Tsinelas to superheroes: The Elmer Padilla story

      Filipinos are well-known for ingenuity. Salt-powered lamps and karaoke machines, what else is next? Last year, Elmer Padilla made headlines when his handmade action figures made from recycled tsinelas vent viral in Facebook. Padilla has since made an appearance on Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, and his work was even handed to Thor: Ragnarok actors Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo, who praised Elmer's depictions of their characters.

Elmer has always loved action figures, though he could never really afford them as a child. He turned to his creativity at a young age so that he could make his own. 
"Nine years old po ako noong mag-start ako sa paggawa. Hindi pa po character ang mga ginagawa ko noon. Bangka-bangka lang po gamit ang mga tsinelas na sira hanggang sa nakakabuo na ako ng mga robot sa sarili kong imahinasyon. Hanggang sa nahilig ako sa mga action figures sa movie. Sinubukan ko na po gumaya ng mga action figures (I was nine years old when I started making these. At the time, I didn't make characters. I just made boats out of broken flip-flops until I was able to make robots of my own imagination. Then, I began taking an interest in action figures from movies. At that point, I tried imitating action figures)," he said. 

Originally from Samar, Elmer, his wife and two daughters recently moved to Imus, Cavite, to try and fulfill his dream of making and selling action figures. It was there that he was discovered selling his tsinelas action figures on the streets, and from there, his fame rose.
Today, Elmer receives guidance from Jerry Santos, a toymaker who makes life-sized statues for his store, Jerry's Life-Size Statues and Collectibles. Orders for his work have piled up so much, he can barely keep up with demand. 
"Actually, sa isang araw, nakakatanggap kami ng 70 orders. ‘Yung iba hindi na niya nasasagot sa social media dahil nga medyo busy na rin talaga. Akala nila suplado si Elmer pero talagang marami lang talagang dating ng order (Actually, in a single day, we can receive up to 70 orders. He can't respond to the others on social media because he's really busy. They think Elmer is being snobbish, but really, there are just so many orders coming in)," Jerry Santos said.

Elmer's primary expense in making his action figures has been the purchase of Mighty Bond. Sometimes, when he runs out of money, he'd just buy ordinary shoe glue, but this lowers the quality of his work. "Kapag ordinaryong shoe glue lang talaga, madaling matanggal ang dikit kapag natutuyo na. Kapag Mighty Bond ang gamit ko, mabilis dumikit at matibay kahit na ‘yung sa mga parte pa ng action figures na mahirap dumikit gaya nung mga wires at plastic. (When I use just ordinary shoe glue, the stickiness easily fades when it dries. When I use Mighty Bond, it sticks quickly and it stays sturdy, even with the parts of the action figures that are hard to glue like wires and plastic)," he said.

Right now, Elmer's income from his craft remains a little slow as it's just him working on fulfilling the orders. Already, though, he's being courted by international flip-flop brands hoping to become his supplier. 

Elmer is still humble despite of the recognition he's been getting. His dreams are simple, to provide a home for his family and give them their needs. With all the hard work he puts in for his family, he truly is as good as the superheroes he depicts.

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