Ja Arias and Pat Peralta: Forging Crafts with Soul

As Ja Arias and Pat Peralta's flagship passion project Soul Flower turns ten next year, they look back on how their DIY dream started with the pure love for handcrafted things and how it became a full-fledged business that spawned a metalsmithing brand, Studio 925. By Nikki Cagurangan

(L-R) Pat Peralta and Ja Arias of Soul Flower

The local arts and crafts scene is undeniably booming, with the consistent uptick of various brands that proudly label their wares and/or services as “local” or “handmade”. This poses a challenge for start-ups who may ask themselves: What can we do to stand out and sustain this as a viable business?

Friends-turned-business-partners Ja Arias and Pat Peralta share the formula of what makes both their business and friendship blossom. As their flagship passion project Soul Flower turns ten next year, they look back on how their DIY dream started with the pure love for handcrafted things and how it became a full-fledged business that spawned a metalsmithing brand (Studio 925).

We sat down to pick their brains on how they turned their a small shop of handcrafted accessories into a complete studio where they spend their days in as anyone would in a full-time job, and how they continue to elevate and distinguish themselves in today’s growing crafting community.

Finding their element

“Through the years, we experimented with different materials and techniques until we found our true passion in leather bag making and metalsmithing,” they share. “In 2014, we had our first leather crafting workshop with CraftMNL, and discovered that we enjoy teaching as much as making.”

As they became more deeply involved in their crafts and the demand for their workshops grew, so did the pressing need for a dedicated studio. Hence a studio along Quezon City’s Maginhawa Street was established in 2015, along with Studio 925 — which focuses mainly on silversmithing classes.

Like a lot of origin stories, the contrast in theirs is just as interesting. Growing up with a family of jewelers, Ja always knew that she would end up pursuing the same path, while Pat, who was then pursuing studies in Anthropology, didn’t realize she would be in the craft business full time until she was three years in.

“At that time, I felt like the business would only grow if I focused on it. So in 2013, I went full time on the business,” she shared.

Ja and Pat were sure about one thing early on: that they both thoroughly enjoyed working with their hands, and had to stay consistently kind and fair in all their decisions if they wanted to keep both their friendship and business smooth-sailing.

Fine-tuning the details

Making a living off an initiative that is both creative and skill-intensive requires further specialized training. Both Ja and Pat realized this as the business grew, which prompted them to seek further training — both formal and self-sought.

“It was a lot of trial and error, asking suppliers for information about materials, and seeking out bag makers in Marikina and Bulacan,” Pat shared as she discussed the learning-by-experimenting part of her leather crafting journey. “As we got more students though, I felt the need to really know my craft technically. Then I took a short course on Pattern Making at the University of Arts in London. When the business started to grow, I also studied entrepreneurship to make sure we were prepared to take on new and bigger opportunities.”

The resident metalsmith, Ja also shared her struggles with finding the right training that would level up her skill. “I’ve always wanted to learn metalsmithing, but because I couldn’t find any school here in the Philippines that offered the courses I wanted, I ended up going to Malaysia in 2014 to train as a silversmith.”

And speaking of details, the whole process involves a lot of nit and grit behind the scenes. Both admit to being subjected to a roller coaster of emotions and sleepless nights. With the stakes held high on running a business where they feel failure is out of the question, sustaining it meant work spilling onto their personal lives and having overlapping responsibilities.

“Aside from being a metalsmith and instructor, now I also have to manage our admin, sales, marketing, and production teams,” Ja says. “Pat manages all the teams too when it comes to the leather side of the brand and she handles the company’s overall finances, but because I never formally studied business and marketing, I go through many sleepless nights researching and planning!”

Pat affirms the manifesto behind what they do — learning the craft the right way and sans shortcuts.

Helping craft the craft scene

All the frenetic planning and sleepless nights prove to bear fruit not just for them, but for their dreams for the local crafting scene too. Being staunch supporters of local makers, they advocate for more credit to be given to the people they work with.

“For bag makers, I just wish people knew the level of skill and artistry needed to do what they do. The designers usually get all the credit, but it also takes mastery to transform drawings into actual objects,” Pat says, beaming as she named the members of their team. “In our leather production team, we have highly skilled bag makers Joel Montiveros and Nicholas Praga from Marikina, both with decades of bag making experience.”

“Same with plateros (local term for metalsmiths)!” Ja quips. “In our metalsmithing team, we have Teddy Policarpio — a master goldsmith from Bulacan who has been with our family for over 56 years now, as well as a new generation of metalsmiths from Pangasinan including Joselito Diaz, John Rey Cabo, and Romnick Barte.”

Passion that pays off — with a positive ripple effect

They continue enumerating the other components that allow them to claim that everything is 100% handmade in their studio.

“Pat and I together with a team of talented bag makers and metalsmiths! And as for our workshops, we are lucky to have talented instructors join our team! Patty Santos of Kuwit, Migo Morales of The Works Ph, Mai Evangelista of Fake Alchemy, and Kris Ian Carlos of Thingamabobs help me teach our students in silversmithing,” Ja reveals.

With the tandem being the first to build specialized classrooms for leather crafting and metalsmithing, they hope to make the crafts approachable and more appealing to younger generations.

With a long list of things they can use as fuel to continue inspiring them, we asked them about which part of their job they find to be the most rewarding. The answer? Seeing their students really getting into the crafts.

“Some pursue it as a sideline, some even as a full-time job. There are others who do the craft as their therapy,” Pat says. “Whenever one of our workshops impact someone else’s life, I can’t help but feel like I’m in the right place, and I’m reminded why I do what I do.”

Ja couldn’t agree more. Pursuing one’s passions results in life’s most inspiring payoffs.

Like Ja and Pat who crafted a home where they and other crafters can thrive, Avida Land wants you to find a home in a community that allows you to pursue your passions.