Noted bag designer, handicrafts champion and lifestyle personality Amina Aranaz Alunan is the perfect picture of a modern woman. She tends to a lovely home in the suburbs for her sizeable brood with handsome husband Rafa Alunan; runs a thriving business in the city; and looks just as beautiful as she did when she made her debut in Manila’s social circles as a face to watch in her college years.
While some may think that her hands are full juggling career and family, the 36-year-old socialite does not burst any illusion her admirers may have of her. In fact, she lives up to her picture perfect image—and is grateful for it—as she basks in the luxury of redecorating her home every so often, to keep it the “happy place” she strives to make for her family.
Today, Amina Aranaz-Alunan welcomes The Sunday Times Magazine to her tastefully ornamented home and generously shares her creative story within and beyond her special sanctuary.
When the door opened on a Wednesday afternoon to the Aranaz-Alunan household, a wonderful scent immediately welcomed The Sunday Times Magazine team, as classical music played overhead.
Unique decorative pieces were scattered in an artful balance across the living room, which opened up at the end of the short foyer. Scattered around too were lots of greenery complementing the neutral walls and floors.
“Generally, I like my home to be a relaxing place. I want it to be my own little sanctuary.
That’s why if you notice, I really play a lot of classical music. I also like having scents and candles, and I love plants, which I really take care of myself,” the young lady of the house told The Sunday Times Magazine as she gracefully sat down for this interview.Aranaz-Alunan admitted that her taste and style in decorating her home has a lot to say about her design philosophy—one that involves her love for Filipino products.
As everyone knows, the female achiever is the driving force behind Aranaz, a proudly Filipino lifestyle brand that has successfully penetrated the global markets of Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Greece, the US, and soon Singapore, with its handmade handbags.
Aranaz-Alunan shared with The Sunday Times Magazine that her penchant for designing bags using indigenous materials goes all the way back to the time her mother ran her own bag business. She knew even then she would take over the noble venture, which gives countless Filipinas a source of livelihood across the country, only that she would finally give it an identity with the family’s name.
For decades, her mom Becky Aranaz had been involved in manufacturing and exporting native bags but, as her successor explained, her mother’s products were retagged to bear the name of her American clients.
“Every month, I’d open a copy of Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, and Vogue, and I’d always see a bag that my mom made but carrying an American label. That’s when I thought, ‘Why not create our own Filipino brand?’ After all, we are the manufacturers and the materials come from the Philippines,” the designer-cum-entrepreneur shared.
Starting small with Aranaz, she made the label’s presence felt in 2000 by participating in Christmas bazaars, as well as the family home’s lanai off season. That setup went on quite well until 2004, when the industrious and artistic lass returned home from schooling in Italy’s Istituto Marangoni
“We saw a commercial area opening near our house, and that was when my parents decided to get small space for our first shop,” Aranaz-Alunan recalled. “It really opened doors for us because after that, department stores and malls started inviting us to set up shop in their properties.”
Label with a heart
Eventually, with Aranaz’ continued patronage of indigenous raw materials and the services of women weavers, the company earned the reputation as a socially conscious brand. For its marketing and design creative head, however, the credit came a bit too early.
“At that time, I wouldn’t even say we were a socially conscious brand because in a way, using Filipino materials and enlisting community weavers were really all that we knew,” she honestly admitted. “I mean as a child, I can still remember going to my mom’s office and seeing the happy faces of the women working on her handbags.”
Little did the Aranaz matriarch know, though, that she was a compelling symbol of patriotism for her daughter, who proudly followed her footsteps for a career.
“Looking back, for my mom, it always had to be Filipino; her products always had to champion Filipino materials. She would say back then, ‘My weavers in this province need work, can we make something using this material?’ But she never trumpeted that side of her or the company.”
Used to such a set up, Aranaz-Alunan said that with such inspiring memories growing up in the family business, she would rather describe their brand as a “label with a heart for Filipino craftsmanship.”
A designer’s extension
Having poured out her heart in Aranaz bags, it surprised many when Aranaz-Alunan took on another venture as if her plate was not already full. A graduate of Masters in Fashion Accessories Design, however, she wanted to share her knowledge with budding artists by co-founding the now popular School of Fashion and the Arts, better known as SoFA.
Satisfied with how the nine-year-old institution is running, Aranaz-Alunan is grateful that as a wife and mother today, she has the luxury of time to truly make a home for family.
“I would say I have worn my designer’s hat quite a lot here at home, because I have, for one, carried over my fondness for Filipino products in every nook and cranny here,” she laughed. “Most of my things here really are proudly made in the Philippines or they are mostly hand-me-downs from both sides of our family.”
Married for 10 years to mobile marketing executive Rafa Alunan, son of former Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Rafael “Raffy” Alunan 3rd, the young mother is blessed with two boys and a girl aged 6, 7 and 9.
Key pieces in her home include a hand-me down couch from her parents—their first piece of home furniture; a cowhide for their mat; and chairs made by her maternal grandfather who has long worked with resins and ceramics.
“I’m also very DIY,” Aranaz-Alunan confessed as she continued to talk about her side as a homemaker. “For me my home is also my other creative playground, so I would say I redecorate quite often. But when I do change things around, it’s not in a major way, so that my main pieces are still the same.”
Additionally, she said that being a Do-It-Yourself person and thus a more practical homemaker has allowed her to find ways to update the look of her home with minimal expense.
“So for example, let’s say I want to change my color theme, I will do that with my throw pillows before changing other pieces. Like for example, my home now, I would say is on its summer theme. From being all-neutral several months back, I added an Abacca rug which I didn’t have before and a peacock chair—minor additions that achieved a more colorful summery look.”
Thankfully, Aranaz has several stores from which she can switch décor pieces around.
“That’s why everything works out, and nothing goes to waste,” she happily related.
Asked how she juggles multiple hats as wife, mother, designer, and entrepreneur, looking gorgeous and glamorous through it all, Aranaz-Alunan graciously acknowledged the compliment, and replied, “It’s really about prioritizing.”
She related that much as she would like to spend more time in Aranaz’ factory to oversee production, she prescribes herself a cut-off time so she can be home to take care of her brood.
Despite her many obligations at work, she makes sure her family comes first. As such, she has adopted two non-negotiable rules, which are to have dinner with the entire family present nightly, and devote weekends for them.
What then is a typical day like for Amina Aranaz-Alunan?
After sending her kids off to school, she would visit her stores later in the morning, make a quick stop at SoFa in the afternoon, and if needed, squeeze in shoots or lifestyle events in between. She then rush home for dinner and make sure her children have what they need for school the following day.
As a recently reinforced habit, the young mom proudly added that her family now has a ritual of reading books together in the living room until the little ones’ bedtime.
“I know how sometimes you can get so overwhelmed with the list of things you have to do everyday but I believe the secret simply lies in planning and prioritizing,” the busy beauty said of her efficient juggling abilities. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What will I do today?
What’s the most important thing I have to do that can’t wait till the next day?’ In a way, prioritizing is also being kind to yourself—a guarantee that you’re not overloading yourself, and really knowing what’s physically possible for you.”
Aranaz-Alunan also admitted that it takes a lot of hits and misses to be able to learn how to prioritize effectively.
“There was a time when I really felt like I needed two or three of me and more hours in the day,” she laughed. “I got tired down, and it was then I really made a conscious decision to admit to myself that it’s really impossible to do everything. You can’t do everything,” she emphasized.
“I guess when you finally have that self-reflection, when you admit you’re not superwoman, that’s when things become easier to deal with.”
With her work and life balance beautifully in check, Alunan is grateful for the time to appreciate her home, which she has artistically turned into a place of relaxation for herself and her family.
“I really see our home as my happy place. It’s a place for me and my family to relax and bond with one another, and also to entertain relatives and friends,” the fulfilled homemaker said.
And while everything in the house seems to be in its perfect place, the doting mother of three added that their home is first and foremost their children’s playground.
“It’s a place to learn and to express their creativity and sharpen their resourcefulness,” she continued.
After all, Amina Aranaz-Alunan believes that her carefully curated home is an extension of her creativity, which is why everyone who lives in it should also enjoy that luxury.
“This for me is an expression of my tastes, and my interests. I am the type of person who loves to be surrounded with beautiful things I enjoy looking at. I cannot function with clutter, and I can neither function with things that are only functional but have no aesthetic value,” she unabashedly related to The Sunday Times Magazine.
“Obviously, this is a creative outlet, and I’m truly happy and blessed to have it and make it for the people I love most,” she ended.