Fashion
In the Glamorous Belly of the Fashion Beast: Amina Aranaz Alunan
She accomplishes plenty in her daintily slight frame as the owner of ARANAZ and director of SoFA.
IMAGE BJ PASCUAL
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Considering the arena that she finds herself in daily, the belly of the beast that is Fashion, it would be ridiculous to describe her as waiflike and slight. The truth of the matter is that Amina Aranaz-Alunan is very much a heavyweight in the industry, fusing intellectual decisiveness and passion to create SoFA (School of Fashion and the Arts), while managing her eponymous brand of handcrafted bags ARANÁZ at the same time—her current list of responsibilities is so long it would overwhelm most creatives into retirement.

After many lucrative years in the trade and some time studying at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Amina discovered a new calling in the form of developing and encouraging young minds set on having their very own design houses. She reveals candidly that one of her greatest hopes for the coming years is to help establish SoFA as more than a degree-granting college. With help from Tobias Guggenheimer (SoFA’s dean), an architect and academician from esteemed design institutions Pratt and Parsons, the school gained a new perspective on design education that ran parallel with their values.


Amina Aranaz-Alunan at the SoFA campus in Makati

“It has always been our vision at SoFA to equip our students with skills that we believe would make a successful creative career: Design skills, innovative thinking, business acumen, and entrepreneurship. It has always been an aim to bring the innovative and grand thinking of the West into our eastern culture. The Western world has taught me how to develop and ground the design process. The value of research and critique that leads to fully formed and developed design work. Applying these skills to our cultural context, we believe is what is needed to hone the next generation of design industry change makers and leaders. It comes at a very vital time where we believe that the Eastern design industry is at a cusp of great development and growth,” Amina articulates. The school itself has managed to single-handedly fill a gaping need in the gamut of courses offered locally by offering specialized degrees—and it is constantly in a phase of expansion with more courses in development. Big league schools abroad are easily marketed to every corner of the globe due to the high profile designer names already attached to them—so it seemed, for awhile, that Filipino fashion had lost some of its greatest potentials to Europe and America. But since its opening year, SoFA has changed the game drastically. With Amina and other highly respected veterans backing the integrity of the curriculum, the new breed of fashion savvy youth came knocking—and so much talent has poured into the local industry since.

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I hope that the Philippines’ appreciation for art and culture will increase. I would love to see a true appreciation and understanding of design as an authentic tool for innovation, transformation, and economic growth.

“I hope that my students will learn to translate their creativity into a strong lucrative business with the ability to build themselves into strong Filipino brands with global reach. Being able to marry supreme design skills with a strong business backbone is crucial. Perhaps think of the made-to-order business as the cherry on top and not as the main core. Invest in brand building and ways to maximize creative products to reach the highest potential and returns. This is still something that I've been trying to figure out. It isn't easy. The export market is very different now. But one thing certain is that Filipino designers have to position themselves to highlight their creative design talents. We must showcase our artisanship skills.”

These values are echoed in the design philosophy for her own brand.

“I love working with my hands, I always have,” she states simply. Two of her favorite materials, the humble coconut shell, and the unabashedly glamorous mother-of-pearl have been given new life incorporated into pieces as objets d’art. The look and feel conveyed through her pieces has been welcomed with open arms locally, boasting a tremendous following among both the fashion regulars and the younger aspiring set alike.

I hope that my students will learn to translate their creativity into a strong lucrative business with the ability to build themselves into strong Filipino brands with global reach.

“I have always imagined and hoped that the ARANÁZ brand would develop similarly to the family run design houses of Europe. The brand has a history of over 30 years. Starting from my mom's manufacturing and export business to our bazaar days and eventually beginning the ARANÁZ brand in 1999. ARANÁZ was always a family endeavor. Although I currently lead the overall vision, my mom is still very much at the helm. My brother and sister are also slowly getting involved again. I would love for my children to get involved in the brand as well. But I definitely would encourage them to pursue their own individual interests. Thirty years from now, I do hope to see ARANÁZ as a strong presence in both Philippine and international markets. Perhaps being run by my children and my siblings’ children.”

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“Good design takes practice, patience, and perseverance. And being in a school environment allows you that luxury. I wish I had longer exposure to design school. Our students toil and think about design day in and day out without having to worry about anything else. Their sole goal is to address a creative problem through design means. How I wish I had that same opportunity when I was younger! Many designers may think that they don't need to go to school because it is an innate skill that they already have. Yet, just like an athlete, a creative person will blossom and develop if put under constant training and mentorship.”

As with most women, Amina discovered a new type of wisdom that came organically after having three children. “When I became a mother, trivial things became less important. I did evolve as a designer, as I matured. Many factors affect it. When I came back from fashion school, I had a lot of ambitious and creative ideas. I was excited to explore the madness. I designed mostly for self-satisfaction. But through time, I also began to think about the women who wore them. I tried to understand their needs. and being a mother helped me understand this.”

I have always imagined and hoped that the ARANÁZ brand would develop similarly to the family run design houses of Europe.

With so much on her plate, Amina tries to pencil in time for family as much as possible. “Careful planning and scheduling are important. And a very supportive, helpful husband! I really try to keep weekends sacred. We spend them together as a family, either at home, eating out or visiting my parents or in-laws.”

When asked about how she spends her spare time, she wistfully mentions an adult ballet class that she has been longing to partake in, remnants of a childhood pastime that she used to love for the joy it brought her. “In another world, I would play the role of a full-time housewife and stay-at-home mom. Redecorate my home, cook for my family, actually attend those adult ballet classes, play with my kids and care for them, go for leisurely lunches with friends, pick up my kids from school and accompany them to their extra-curricular activities, manage my household and do some major cleaning and re-organizing. they say that the grass is always greener on the other side, and a part of me is allured by the ‘Stepford’ wife lifestyle,” she adds with aplomb.

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Good design takes practice, patience, and perseverance. And being in a school environment allows you that luxury.

While her reality is much more hectic, for now, Amina is on a pedestal as a mistress of all trades—a balancing act all on her own. Her feats to help and better the industry are the beginnings of a ripple effect strong enough to change the way Filipino fashion is viewed on an international scale in the coming generations. a legacy undoubtedly to be inherited by her children’s children.

“I hope that the Philippines’ appreciation for art and culture will increase. I would love to see a true appreciation and understanding of design as an authentic tool for innovation, transformation, and economic growth. Being supported by various sectors such as government, business, and education would put us ahead instead of behind other countries,” she asserts.

While an integral part of being an artist is to be hungry for change, to accept its challenges and its merits, the desire to take these ideals further than the studio is a personal choice. And Amina is prepared to take up the cudgels.

This story was originally published in the April 2013 issue of Town&Country.

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