A Shoemaker's Journey: Remembering Rico Sta. Ana's Artist Legacy

A Shoemaker's Journey: Remembering Rico Sta. Ana's Artist Legacy

Beyond being a 4th generation shoemaker, scaling a professional and creative tenure of six decades, Rico Sta. Ana is best known for his classic yet eccentric footwear designs and his friendly approach to mentorship. He defines his creative process as that of thinking outside the box, coming up with concepts that are unique rather than just trendy; emphasizing that trends come and go but the beauty of a one-of-a-kind pair can last a lifetime. 

Rico Sta Ana Veteran Marikina Shoemaker 4th Generation

As a mentor, Rico was a firm and strict disciplinarian to his apprentices, employing hands-on teaching through actual making. Quality, craftsmanship, and fit were his top priorities to ensure, noting what his father has taught him that “every millimeter counts”. Despite this, he was also a mentor who was open to new concepts in exchange, deeming it important for creatives to have a sense of continuous learning in order to adapt to the times. During his freetime, he would visit and mingle with local shoemakers to exchange ideas and provide tips, because of this he became a go-to “kuya” for advice related to shoes. 

In his lifetime, he has taught almost a hundred designers, makers, and entrepreneurs about the shoemaking craft. This was made possible by his bias-less tenacity to share his knowledge and wisdom to those open to joining him in a casual conversation. Serving as the chief maker of Zapateria, the studio became the most effective avenue for Rico to teach his craft. Some of his notable students are veteran shoemaker Ceceng Nepomunceno, Pattern Makers Association of Philippines President Cesar Paz, shoe designer-makers Mara Pinon, Derrick Hibaler, Thian Rodriguez, and Chad Tanutan, and so many more. 

Rico Sta. Ana 4th Generation Filipino Shoe Designer Zapateria

Aside from his notable accomplishments as a shoemaker and designer, Rico is remembered for his charm and friendly-nature. He is a community leader on his own accord, celebrated across the industry and beyond for his down-to-earth yet quirky positivity. Rico found his heart in footwear and also deemed it as a means to advocate for the Philippines and the talent of Filipino people. His focus and aspiration in life is to make beautiful shoes so that more people can wear them proudly. 

Early Life: A Shoe Shine Boy to Marikina's Youngest Designer

Rico Sta. Ana was born in Manila on May 3, 1947 to Jose Sta. Ana, a shoemaker and businessman, and entrepreneur Leonor (Navarro - Guevara). He was deemed to be a cheerful and somewhat rowdy child, frequenting his father’s factory at a very young age. As a kid, he used to turn scrap leather into Zorro masks and sell them. When he turned 13, he served as a shoe shine boy at SASCO, working with the other employees of the company and gradually learning the craft from his peers.

Rico Sta Ana Young Shoemaker

In adolescence, Rico was mentored by his father about footwear development, starting off with the creation of shoe lasts and pattern making. This later grew to become his role in the business. Together with his progressing knowledge of the shoemaking process, this exposure trained his eye for creative conceptualization and later followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a shoe designer.

Rico Sta Ana Marikina Shoe Designer 1969

In 1969, the Philippine Shoe Trade Fair was launched. During this event, the very first Filipino Footwear Design Competition was hosted in which Rico participated as the youngest shoe designer of the city at the age of 21. Rico collaborated with other local craftsmen to create thigh-high heeled boots to be worn by Filipino actress Shirley Gorospe. This creation won the “Best Design for Ladies” category of the competition.

A Professional Creative: From Design Apprentice to Filipino Exporter

Rico eventually started his work as the designer for SASCO’s flagship brand Jem Brothers together with his father. During this time, SASCO became one of the first Filipino manufacturers to export footwear to the United States of America. The deal with American investors became one of the biggest export deals in the Philippines of the time. Having just finished his academics, Rico serve as one of the lead designers and quality assurance managers of the exported shoes. Some of his creations were available at the notable SAKS Fifth Avenue store in New York City. Aside from this, his designs were also worn by note worthy figures such as Imelda Marcos, Gloria Diaz, and Susan Roces.

Rico Sta. Ana Exporter Marikina Shoes

In the late 70’s, his father founded a new footwear manufacturing company named the Philippine Shoe Company, incorporating it after a fire incident that debilitated SASCO. Here, Rico was promoted to serve as co-owner and production head; taking the helm from his father as he geared up for retirement. During his tenure as co-manager, PHISCO was able to secure deals with exporters Donald Hansen and Arthur Grifith to produce more than 20,000 pairs per month for US and Australian stores. 

Rico Sta Ana Jemelee Shoes

It was also during this time that Rico devoted his time to becoming a mentor to young apprentices in the factory and in other workshops; teaching industry veterans such as Ceceng Nepomuceno and Jhune Jane before they became production managers themselves. In his spare time, he would frequent golf courses with his network of entrepreneurs and politicians, joining tournaments and casual play. 

By the late 1980’s, the local shoe sector experienced a challenging market decline as globalization of trade opened the Philippines to strong importation of foreign goods. Plenty of the international clientele of PHISCO and other local manufacturers opted to outsource their production to China instead. This event also brought in cheaper, mass produced footwear into the Filipino market which took its toll on the handmade footwear industry. 

A Designer Entrepreneur: Ultimate Shoe Arts, Josanna, and Life as a Mentor

In 1993, Mercy Sta. Ana, Rico’s wife, started a sandal business named Ultimate Shoe Arts, that of which she founded with Alice Cruz, a notable shoe manufacturer. Beginning as an agent for Alice’s manufacturing, Mercy took up a seat to design her own line. The brand became popular for their seamless tubular leather strapped-sandals.

Rico Sta Ana Josanna 1990s Janeo

Rico’s father, Jose Sta. Ana, passed away in 1994, marking the transition and eventual closure of the PHISCO. This did not prevent Rico and his sister, Rosario, from taking the helm and starting their own shoe shop Josanna. Named after the legacy of their father, Josanna became a well-known high-end fashion shoe line producing and presenting designs at notable shops such as SM Departments Store, Shoe World, Good Earth, and local brands Milany Shoes, Via Vennetto, Ohrelle, Ledon Shoes, Janylin, Janeo, and Manels. 

While thriving in its own audiences, the industry of footwear is still subject to the effects of mass importation of goods. Josanna along with many of its contemporaries had to remain steadfast as the market continued to shift towards other alternatives. 

Rico faced some of the most glaring challenges both in his career and personal life by the early 2000’s with the closing of Josanna and the passing of his wife. He was left to raise his children and grandchildren at the midst of the global recession as an independent shoemaker with a few consulting work for surviving shoe brands. He returned to his previous hobby of visiting local factories to commune with other makers and teach techniques of crafting to the workers. 

Rico Sta Ana Shoemaker Fashion Week

After a few years of working as an independent maker, Rico was invited to assist in the development of a new contemporary brand under Gibson Shoes, a notable shoe company that is known for producing high-quality utility shoes. Gibson approached Rico to design a line of footwear for their children’s shoes category “Gibson Kids”, as well as up-and-coming men’s brand “Antonio Manila”. The designs were launched during the 2013 Philippine Fashion Week as part of the styling for Ulysses King. Notable in this collection is Rico’s innovative use of casual EVA rubber soles for footwear designs with traditional formal designs. He hung his apron for retirement later that year.

A Mentor to the Next Generation: Legacy Building as Chief Maker

In October of 2015, Rico fell victim of a auto accident when a speeding motorcycle sideswiped him as he crossed the road. He suffered near fatal injuries that left him comatose for a few days. Fortunately, Rico survived the accident with minimal yet permanent effects to his hearing and balance. This event spiked an epiphany on his youngest and only daughter, Unyx Sta. Ana, a technopreneur, that beyond her father; no one else will continue their family’s long heritage in footwear.

Rico Sta Ana Zapateria Shoemaking

With this epiphany, Unyx founded Zapateria, a creative hub for footwear design and development set to address the current dilemma of the sector by bridging generations toward fostering a new interest and patronage for the Filipino shoemaking craft.

At Zapateria, Rico served as a community leader for the growing following of the hub. He was the mentor and advisor of over a hundred aspiring makers and successful creative entrepreneurs incubated by the studio such as Mara Pinon, Thian Rodriguez, Alika Kee of Buhay Shoes, Seaneen Arcilla of Isla and Aiden, Chad Tanutan, and many more. 

Zapateria Designer Collaborator

As the chief maker and lead designer for Zapateria’s flagship brand “RSA”, now a self-named brand for his personal designs. 2019 was a very eventful year for Rico as he once again participated as a special enterprise entry designer for the annual Filipino Footwear Design Competition fifty years after winning the first ever competition. His entry named “Orchids” was also published at the Virtual Shoe Museum Calendar. In the same year, Zapateria launched his personal brand at the esteemed ArteFino Festival where his designs served as the brand’s best seller and won the prestigious Pamana Award granted by Stilo Artefino with Metro Magazine.

Zapateria Rico Sta Ana ArteFino

Rico continued his work throughout the CoVid-19 pandemic of 2020 to 2021, mentoring and designing for the various collaborators of Zapateria such as Lakat Sustainables for their Dayon Collection. He also served as the designer mentor during the FFDC 2020 in which his mentee Carla Apostol was awarded as grand winner. He later worked again with Carla for a special collaborative design during The ArteFino Festival 2022. His most recent design collection was presented during the said festival where his collaborative upcycled footwear designs with Filipino director Concepcion Macatuno and Zapateria mentee, Glice Batulan were awarded.

A Humble Maker Remembered

At the age of 75, was diagnosed with early-stage dementia along with signs of a mild stroke. He passed away peacefully in the morning of January 16, 2023 in the presence of his family.

Rico Sta Ana Marikina Shoemaker

Rico Sta. Ana flourished with a 63-year legacy in Filipino craft and creativity, serving not only as an industry leader but also as a talented artisan and a devoted teacher. He is survived by his children and grandchildren along with hundreds of individuals whom he was able to befriend and teach.

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