Amina Aranaz-Alunan and Loralee Baron-Soong of the SoFA Design Institute talk about creativity, inspirations, and moulding the next generation of design leaders.

As the country’s first specialised design college, SoFA Design Institute has undergone an evolution of sorts—from having the basement of a commercial building as a campus in 2007, to being the go-to school for design education in the city. Through SoFA founders and Instituto Marangoni alumnae Amina Aranaz-Alunan and Loralee Baron-Soong’s leadership and guidance, the once School of Fashion and the Arts is slowly but surely transforming into an institution that caters to the talents and skills of all kinds of designers.

In celebration of the art and science of design, Philippine Tatler gets to know more about design purveyors Amina and Loralee.

Amina Aranaz-Alunan

Philippine Tatler: When and how did your passion for design start?

Amina: Ever since I was a child, I loved arts and crafts. I enjoyed playing make-believe and working with my hands. I knew that a creative career was for me. My mom’s bag factory was my playground.

Loralee: It was when I realized that fashion is always changing, slightly elusive, and extremely seductive. Fashion, throughout history, has become so iconic that it in itself is history. It is empowering to be part of an industry with this much capacity for change and influence.

PT: Where do you find inspiration for your work? How does a creative process begin?

Amina: Nature always seems to be a constant source of inspiration. The creative process can begin in many ways: from a certain mood, an idea, a material, or a technique.

Loralee: In business, the creative process usually starts with a problem or a challenge. Proper planning begins with a lot research before ideas are tested out for final implementation. Evaluation also is very important for further growth and development.

PT: Who or what has been the most influential figure in your career?

Amina: I would say my mom, Becky Aranaz. She has always served as a mentor, critic, and cheerleader.

Loralee: My parents have always encouraged me to follow my passion and have trained me to persevere & never give up when faced with challenges.

PT: How would you sum up your design philosophy?

Amina: We celebrate a life of leisure through our designs.

Loralee: Good design is one that is appealing, functional, and sturdy; not only must it be beautiful, it must serve its function as a product, and be of quality.

I think it is invaluable for aspiring designers to be able to identify & embrace what makes them unique. In such a big industry, a brand’s aesthetic is what will set it apart from competition and in the minds of consumers. It is important to keep to your identity as it will help you in your creative process as well as in deciding business futures.

Loralee Baron-Soong

PT: How did the idea to start a design school begin?

Loralee: SoFA Design Institute was my thesis at Istituto Marangoni where I took up Masters in Fashion Brand Management. A few years after coming home, I got in touch with my Marangoni schoolmate and roommate Amina and together, we founded the first specialized college in the Philippines. My dream was to bring international standards of fashion and design education to the Philippines. Now it is more than reality – SoFA Design Institute has grown beyond our expectations.

PT: What has been the most challenging part in the whole process of building and running a design school?

Amina: It took time for us to find the right people who have the same ideologies, passion, and values for design education. We are very lucky now to have an excellent team and faculty. We have a SoFA method of education that we can attest to.

PT: In the eight years since you started SoFA Design Institute, what has been your proudest moment as co-founders?

Amina: Each time we look back at how we started 8 years ago: we transformed a basement to our first campus, began a team of 4 (that already includes Loralee and I), then compare it to what SoFA has become today with a growing pool of faculty, staff, and a population of over 200, expanding to design programs beyond fashion, our students winning competitions both in fashion and interior design.

Loralee: Some [of our alumni], early in their careers, have opened their very own ateliers or brands and are steadily establishing a name for themselves in the industry. This is a testament to our work in SoFA Design Institute, and nothing is more fulfilling than seeing our students and alumni succeed in their creative careers. Our method of education has always emphasized symmetry between the creative, technical, and business components of the design practice. Our students are creative problem-solvers, able to produce technically-proficient work, and have the capacity to successfully place their design products in the market.

PT: What do you have planned for the future of the school? Any new courses coming up?

Amina: Our vision for SoFA is for it to be a design college offering a range of design-related degree and non-degree programs. We currently offer 2 CHED-accredited degree programs for Fashion and Interior Design, and we plan on adding more design disciplines to our roster. That is why we rebranded from School of Fashion and the Arts to SoFA Design Institute.

Loralee: We recently opened two pioneering programs: Accessories Design and Furniture Design. With these developments in education, the next generation of creative professionals can be expected to be more specialized. With access to education on an array of specializations (Lighting Design, Furniture Design, Bag Design, Shoe Design), the creative professional now has the capacity to specialize on a specific design product.

PT: As the years go by, the Philippines keeps making stronger waves in the global design front. What can you say about the current state of design in the country and where do you see it leading?

Amina: There definitely is a greater interest and understanding of design in the Philippines compared to the past years. For it to progress and move forward, the design sectors need to get organized. There are some sectors that are more organized than others. We need a national platform/ organization to create a road map for the design industries.

Loralee: The industry has definitely become more open to new talents—the consumers as well. Before, only established names can get published and worn by personalities. The dynamic has indeed changed now with a lot of emerging fashion talents getting recognized alongside established names. For aspiring designers, this is definitely a good time to penetrate the industry.

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