Most people would agree that business owners need to spend years to gain experience and develop necessary skills in order to succeed. However, the story of VAULV owners Kendrick Diaz and Kamille Santos certainly prove that young people can also chase their entrepreneurial dreams at an early age through diligence, grit, and resilience.
Taking the Plunge
Diaz and Santos met as business majors at the Ateneo de Manila University, both aiming to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in management. As blockmates, they realized that they both shared similar passions in business. Back in their high school days, both Diaz and Santos opened food businesses with their friends as part of a requirement for one of their calsses. Eventually, this school requirement sparked their love for business and entrepreneurship. In their later years in high school, Santos took business classes upon moving to Singapore. Meanwhile, Diaz started buying and selling sneakers and streetwear as a side gig, allowing him to learn more about the streetwear culture and market in the Philippines. In the end, Kendrick’s past experience in flipping streetwear and sneakers and Kamille’s knowledge on business inspired them to join forces and launch VAULV, a Filipino brand which sells locally-made duffle bags for everyday essentials, on June 25, 2019.
VAULV’s urban bags are known for their sturdiness and versatility, having the ability to carry sneakers and athletic gear. In addition to this, their bags can also serve as carry-on baggages with adjustable dividers, making them perfect for travellers.
A Rocky Start
While VAULV was certainly born out of their passions, they had to take risks and make sacrifices to ensure the success of the business, especially because they started the brand as 20-year-old college juniors.
The fact that they decided to build a brand from scratch instead of pursuing their original plan of franchising an existing business was a large risk for the duo. Aside from investing monetary capital, Diaz and Santos spent a lot of time and effort building their ideas and their brand before starting the business.
“I would say that we really experienced a moderate amount of risk primarily because there was no assurance of sales despite the several months we spent planning for the launch,” Diaz said.
At the time, many people were getting into sneakers and streetwear, especially since the Philippines became one of the countries with the biggest streetwear culture in the world. Diaz realized that there was a need for a local duffel bag brand that would cater to the needs of the people who are into sneakers and streetwear. This business trend, along with their love for sneakers and streetwear, pushed Diaz and Santos to start VAULV. However, when they were thinking of which products to sell, they did not only think about what to sell—they also wanted to make sure that every part of their business was in line with their beliefs. They wanted to make sure that their products were made in the Philippines to support local businesses and manufacturers who, like international brands, are capable of providing premium quality products. At the same time, Diaz and Santos also wanted to make sure that their products would promote eco-friendly practices. While these were certainly commendable, it was not easy to initiate local production lines and promote environmental conservation while generating profits.
When the business started its operations, it was also difficult to gain brand recognition and traction. Diaz and Santos had a difficult time building a following on their social media sites. They invested in ads on Instagram and Facebook and constantly sought ways to maximize exposure while minimizing expenses. Additionally, Diaz and Santos experienced issues with production when the bag suppliers could not keep up with the demand for the products, which could potentially lead to losing a sale and a surge in customer inquiries.
Managing the business is only part of their daily problems. Both Diaz and Santos are also handling the stress of college life; they have to constantly keep up with mountains of homework and assessments assigned to them. As such, when the business came to fruition, VAULV was added to their long list of daily responsibilities as university students. “Prior to VAULV, I would just go to class, study, do my homework, take tests like any other normal student,” Diaz said, “When VAULV was added to my responsibilities, I would use my long breaks to do VAULV stuff. After school, Kamille and I would not go straight home. We would go to our different partner store locations where we check on inventory and collect sales.” As a grade-conscious student, Santos would also have difficulty managing VAULV while pursuing great academic feats. “It would lead me to sleep at 3 or 4 AM and wake up at around 7 or 8 AM,” Santos explained.
Opportunities in Disguise
Although they encountered a lot of challenges in the beginning of their journey, Diaz and Santos’ passion and positive mindset kept them going. In the face of adversity, they would remind themselves of the reasons why they started this venture in the first place. Instead of frowning at their misfortunes, they would look at the lessons they learned from each difficult experience.
True enough, Diaz and Santos’ initial experiences in VAULV improved their business skills. Although it was difficult, they were able to integrate their advocacies into their business operations. For example, in the name of sustainability, they would also include thank you cards made with spinach seeds that could be planted and grown so that they could promote environmentally friendly lifestyles.
Furthermore, when they had difficulty gaining traction in the beginning of their business journey, they gave away a few bags to influencers like Thirdy Ravena. They also enlisted the help of Volleyball Star Player, Kim Kianna Dy, and Filipino Sneaker Youtuber, Carlo Ople, to gain more following on their social media sites. Alongside pursuing influencer marketing, Diaz and Santos continued to take advantage of Facebook ads and Instagram ads to advertise their products and make their promotions more visible. They also went on to participate in sneaker events to have better brand exposure in the target demographic that their business wishes to pursue.
Thirdy Ravena with VAULV
In order to meet the customer’s demand for their products, Diaz and Santos also hired more employees to manufacture the bags. They would also reply to customer inquiries as soon as possible in order to provide appropriate customer support and gain a potential sale.
Indeed, their ability to rise to the challenge allowed them to surpass these problems and taught them how to make wise business decisions. At the same time, these challenges taught them how to face similar problems in the future, increasing their confidence and courage to keep going. “Starting VAULV made me realize that I am capable and that I can do whatever I put my heart into. I realized that I shouldn’t be worried or scared of the things to come because I have already experienced these before,” Diaz said.
Aside from enhancing their entrepreneurial abilities, VAULV allowed Diaz and Santos to consistently practice important values in their personal lives. When VAULV was founded, Diaz and Santos both became more responsible, developing better time management skills as they juggled various responsibilities. At the same time, it also taught them how to be more patient and understanding, especially when managing various customers, suppliers, and partners involved in the business.
Additionally, Diaz and Santos learned to value money and practice financial literacy, only spending their income when necessary instead of using it to fund shopping sprees. Most importantly, the business allowed them to increase their existing network and meet so many supportive people, prompting them to show gratitude towards everyone who stood by them throughout every milestone. “VAULV definitely had a positive impact in my life,” Santos said, “Even though it takes up more time, it really improved me as a person.”
Fruits of Labor
Because of their passion and grit, Diaz and Santos were able to grow their business to greater heights amidst trials and tribulations. In fact, even if the business only began in mid-2019, VAULV already accomplished many great milestones.
The two sneaker events that the duo attended during VAULV’s first few months really got the ball rolling for the business. When they attended Beyond the Culture in October 2019, they met Julius and Christine Babao, two TV personalities and sneaker enthusiasts based in the Philippines. Diaz and Santos were able to get the products into Julius and Christine Babao’s sneaker store, Sneakers & Such at Styled, located at the Shangri-la Plaza East Wing. Diaz and Santos also attended Manila Sneaker Expo 9 in December 2019 and got more exposure for the brand.
VAULV at Beyond the Culture VAULV at Manila Sneaker Expo 9
Aside from consigning their products with Sneakers & Such at Styled, they also made their products available in another physical store at Regis Center called Sole Republiq. The store owner approached Diaz one day and offered them the opportunity to sell their bags in the store. The VAULV owners gladly took the opportunity, making their products more accessible to their target customers.
VAULV at Sneakers & Such at Styled VAULV at Sole Republiq
Kiefer Ravena for VAULV
When VAULV eventually became a popular brand within the streetwear community, they were able to launch two collaborations last year. They released a collaboration with Bigboy Cheng, one of the most well-known sneaker and streetwear collectors in the Philippines and worldwide who they happened to meet at the Sneakers and Such at Styled soft opening. They also collaborated with Carlo Ople, the number one sneaker YouTuber in the Philippines.
VAULV x Secret Fresh Collaboration
VAULV x Project 7 to 1 Collaboration
Despite being incredibly young entrepreneurs with little experience, Diaz and Santos were undoubtedly very successful in growing VAULV into the business that it is today. Although it was difficult to do so, their story certainly shows that starting a business at a young age is possible—even recommendable. “I really recommend starting a business at an early age,” Santos said.
“By exposing themselves and opening themselves to new things, young business owners will be able to enjoy career success in the long run since they will be able to develop the skills they need in the world of business. Even if they do not know what to do, they are able to learn along the way. You would also be able to create your own destiny because you get to have your own story to tell other people and to inspire them to start their own business as well.”
It goes without saying that risks come with the pursuit of entrepreneurship, no matter what age you start. However, failure really proves to be a great teacher in the long run. “There can also be uncertainty of income, long hours of hard work, and discouragement. However, this shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your passions and dreams,” Diaz said, “If you fail, you will end up learning from it —it’s a win-win situation. Do not be afraid to fail because it will definitely really help in whatever endeavors you want to accomplish.”
The one advice that both Diaz and Santos wish to impart to young aspiring entrepreneurs is to continuously grab opportunities. “When opportunities present themselves to you and if you believe that you are ready, then go for it,” Diaz said, “So many people are very afraid to fail. But, if you look at all the people who have succeeded in their field like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, they have experienced failure. It’s what makes them great. So, take every opportunity you get because you also learn a lot from these experiences and you will get to see how capable you are to accomplish anything.”
The countless opportunities that Diaz and Santos took during their business journey were decisions that led to the success they’re experiencing now. “Small opportunities can lead to bigger and better opportunities,” Santos said, “If you don’t grab opportunities, you will miss out on other chances.”
Indeed, It’s exciting to see what the future holds for VAULV. Follow their journey through their website, Facebook page and Instagram account. More importantly, do not forget to heed their advice and be #InVAULVed as you pursue your own entrepreneurial dreams.