By Maan D’Asis Pamaran
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Allyza “Yza” Tolentino, owner of Sunny Label was thick in the usual millennial pursuits: attending art-related and local indie gigs, traveling and documenting her journeys on her blog and social media accounts, and diving into DIY projects while maintaining a day job in marketing.
“I hope you get the courage to start [your entrepreneurship], even with just the first step. You don’t need to have it all figured out as long as you keep moving forward.”
When restrictions were enforced, Yza decided to translate her artful interests into a business. She says: “I really adore scented candles, and as a person who loves creating things, I researched how to make them, did lots of experiments and presented them to friends as holiday gifts. I was actually encouraged to sell more, which I did!
Keeping the Sunny Label humming was Yza’s main activity during the health hiatus. Idyllic mountain and seascapes from previous travels served to inspire the container holders and scents of her product lines while only sustainable ingredients were used. Avoiding carcinogenic elements, she opted for 100 percent soy wax, instead of paraffin. The fragrance oils she used were also phthalate-free. “Candles are meant to relax you, not give you lung disease,” she reports.
The wooden wicks she uses are also lead-free compared with the usual cotton wicks, and she draws with chalk paint for the candle containers to make sure they are safe and non-toxic. “We don’t use harmful chemicals, questionable ingredients and plastic packaging,” she adds.
Her brand promise of mindful sustainability applies even to when she branched out to more products like their homebrewed kombucha tea, which is concocted only from natural fruit nectars and free from additives and preservatives. “After the candles, I discovered kombucha when I visited Siargao in Surigao del Norte Province. When I got home, I did my research, bought all the necessary ingredients and materials, and started brewing my own batch.
“When I was finally happy with my output, I started offering it in the shop. All our materials are carefully and locally sourced to make sure that they are good for you, the local livelihood and the environment.”
As an only child, Yza says that she turned to imaginative play to keep loneliness at bay. “Our neighborhood also didn’t have a lot of kids, so I spent non-school hours helping my Lola Tiny Tolentino tend to her garden and trying to make Barbie clothes with my Lola Tessie San Jose. At one point, I sketched my own treasure hunt map, hid a treasure, and searched for it,” she laughs at the memory.
When time came to choose a college course, she took up communications at the University of the Philippines Baguio, where she emerged as a cum laude graduate. “If I was being honest, I didn’t really think that far ahead when I chose my course and even after I graduated. My mom taught me that I should just listen to myself and do what I want to do right now. If I changed my mind or found a new interest, I could just pivot as needed. So, right after college, I only knew that I wanted to try working in an office, go to meetings, and wear high heels and a pencil skirt just like in the movies,” she laughs. Her employment stints include features editor for a lifestyle website and head of Growth Marketing for a retail brand. She is currently the Lifecycle marketing manager of a direct-to-consumer company that is based in the US.
Her vision of working in a high-powered office took a backseat due to an epiphany she had a few years ago, she says. “I came upon this Japanese concept called “Ikigai.” In a nutshell, it is the reason why you wake up in the morning, what keeps you going and what you live for. I knew that my Ikigai doesn’t lie in getting a fancy job title or climbing the corporate ladder; it is my insatiable passion for creating things and making life better even in the simplest of ways.”
Her childhood ambitions that included being a wildlife photographer for National Geographic, a clothes maker, and a florist were translated into her passion projects through the years. These include launching a stray cat adoption movement called “Meownila,” doing pet photography for which she became an ambassador for Fujifilm, sewing her own clothes, creating flower wreaths, painting, holding yoga sessions, making websites, blogging and vlogging, and growing and selling plants.
Today, she merges her corporate experience with building her business. “My marketing background has been really helpful, especially with copywriting, making websites and taking product photos. I feel like I got that figured out already coming from my experience working with local and international retail stores for my day job.”
She garners support from a community that has believed in her since Day 1. “I don’t really have the advertising budget to spare because I prioritize lower margins to make sure that our products remain affordable. The community, which started out with friends and friends of friends, has been reposting our Facebook posts, tagging the brand on Instagram photos, and sharing with their own circles. These seemingly small little things made it happen.” She has since expanded the Sunny Label product portfolio to include kombucha, tea blends, home sprays, microgreens kit, and even branded merchandise — all reflecting her personal aesthetic of calming colors and clean lines.
Through her brand, she also hosts engagements such as the #sunnybookclub, where she gets to personally connect and bond with our community, and moon sessions where she guide them through meditation, yoga and reflection prompts. “It’s a great way to attract kindred spirits, not just customers per se. After all, Sunny is not just a business. I think our brand values resonate with them. They appreciate the inspiration, creativity and uniqueness of each product since everything is handmade. It’s super refreshing connecting and co-creating with them.”
Mental health is something that she is passionate about; her business is a member of the Coalition for Mental Health spearheaded by Empath PH. “Having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, I personally and deeply understand the struggle and the persisting stigma around it. There’s a lot of work to be done, individually and as a community. I openly talk about my experience living with anxiety and depression, and also with therapy, to make it feel less scary for those who are also going through it, and those who don’t know where to start and how to seek professional help.”
Allyza’s brand also supports advocacies centered around people welfare and partners with NGOs like Waves for Water to help the fisherfolk community, and recently, helped with Typhoon “Odette” relief, rescue and recovery operations through Lokal Lab. “I believe we have the power to cultivate the world that we want. We have the power to make a difference, to influence other people and to work together,” she says.
For those keen to pursue entrepreneurship, she says: “I hope you get the courage to start, even with just the first step. You don’t need to have it all figured out as long as you keep moving forward.”
“A practical piece of advice that I can also share is to take advantage of the digital space, learn about the different platforms that could save you a lot of time and money, and have a consistent online presence. Sometimes, even the most random video of you making your products can go viral, and open doors of opportunities for you. You got this!”
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It may be a cliché, but my main role models are my two lolas (grandmothers) because I grew up watching them create the most beautiful things out of the mundane, like dresses, flower arrangements, home cooked meals and more.
To live my daily life as mindful as I can be, to be present when I’m with my loved ones, grounded when I’m alone and at peace doing even the most basic chores.
First paying job
I did partner relations for Foodpanda
I start the day by fixing the bed, stretching, looking outside my balcony and watering the plants.
I can photograph food, pets, products, and also be friends with anyone.
Time spent on social media
Definitely more than I would like to.