Joanna Cuenco lends an ear to the guys behind Loudbasstard
IT was a summer day in Cebu when a group of friends were chilling in the mountains.
Entrepreneurs Koh Onozawa and Franz Ignacio were sketching furniture designs when Koh’s girlfriend Julie Ghafari put an iPhone inside an empty drinking glass to amplify its sound. From this concept, the Loudbasstard was born: a bamboo sound amplifier that uses no electricity, to share the love of music.
Koh and Franz, owners of Loudbasstard Inc., have both lived overseas for part of their lives, but are proud Cebuanos at heart. The 23-year-old Koh graduated from the University of San Carlos with a degree in anthropology, majoring in archeology and cultural heritage management. Franz, 28, has a degree in architecture from the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York, and moved back to Cebu primarily to be with his mom, who fell ill last year.
Loudbasstard wasn’t just a summer hobby for Franz and Koh. These guys are in it for the long run, and both took the risk of quitting their full-time jobs to devote their time and dedication to the new business. “We were creating a product, not just buying and selling something.” Franz was a junior logistics director for Christie’s, the auction house, in New York, while Koh was an archaeologist in a Japanese company in Okinawa. Both admit quitting these stable jobs was one of the most difficult decisions they had ever made, but it’s been worth it. “We have no regrets. It was the right decision,” Franz affirms.
So, why bamboo? It’s a highly sustainable plant that grows very quickly, and it’s easily sourced from all over the Visayas. Franz and Koh wanted their product to be both local and ecologically friendly. After doing their research, they found that wood is the best sound conductor for music. It also helps that Koh’s mom, Joy, has been an active environmental advocate for years, while Franz’s family is in the bamboo manufacturing industry.
Both of their families didn’t exactly approve of them leaving their stable jobs overseas to return to Cebu and venture on a new business. They credit Franz’s mom, Amelia, fondly called Amy, to be their biggest believer. “She was the only one who ever really believed in us since the beginning.” Joy and Amy introduced the boys when they went to see Koh’s sister Arisa’s ballet recital. Lamentably, Amy succumbed to cancer before she could see the brand become so successful, but the guys pressed on: “This has been really all for her.” Franz just returned from Berlin to present the product in the Bread and Butter trade show, which hand-selects 600 of the world’s most successful brands and predicts trends for the market, like fashion for Fall/Winter 2014. Famous faces like Pharrell and Justin Timberlake were at the trade show.
Loudbasstard was the only Philippine brand there, and was showcased next to names like TOMS, Adidas, Nike and Calvin Klein.
“I think it’s okay to say we’re doing well in the Philippines,” says Koh. He’s being modest: In just one of their outlets in Cebu, about 400 Loudbasstards are sold every month. They have also sent samples to Spain, Italy, Dubai, Canada, the Pacific Islands, and Singapore to see how the market will react to the product. They currently distribute around the Philippines, the US, and the German part of Switzerland.
In their work for Loudbasstard, Franz takes care of innovations, research and development, while Koh handles marketing and operations. But it’s a team effort with their staff, and they depend on the opinions of the people at the factory on how to improve the product. They are thankful to Juli-Anna McGovern, from Canada, the communications director and admin officer for Loudbasstard Inc.
Also, Franz and Koh speak highly of Haidee Rosal, in particular. Haidee used to be their favorite waitress at one place they frequented for crabs and beer. She had so much initiative and always knew just how they wanted their food and music. When the restaurant closed, they invited her to work for the company. She is now their quality control manager, overseeing production everyday. “She even has her own office,” the guys share proudly. “She’s very devoted and doing an excellent job.”
More accessories and products are coming from the Loudbasstard range. Aside from Loudbasstard Inc., Franz and Koh are also business partners for another venture: Franko Corp., which will be more for home accessories and bathroom fixtures like faucets and sinks. There’s a lot more to look forward to from these young entrepreneurs and visionaries, especially with their aim to make everything they design and produce to be environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.