Building an International Brand According to Amina Aranaz Alunan

Aranaz bags have been featured in international fashion magazines, cited as must-have accessories, and have been photographed in the hands of royalty. But when asked what fills her with giddy delight, Aranaz co-founder and creative director Amina Aranaz Alunan replies, “Seeing our bags actually being displayed on the store floors and shelves with our own brand signage displayed alongside them. Knowing that these stores that we once only dreamt of being a part of, believe in us.”

Indeed, it must be quite a thrill walking through boutiques in the UAE or through high-end UK store Selfridges and seeing your products and your brand name prominently displayed. From working on the Aranaz brand as a “little fun venture between my mom, siblings, and [me]” to selling bags at Christmas bazaars to finding a place on the international stage, Aranaz has certainly come a long way.

The Aranaz brand is known for its chic, handcrafted bags made of materials native to the Philippines, like coconut shells and mother-of-pearl. Locally, Aranaz now has standalone stores in such places as swanky Greenbelt 5 in Makati, a branch they opened 10 years ago. “We really wanted to be in Greenbelt 5 because back then, they were the first to devote an entire area to Filipino designers called the Filipino Zone,” says Amina. “It was always a dream for me to see a row of Filipino designers in a retail space and being part of that first batch of designers to occupy the Greenbelt 5 space is an honor.” While many brands are going digital, Amina still thinks having a physical store is important. “I believe a brick and mortar store can most effectively communicate the brand experience,” she adds.

“Bringing the brand internationally was always part of [the] vision,” says Amina. “It was more of a wish rather than an action plan. But it was a dream that we had from the very beginning and never let go of.” She shares some of the lessons she’s learned from growing Aranaz from a Christmas bazaar hit to an internationally recognized brand.

Establish your brand identity. “Make sure you have a strong product and brand first… Perhaps we’ve managed to carve out our own niche. It took a long process of self-discovery as a brand. It’s a learning process to really understand who we are as a brand and what we would like to offer to the market.”

Get your hands dirty. “Get ready to do it all. Have a strong story to tell. Be strong because there will be hits and misses.”

Anticipate challenges. “Manufacturing and production [are some] of the biggest challenges. Even if we have the support of my mom’s manufacturing company, when you are working with natural handmade materials there are many unexpected obstacles and even natural disasters to deal with, especially when you have deadlines to meet.” Knowing what kind of challenges you potentially face can enable you to come up with a plan of action.

Know where you’re going—and keep going. “Decide on the position you want to occupy in [your chosen] market. There is no one way to expand internationally. We had to figure out our own way. Filipino brands going international is something fairly new within the fashion industry, so there are not many people we can get advice from. It has been a process of trial and error. But the one thing I can share is to hold on to that dream and goal and just tread through. If you really want it, persist.”

Do the work. “Dreams can come true. But work incredibly hard.”

Aranaz has boutiques in Greenbelt 5, Makati; Mega Fashion Hall, Makati; Rustan’s Makati; and Power Plant Mall, Makati. For a list of international stockists and more information, visit aranaz.ph.

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