These one-of-a-kind handcrafted journals from Caloocan are too beautiful not to own
There’s a Visayan legend that goes like this: Alunsina, the wife of Tungkung Langit, the God of Gods, ran away because her husband didn’t want her to use her creative powers. Tungkung Langit was devastated, so he begged Alunsina to come back. He saw the earth she created beneath the heavens, proving to him that women can also make entire worlds by themselves. Alunsina ignored her husband’s pleas. Tungkung Langit, unable to move on, turned himself into raindrops, so he can be with his wife whenever rain falls on earth.
Like their namesake, Alunsina Handbound Books has that same effect: Their journals give people the power to create worlds of their own, pushing the boundaries of their imagination.
What started as a hobby has is now a full-fledged business.
“I once had full-time NGO work in the past,” Nadja Castillo of Alunsina Journals said. “I quit my full-time job in 2008 and started accepting part-time research work to make room for my hobby. But eventually, Alunsina took all of our time.”
But she and her business-slash-real-life partner Enan Juniosa aren’t complaining. “We enjoy working in Alunsina.”
Nadja’s self-taught hobby of journal-making (“Good thing there is YouTube,” she said) actually stemmed from her childhood habit of writing in diaries. She received journals as presents when she was a child, and she preferred sharing her thoughts through writing. The practice stayed with her until adulthood. “Journals sold in big bookstores are expensive, and they all looked the same,” she said, “So I wondered, what if I make my own journal?”
Eventually, Enan caught on with her hobby, and he ended up making better designs. “We learned later on that he had a knack for crafting, so he ended up taking charge of our production work.”
Nadja admitted that Alunsina wasn’t originally intended to be a business. They showed their works to their family and friends, made journals for them, and the demand just grew from there.
An Alunsina journal takes three to four hours to make, while a custom-made journal takes around a week or two depending on the design. They make around a hundred pieces a month. Although they already have a catalog of designs to choose from, no two Alunsina journals are alike.
Everything in an Alunsina journal is handmade at their workshop in Caloocan—from the leather-bound cover, to the unevenly cut paper hand-sewn in long, exposed stitches. “We put in so much work in every journal we make; they are handmade with love,” Nadja commented. “These aren’t handmade just to be ‘in’ with the ‘artisanal’ trend these days.”
Nadja said that they created from scratch when Alunsina was just starting out.
“We had no budget, so the first leather we used were scraps from Marikina, and some of our materials were brought from bookstores,” she recalled. “Then the people we met in bazaars and our customers started suggesting places where we can buy paper and other materials. Although we make use of foreign materials, we make it a point to use more local ones; we actually get our leather from Bulacan.”
“We see Alunsina as a collaborative work between the team and our customers,” she added.
Last Holiday season, they saw an overwhelming demand from their customers—even from a popular coffee shop chain, which they turned down (“They were asking for 6,000 copies!”), and are still coping with the orders.
“They said that when you have your own business, you hold your own time. I didn’t know that it could also mean us losing hours of sleep!” Nadja laughed while sipping her cup of espresso.
“But it is rewarding to interact with our buyers, and see that our creations make them happy,” she added.
As an avid journal fan, Nadja thinks that more people should write on paper, instead of Facebook walls.
“I believe that there are aspects of our life that should remain personal, and should not be shared for everyone to see,” she noted, “When I go over my Facebook feed, I sometimes feel the need to give people a journal because they overshare some things.”
She also added that writing in journals also improves a person’s creativity. “That is also one of Alunsina’s goals: to inspire people to be more creative.”