It was 1 am when I realised Footkaki had turned two years old.

Day 43 of Singapore’s circuit breaker. I’m tossing and turning in my bed, stressed and thinking of the uncertainties small business owners like us suddenly face. Back at his home, I’m sure Owen was going through that instead of waking the neighbourhood with his snores.

Then – a vibration and a little flash of white from the bedside table.

It’s a notification on my phone: one of those ‘Remember this day” posts in my Facebook feed. It was a post shared by my sister on 18 May 2018 – a few photographs of our little shop taken on our very first day at Roxy Square.

Photos shot on the first day of footkaki, when we began our journey selling comfortable orthopaedic shoes and insoles at roxy square, singapore.

There was our family photograph – taken with Mum and Sis. Owen was slit-eyed and sepet from the sleep lost preparing for our opening. I was panda-eyed from helping him too. We were super juiced-up on red bull and kopi-O. Sis snapped the photo at the end of the day – right before we headed home for a deserved family dinner. Owen and I were exhausted from hours of serving friends and family (I think we only got our first walk-in on day 3).

Footkaki looked sparse. Our shelves were almost empty – save for some beautiful bouquets gifted by well-wishing family friends. We had so little designs back then that we even stuck flip flops in the same display as Italian shoes! Honestly, we barely knew how things would turn out. Starting shop was still a leap of faith despite our calculated decisions for doing so.

See how small Owen the Pedorthist's eyes looked?
See how small Owen the Pedorthist’s eyes looked?

Then the significance of 2 years hit. We’ve reached many milestones in these 24 months: a successful little charity fundraiser on our 1st anniversary; fitting feet for 200 special athletes; hiring our first staff (the fantastic Lily – some of you know her!); making Footwear Today’s Retailer of the Month; appearing in a local newspaper (can’t say whom or must pay licensing fees); moving to a new shop, and making many new friends along the way.

What a time to celebrate our 2nd anniversary during this COVID-19 quagmire. Already, 8,663 business have closed down in April 2020 alone (see here). We’re not going to spread toxic positivity and say that things aren’t scary. We’re feeling very worried ourselves. 

Some of us will struggle to keep our independent businesses and jobs, and some of us will lose them. That’s the harsh truth. Our little Footkaki sampan is still finding a way out of that storm. It’ll be tricky, even with the help of generous rescue packages from the government.

But to quote Tupac Shakur, a 20th-century wiseman:

Yeah – Keep ya head up! via GIPHY

Yes, the storm sucks, but we can’t always be looking down at dark water filling up the hull – lest we miss the sight of calmer seas ahead. Another way to look at it: as the going gets tough, it also means that things will get easier later on. It’s about staying strong enough and keeping eyes open till things get better.

That’s what we’re telling ourselves at Footkaki on our 2nd anniversary – and I hope that anyone else in a difficult situation would too. We might have to dip into savings and forgo salaries until things get better, but we’ll do it while keeping our heads up. And if memories form a personal reserve for us to draw on during these times, here’s what Footkaki has saved up over the last two years.

The Support of Family & Friends.

Happy times at Footkaki when cute family comes to visit!
Happy times at Footkaki when cute family comes to visit!

Looking back, I’d be lying if we said that Footkaki wasn’t indebted to community support. We started without fanfare or visibility from inside a hidden corridor of Roxy Square. It was our family and friends who began spreading the word. Many of them also decided to skip the department and chain stores for shoes, instead choosing to spend their hard-earned money at our shop (we come from humble blue-collared stock).

And that’s how Footkaki got through the first few months – until people knew that we existed. We’re very grateful for relatives and friends who helped us through that period of becoming sustainable. Owen and I are also very thankful to our own families – especially our wives for sticking with husbands without stable salaried incomes.

We’re also grateful for our very supportive neighbours and regular Kakis at Roxy Square. They’re god-gifted friends when your colleagues are literally your family (whom you also see at dinner after work). You’ve made us one of the lucky shops where customers come bringing gifts of kopi-O and Nonya kueh! 

A little gathering of old friends at Footkaki. Owen's eyes are even smaller.
A little gathering of old friends at Footkaki. Owen’s eyes are even smaller.

Then there’s our gratitude for Lily, Footkaki’s first staffer who’s using her many years of professional shoe fitting experience to support and lighten our load. She likes to stay low profile – but hey, you’re gold, Lily! Our suppliers, vendors, and Singapore’s medical community have been instrumental too. Without their trust in us, we wouldn’t have been able to grow our little shop.

Footkaki wouldn’t still be here today if not for our supporters. It’s that simple. After all, we don’t have customers. Only Kakis. That’s something we treasure, and what motivates us to keep with our goals of making healthy footwear accessible and affordable for the community.

Despite our intentions to pay your support forward to charity as our anniversary tradition – we are sad to announce that Footkaki isn’t in a position to do so right now. But we’re looking out for opportunities to help in other ways. We’ll work hard to get back up – and continue whatever it is we do that’s earned us your precious friendships, trust, and support.

Moving Forwards

We’re all gonna be HAA HAA HAA HAA…    via GIPHY

Seriously, the coming months will be difficult for many of us. It’s a time for most of us to reinvent ourselves to be stronger for the future – and Footkaki is no exception. 

So here’s our roadmap for the year ahead. If you’re wondering why this little shoe shop is bothering to share that with you – it’s because we know that the Footkaki story would not be complete without our Kakis. Owen and I don’t take that for granted and think it’s only right for our Kakis to know where the story is heading.

And if you happen to run a small business like us, we hope that our sharing of ideas might help with a eureka moment or two. After all, we’re all in this together. 🙂

Costs might go up, but we’ll keep prices down.

We’re doing the extra maths to keep prices low. via GIPHY

As international travel stalls, we’re anticipating shipping charges to go up. In fact, that’s already happened – freight for our last Italian shipment increased almost threefold(!). Fluctuating market conditions might also cause shoemaking costs to go up as a global recession hits.

But Footkaki made a promise to make orthopaedic footwear affordable. Owen and I know that it’s a necessity for many Kakis, and will do our best to absorb these costs at Footkaki for as long as we can. If something at Footkaki costs a bit more than before – please know that we tried our best (our margins are already thinner than larger shops). 

Free Online Consultations are now a permanent thing.

If only everyone looked that cute in Zoom calls… via GIPHY

Video appointments were something we experimented with when the Circuit Breaker first started… and it turned out well! Many of us will be busy trying to make ends meet, or are unable to make the trip down to Footkaki due to Singapore’s new normal. If that’s the case for you, booking a free video consultation here would be the next best way for us to help you with foot pain.

Footkaki now accepts Online Orders.

No… that’s not how shoe fitting works online. via GIPHY

Until now, we’ve resisted selling footwear online due to the inconsistency of foot and shoe sizes. A size 36 foot might not fit a size 36 shoe… and people often get their measurements wrong. On the bright side, the Circuit Breaker has given us some DIY time to build a shopping system on our website that should be easy to use.

You can learn how to order online at this page – but do note that we’re still testing it out. Ecommerce is often difficult for small businesses due to our limited resources. It’s still no replacement for a proper foot assessment and fitting session at our shop, so we’ll only honestly recommend this route for Kakis whose feet we’ve measured before.

p.s. A shoutout to the Kakis who supported us with orders during the Circuit Breaker! You helped us gain invaluable experience with fitting shoes online. Some of you even came forward with useful ideas and recommendations for getting orders delivered. We’re really grateful and will be applying the lessons learnt!

We’re increasing Discounts for Healthcare Workers.

With comfy shoes, you can now show off humerus dance moves. via GIPHY

Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, Professional Carers and other front line medical staff will now receive a 15% discount at Footkaki. It’s just one of the ways we can express our appreciation for your contributions to the community.

Previously, healthcare workers received 10% off purchases at Footkaki. But after what we learned from COVID-19 about your underpaid salaries and hard work – it’s only right that we give a bit more.

So that’s it for our muted 2nd anniversary! If you’ve actually read this far, we’re thankful for the chance to express our gratitude and thoughts. If you’ve got any suggestions on how Footkaki can better serve our local community – please do let us know too!

For now, we’re getting back to work and looking forward to the day our doors can reopen. 24 months is a very short time in the grand scheme of things, but thanks to your company – we’ve enjoyed the journey so far with all its highs and lows. And despite how things roll, we’ll work hard to keep Footkaki’s promise – comfortable shoes and insoles for all.

Clarence Oo
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Clarence Oo

Author Clarence Oo