We are so inspired by this week’s featured crafters. This couple’s range of leather handbound journals and planners were causing quite the stir when we found them at a fair last Christmas – so much so that we had a pretty hard time getting items for the site! Read on to learn more about Enan and Nadja of Alunsina Handbound Books.
Alunsina Handbound Books is a maker and seller of coptic-bound books, hand-bound leather journals & leather accessories and brainchild of Nadja Castillo and Enan Juniosa.
Nadja has always been a big fan of collecting journals and journal writing but “I couldn’t afford the ones sold at big bookstores.” Four years ago, she found some free time after she resigned from her day job to start learning how to make her own journals. Her partner Enan eventually caught on with Nadja’s hobby. Since then, he has learned to love the craft as much as Nadja does.
Nadja and Enen first started out making cloth-bound journals using Coptic binding, with batik, tinalak and yakan as covers, which they sold to friends. They did this off-and-on for the next 3 years since they both had full-time work then. Early 2011, they fell in love with leather-bound journals, and tried their hand with scrap leather. When they were confident enough with their designs and once they found reliable sources of good quality paper and leather, they started joining small bazaars and art fairs. Alunsina’s first bazaars were relatively successful and they eventually decided to devote thier full time on the business.
“Enan and I collaborate on our designs. As a journal lover, my inputs are on what someone like me looks for in an ideal journal, while Enan’s contribution is more on the technical side, on the execution, etc. He’s a pro when it comes to executing designs using the limited tools and supplies that we have at the moment,” shares Nadja.
“Because I write my most personal thoughts on my journal, I want the journal itself to be unique, something I can pass on to my granddaughter decades from now. I want my journal to be made with love and I don’t want it to look like any other mass-produced product. This is why we hand stitch everything, from the borders down to the binding. We also don’t have our paper machine cut in printing presses, as most handmade journal makers do. We still cut them by hand using a paper cutter to give it a more distressed edge look. We also burn graphics on the covers using soldering iron for additional details.”
When Enan and Nadja first started using leather, it would take them 3-4 hours to finish just one journal. Because of improved tools and a more effective system, production time has reduced quite a bit but “each journal is still a labor of love compared to those mass manufactured in factory lines.” Coptic-bound journals, on the other hand, are more labor- and time-intensive which is why the Alunsina duo only makes them for special collections.
“Our creations I think are prime examples of that phrase ‘handmade with love’.” When the couple first started using leather, it would take them 3-4 hours to finish just one journal. Although they were able to turn the money around and invest on tools and cut total production time, each journal is still a labor of love compared to those mass manufactured in factory lines.
They also try to make all of their designs unique from other leather journal makers. “This is why we don’t turn away from making complicated designs.” While for more simple designs like journals with a wraparound lock, they add beads on the straps, for instance, to make it different from the others. “We want each journal to have its own special feature. As one of our regular buyers puts it, ‘They’re like ramp models. Each has its own x factor.’”
“We are still a micro business and we need all the help we can get for Alunsina to reach that buyer who appreciates handmade and unique items. MyMarquee helps us reach them. MyMarquee is also a big help in that we can focus more on production and in managing our business without worrying about how to sell our items without our creations being ‘misrepresented.’ We know that with MyMarquee our creations are in good hands, that they will be marketed in the same way – professionally but with a personal touch – or even better than how we would market them ourselves.”
Nadja worked as a researcher in an NGO right before she focused full time on Alunsina, while Enan is a high school graduate who dabbled in cellphone repair and worked as a contractual hotel attendant before they established Alunsina. “He was then most of the time overworked and underpaid, and Alunsina in a way saved him from that exploitative work cycle. On the other hand, Alunsina has made me go out of my comfort zone to learn and do things that I previously didn’t think I was capable of doing. It made our world bigger too, as we gained more friends, fellow makers and journal lovers alike,” expresses Nadja.
“Alunsina has also given us something that we both can love and help grow and work on together. And in return, Alunsina has given us lots of freedom. Freedom to manage our own time, to become our own bosses, to make money out of something we love to do.”
“Buying handmade means we are, in a small way, not simply supporting a small local business but investing on its future as well. By buying handmade and local, we’re helping that local business earn enough profit to develop its business and expand and be successful enough to compete with international brands/products. A successful business means job generation, contribution to the local economy, etc . It’s a bit idealistic but it can create an impact if practice buying handmade and local.”
“Plus, you’re also buying something that was made with love, maybe something that the creator loves so much that it will sometimes break his/her heart to see it go but still gives it to the buyer ‘cause s/he knows that the buyer will love the creation just as much, if not more. You don’t get that from mass manufactured products.”
All photos by Alunsina.