at luxury department store Harvey Nichols.
“Working there opened my eyes to so many important aspects of a business,” says Kat. “Right after I sold a GBP1,000 Miu Miu handbag, I realized I wanted to put up a brand without big designer logos and simply focus on quality and design—a brandless brand that people would appreciate.”
Back in Manila in 2009, Kat established Katre as an online-only operation with a 15-piece collection. Her inventory included costume jewelry, sunglasses, and synthetic bags—with the bags proving the most lucrative of them all.
“In 2011, following the suggestion of my regular clients, I introduced bags made with real leather,” says Kat. “The more I learned about leather, the more it became interesting for me.”
No looking back
Feeling that she had a blockbuster in her hands, Kat “sat down and seriously thought about the future of my business,” she recalls. “It was the first time in my life that I made a business plan.”
Her newfound focus brought forth the popular City Tote, a seamless leather carry-all. “Customers appreciated its handcrafted appeal, its nakedness, and the attention to detail,” says Kat. Today, Katre has over 10 bag styles—most of them named after famous London spots close to Kat’s heart—and a wide range of leather accessories.
Four years after the City Tote came out, Katre became Kat’s only full-time occupation. Until 2015, she had been running Katre all by herself; that year she hired her first employee, her executive assistant, who is still with Katre.
Now managed by a team of nine, Katre operates from a showroom in White Plains, Quezon City, and two pop-up shops (in Shangri-La Plaza mall and Greenbelt 3).
Entrepreneurs can learn a few things from Kat’s trial-and-error approach to opening a business:
1. Take care of your employees because they may make or break your business. “I make sure I know all my staff on a personal level so I can understand them better and they can open up to me when they want to,” says Kat.
2. Ask for help—you can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything by yourself. If you try to do everything, “you’ll start hating your work because it takes so much time away from you,” says Kat.
3. Never compromise your values for instant gratification. “Amazing things take time,” says Kat.
4. Be passionate about your work. “If you’re not, don’t do it. Passion will drive you through the craziness and pain and make it all worth it,” says Kat.
5. Be clear about your branding. “You can improve on it but don’t change it or you’ll alienate your loyal customers,” Kat says.
6. Work hard. “I learned that running a business is not easy nor glamorous. But patience, tenacity, and hard work bring you places,” Kat says.
Looking for a community where businesses like Katre can find a foothold and flourish? You’ll find it at avidaland.com.
Photo of Kat by Kurt Alvarez. All product photos are from Katre’s Facebook page.