AJ Pangilinan (Sunday Paper Co.)

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Please introduce yourself!

I’m Angeli, friends call me AJ! I’m the founder of Sunday Paper – a paper goods business based in Manila. By profession, I’m a strategist and consultant for key personalities and small to medium enterprises. I help people align their business models and goals, position them properly in the market, and provide creative direction thru content and visual means.

As someone who equally takes her profession and passion seriously, how do you manage to balance the two?

I mainly work at home! When I started working as a consultant in 2014, there was no clear division between where I sleep and where I work. It drove me crazy and wasn’t good for productivity. There was a spare room in our house that was used for storage—I caved and asked my Dad if I could use it and he gladly agreed. Having a separate room for work and rest boosted my productivity.

I wake up around 9-10 AM, do a bit of admin related tasks in the morning before diving deep into strategy or creative work. My weekdays and weekends are interchangeable. I prefer finishing meetings, inventory checking, store visits, and deliveries in the beginning of the week, so I can spend Thursday onwards doing mostly deep dive work. I teach a class once a month (every Sunday) at my friend’s studio in Quezon City, mostly about starting your own paper goods business, aptly called Paper Goods 101.

How important was your upbringing to your current mindset?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and we were highly encouraged to strike on our own. Money matters, cash flow, and the state of our business were regular conversation topics at the dinner table. College degrees should only be business-related, art school was cool but not highly recommended. But despite these traditional Filipino values, my creativity was highly encouraged—my mom paid for my creative summer workshops, I did ballet in high school, and I was motivated to attend speech and writing classes.

I had the liberty of being young, unmarried, having no kids, and free from that type of responsibility—allowing me to experiment and produce things freely.

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Now that I’m working for myself, everything starts and ends with me. It taught me to be more responsible with my finances and to be more critical of the people I associate myself with.

Although your creative side was highly encourage by your family, did you find it hard to start your career and business?

I had a very carefree start with both my career and business. I knew what I wanted to do but had no expectations. My thought process then was, “If it failed, then I move on. If it succeeded, then I’ll just figure out how I’ll move it forward.” I think that’s also the advantage of starting early—I started Sunday Paper and my consultancy profession when I was 24 years old. I had a bit of corporate experience and also enough window for failure in case this “striking out on my own” doesn’t work out. I also owe it to great timing—working for other people humbled me, gave me structure, and instilled a certain discipline, which I took with me when I started working for myself. At the same time, I had the liberty of being young, unmarried, having no kids, and free from that type of responsibility—allowing me to experiment and produce things freely.

Although, I struggled a lot with working alone and being the last person in the decision-making process. I’m a very outgoing person—I like having teammates that I can bounce ideas with. I like having a boss that I could learn from and as immature as this sounds, shelter me from the pressure of making a decision and facing its consequences. Now that I’m working for myself, everything starts and ends with me. It taught me to be more responsible with my finances and to be more critical of the people I associate myself with.

Also, production is hard! We produce almost 95% of our products in the Philippines and not all of them are willing to experiment in terms of techniques.

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What project has been testing your patience lately?

I’m currently working on a project planner designed for creative professionals. I started initial sketches and material research nine months ago, and until today, I still can’t get it right. I test a lot of our products personally and I send it to friends as well. Most of the time, the paper product gets received well and could go into production within a 1-2 month time frame, but this particular one I’m having a hard time pinning down. I’m trying my best to simplify the design without taking away the key factors—still haven’t worked around it though! Hopefully, if all goes well, we can release it come holiday time.

Is there a certain project that never fails to make you smile knowing that you’ve done it?

I struggle with releasing new products or collections for Sunday Paper. The last release was last year and, to this day, remains my favorite work for the brand. Aptly called Embrace Structure, the five-piece collection was a far departure from Sunday Paper’s initial ethos of #UnlinedAndBeyond. For the longest time, people have been asking me to create lined and dot grid journals, but since we’ve always been “unlined”, it was very difficult for me to create beyond that. There was a time when people were releasing dot grid journals left and right and I felt the pressure to release one as well, because I know for a fact that it will be good for business. I struggled crossing that line for a long time. I don’t use dot grid notebooks, so why create one? It was only after a trip to Tokyo that I bought and used one that I kind of realized that it wass okay to explore outside of “what you think you are.” Brands and products are suppose to grow and evolve. It doesn’t have to be a complete 360° turn and it doesn’t have to be different. It just has to feel like you and should be done when you are ready.

People say that when creating products, you should find a balance between what you like and what the market needs—it’s been so embedded in us that I even recommend this to my clients as well. But Sunday Paper isn’t like that for me—I create products because I like it 100% and would absolutely use it. As selfish as this sounds, I’ve always created for me. There’s no mining data involved and no trend forecast. This is primarily the reason why I can’t churn out new products and collections as often as other brands do. I personally don’t see a reason for creating a new paper product when I’m still completely in love and quite happy with what I created before. Bad for business but good for my sanity!

Do you have any dream projects planned?

For Sunday Paper, none at the moment, but I would love to see our products be carried by museums I adore. The MoMA design store would be nice too! As a strategist, to further create brands that are bigger than me.

How do you usually begin a new project?

All my projects start and end with two questions: what’s the end goal and who’s the end user. After that I can go crazy with the inspiration and design process. I tend to get carried away as well, so identifying that early on helps structure and limit myself.

I create products because I like it 100% and would absolutely use it. As selfish as this sounds, I’ve always created for me. There’s no mining data involved and no trend forecast.

Among the many hats you wear, how do keep your sanity while doing what you love?

It’s a hardcore organized mess! I’d like to think I’m organized (my Google cal/work calendar is my bible), but at the same time I’m not the type to micromanage or hover. When I work with a team, I usually establish the goals and scope from the beginning. Afterwards, I’ll let them work on their own. Since I mostly work with creatives, they appreciate the sense of trust— to let them explore and experiment on the deliverables on their own. At the same time, I make myself easily available for questions.

What motivates you to better yourself?

I’m bad with textures and creating color stories/palettes—that’s why a huge part of my process is to look at interiors, buildings, objects,  etc. I admire architects, interior designers, and furniture designers! Hearing about their thought process and how they talk about the importance of understanding your end users and prioritizing empathy in design really gets me motivated.

Any frustrations that you’d like to let out?

I’m a pretty chill and detached person. It takes a lot to offend me! If I cut you off, then you probably did something extremely offensive. But overall, I try not to get too frustrated. We all have different truths and experiences. I hate unreasonable and rushed deadlines though! Completely unnecessary.

What do you do to avoid feeling burnt out?

I spend time with my real life, longtime friends! Working alone and being surrounded by a lot of creative people that share the same experiences and gripes can be rewarding but at the same time could feel claustrophobic. It’s like living in a bubble or an echo chamber. A lot of my closest (ride or die friends) don’t work in the creative industry and to a point, could hardly care about what I do. We visit new restaurants, we drink, we talk about shallow and random things. We discuss politics, the state of our country, how to get insurance, where to invest etc. They give me a different perspective on things—more truths, less ego.

This is going to sound clichéd, but traveling really motivates me. Manila (or the Philippines) is very small and quite traditional.  When you’re used to “what works”, you’d hardly seek anything uncomfortable or anything different. Being in a foreign country humbles and disciplines you. It provides you the space to think outside of the echo chamber. You see things and you wonder, would this work back home?

Manila is home and I don’t see myself relocating anytime soon, but seeing new places and meeting new people is also a good motivator to create better.

Lastly, what’s the future like for you?

Still doing what I do now. I can’t picture a future wherein I’m not creating a new paper product or not working on a brand. I like living in the city too—Manila is crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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AJ Pangilinan received her degree in Marketing and Communications from the University of Asia and the Pacific, worked for a design school and retail company for a few years before founding Sunday Paper. Apart from her love for print and beautifully designed identities, she’s also a devoted a strategist for creative entrepreneurs, small to medium enterprises, and known personalities and tastemakers—helping them align their vision, goals, and stories.

Her work is all about alignmentfrom crafting the most ideal strategy, to creating strong visuals, and consistently telling the story through print, digital, and content means.

She currently lives in sunny Manila, Philippines.

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