SIGN IN      

How three guys built a business out of feels 

August 15, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover art Erka Capili Inciong | Photo Globe myBusiness Community

Between matters of national importance, former government employees Ali Sangalang (a writer) and Panch Alvarez (a visual artist) like to fool around. Out of the monotony of news bulletins and sensitive information, an unintended pun comes up.

Obviously, they couldn’t put their unsolicited humor on the President’s speeches or the Official Gazette, so they channelled it elsewhere.

They started by posting their collaborative works on social media website Tumblr and Facebook, which initially received huge support from their friends and later on went viral.

As the artworks gained traction online, Yabang Pinoy, an organization that supports local startups, provided the duo with funding to put their illustrated wordplay on a t‑shirt.

Art Erka Capili Inciong

Thus, borne of a pocketful of puns, Linya‑Linya (which gets its name from the owners’ desired response to their work: “Uy, lumilinya‑linya ka!”) became a retail shop of items laced with memorable Pinoy lines. They now have 14 stalls in different malls.

“It took us a while before we had the courage and guts to launch Linya‑Linya because we were really pressured,” Mr. Sangalang told SparkUp in an interview. “We’re both from the literary circle, artists circle, and we were influenced by our peers who are award‑winning poets and artists, so we were pressured to follow in their footsteps.” The two entrepreneurs first met as members of Ateneo Heights and eventually became co‑workers at a digital marketing agency.

The tandem started selling their shirts at a weekend bazaar in Eastwood Mall, Quezon City, where the brand began to gain popularity.

“Our co‑sellers’ spaces were four times bigger than ours, but when the sales came out, ours were four times bigger,” Mr. Sangalang gleamed.

“Statement shirts are not new, but I think what’s unique with our products is their relatability. People see themselves on what’s written on the shirts,” Mr. Sangalang said, adding that the statements they put in their products are a “reflection of who we are as people.”

But the two said they initially had no plan to make a living out of what was then just a side hustle. In fact, Mr. Sangalang recounted that their initial earnings went to night‑outs.

In 2015, they tapped musician Jim Bacarro, who is also Mr. Sangalang’s classmate since grade school, to manage the business side of Linya‑Linya. Mr. Bacarro previously worked in marketing and branding units of companies like Del Monte Philippines Incorporated, Petron, and JB Music.

“I was shocked when he (Mr. Bacarro) called me because I had no idea that he knew Linya‑Linya,” Mr. Sangalang recalled, adding that Mr. Bacarro joining the company was “in perfect timing.”

“Our weakness was that we didn’t know anything about business. When we saw the potential of the business to grow, we looked for partners who would lead the business side,” Mr. Alvarez said.

With Mr. Bacaro’s addition, Linya‑Linya launched an online store and joined more bazaars. The new team also added other products like notebooks, bookmarks, bags, and keychains, among others. At the annual Trend Setters bazaar in World Trade Center, Pasay City in November that year, Linya‑Linya received an offer from a team from Ayala Malls to open its first shop in UP Town Center, Quezon City.

In the next five years, the company plans to further multiply its current shops into 33 and bring their products in different provinces.

But the business is “just a bonus,” Mr. Alvarez says. More than gaining profit, the two said that Linya‑Linya’s vision runs deeper.

“We’re not just a meme that people will forget after several years. Beyond the shirt, we want our statements to be on the tongue of Filipinos,” Mr. Sangalang said. “Words and art never get old.”

“We’ll continue to do what we do now but we would like to dream, hope, and believe that one day one of our statements will be part of the Filipino oral tradition,” Mr. Alvarez said.