SoFA, so good
- September Grace Mahino () - January 11, 2008 - 12:00am

It’s never a surprise to hear Amina Aranaz-Alunan is doing something good for the local fashion industry. After all, she is a bag designer who is giving foreign luxury labels a good fight by crafting beautiful handbags out of native materials.

Next on her agenda was the budding fashion entrepreneurs. Noticing that, for Filipinos, the only option for studying in a good fashion school is to go abroad, Aranaz-Alunan decided to set up a school where students can take courses that can guide them through all the major aspects of having a career and business in fashion.

And so the School of Fashion and the Arts, or SoFA, came to be.

Opening last October with its first cycle of classes that run the gamut from Shoe Design, Fashion Draping, Styling and Brand Imaging, SoFA is gearing up to be the equivalent of Parsons School of Design, in the Philippines. “Of course, it takes time to build up a reputation and credibility,” Aranaz-Alunan concedes, “but I do think it’s about time that we have one strong fashion school here in the Philippines. That was what has been lacking.”

The designer knows whereof she speaks: She herself studied at Europe’s leading fashion school, the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, to get a master’s degree in accessories design. “Studying abroad takes up so much of your finances and time,” she explains. “That was why I thought of setting up a school here. That way, Filipinos who want to pursue a career in fashion have another option.”

Aranaz-Alunan admits that the initial stages of SoFA consisted of casual meetings. It was only during March 2007 when she buckled down and mapped out the details of her plans for the school, together with fellow Instituto Marangoni graduate Loralee Baron. “The first step was to find a good location. We were lucky that by chance, Lex Ledesma of Once School was looking for partners,” Aranaz-Alunan narrates. “We approached them with the idea of a fashion school and they felt strongly about our vision of a mentorship program that will focus on the students’ needs. Our goal was complementary to theirs.”

For the first cycle of classes, which ran from October to December last year, students—from as young as 13 years old to a mother in her 40s—got to learn skills and concepts that are part of the tricks in the fashion trade: Draping, Bag Design, Shoe Aesthetics, Make up, Fashion Illustration, Brand Imaging, Fashion Merchandising and Fashion Styling. The reception from the public, as well as from Aranaz-Alunan’s fashion peers, has been encouraging. “They were excited about having a good Filipino fashion school finally,” she says. “My friends in the fashion industry have been very generous with their time and expertise and I am so thankful for that.”

Part of what sets SoFA apart from the fashion courses and classes that are offered in some universities are the teachers, who themselves are actual players in the fashion industry and have studied at reputable fashion and design schools from all over the world. To name a few, Brian Tenorio, Jojie Lloren, Pam Quiñones, Patrick Rosas and Aranaz-Alunan herself guided the students through the theoretical and practical aspects of their respective subjects, ensuring a fashion education that is a balance of both creativity and business acumen. “We don’t want the students to miss out on either side,” Aranaz-Alunan emphasizes. “Even if a student is interested in designing only, the curriculum makes sure that the marketing and entrepreneurial classes are not left out. Whether a student plans to establish a business in the future or not, we would still like to encourage their entrepreneurial spirit.

“Another thing is that we encourage students to apply their knowledge right away,” she continues. “Since the teachers are from the industry, the students have the advantage of being exposed to it at an early level. The kind of knowledge they would get from hands-on experiences helps them tremendously.”

Aranaz-Alunan stresses that SoFA accepts even the most basic of beginners: Lloren’s course on Draping last October, for instance, didn’t require any sewing skills from enrolees. The school would like to see, however, the creative potential in all prospective students. “For our classes this January, the faculty will do a series of interviews with the applicants. Applicants should present a portfolio that will show to us their creativity—not necessarily a professional portfolio per se but something that will describe their creative processes. We’d also have them write an essay on why they want to work in the field of fashion.”

The next cycle of classes will begin on Jan. 21 and the deadline for applications is Jan. 16.

The SoFA program offers an associate degree in fashion design and marketing, and diploma courses on fashion design and fashion marketing. There are also six-month-long courses for fashion design, clothing technology and fashion merchandising, and short courses that comprise of 14 sessions on subjects such as bag design, bag construction, shoe design, makeup techniques, fashion styling, fashion photography and jewelery design. “The tuition fee is cheaper than at other design institutions,” Aranaz-Alunan discloses. An associate degree costs P275,000 and a diploma course is P195,000. The certificate programs, which run for six months, are only P60,000 while the short courses are only P15,000 each.

In the not-so-far-off future, Aranaz-Alunan envisions SoFA offering bachelor’s degrees to students. “We’re still going through the necessary processes but that’s a plan that we are hoping will push through.” But once everything falls inevitably into place, green fashion designers and entrepreneurs will finally have a better fighting chance.

* * *

The School of Fashion and the Arts is located at 55 Paseo de Roxas Avenue, Makati. For more information, call 491-5536 or e-mail info@sofamanila.com. Visit the SoFA website at www.sofamanila.com or www.sofamanila.multiply.com.

ARANAZ-ALUNAN FASHION PLACE SCHOOL
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