Balancing motherhood and career, artist-entrepreneur Rina Albert-Llamas proves how everyday life can inspire design, and how her work can be a means to understand and document her life.
The creator of Rina Designs, a fun stationery line, expanded the range to include animal bookends, keepsake boxes, T-shirts for toddlers and “onesies” (baby bodysuits), thanks to her sons Santino, 3, and Matteo, 2, whom she claims are her inspirations.
People have been snapping up the elephants, giraffes and hippo products.
“I’ve always wanted to design kiddie things,” said Llamas. “I enjoyed visiting Pottery Barn for kids, Macy’s children’s section and Gap Kids in New York.”
Based on her sons’ room color scheme of pale blue and apple green with chocolate brown accents, Rina created bookends and picture frames on those tones.
Bestsellers are the animal designs, including Rina’s signature elephant.
“I’ve always loved elephants,” she said. “The first illustration for my brand was an elephant with a blanket. I collect different types of elephant decor such as the Jim Thomson elephants in silk.”
The elephant theme, a symbol of prosperity, recurs in her collections. “Lately it’s more quirky and playful,” she said. She attributed the playfulness to motherhood and its joys.
In her youth, Rina Albert-Llamas would immerse herself in such stationery stores as Papyrus in the US and Ordning and Reda in Europe. Paper products became an “obsession.”
In New York, she took up Business Management and Fine Arts in Manhattanville College and graduated summa cum laude. Rina wanted to train in an ad agency. However, her mother encouraged her to pursue her passion in design.
Rina then started her stationery business, selling in bazaars and, subsequently, Rina Designs became a consignor in PowerBooks, Rustan’s Essenses, Wrap Shop and Fully Booked.
Last year, she set up kiosks at Glorietta 4 across Zara and on the third floor of Trinoma beside Dimensione.
Her freestanding corners gave her the liberty to offer more products such as water bottles, mugs, eco-totes, wrappers, T-shirts, bag tags and children’s wooden accessories.
She says her products mark milestones in her life. Five years ago, she produced invitation cards for her wedding to Rafael Llamas. It gave brides-to-be alternative ideas on invitations to their bridal showers, pre-wedding rites and informal weddings.
“The invitation showcased some of my wedding illustrations,” she said. “‘Saved the Date’ became popular. I did an illustration of Raffy in a tux and myself in a gown. It showed the brides what I could do for them. Some brides have special requests. People like playful invitations. They don’t like stuffy invites.”
That milestone led her to diversify into wedding giveaways such as illustrated notepads, book plates, wooden boxes with keepsake covers that could be customized to the wedding theme.
“If the wedding colors are emerald and aqua, we can do a colored keepsake box with the couple’s initials,” said Llamas.
Motherhood motivated her to fulfill her dream to create wooden products. Keepsake boxes, frames and bookends are adorned with her signature animals. She also created onesies with colorful designs and customized kiddie T-shirts.
Her sons love her products. “I personalized shirts for them. The bookends and frames are displayed in their room.”
Rina Designs has thematic designs such as elephants, food and travel. Her sons inspired her to create colorful illustrations of cars and trucks. “I call it the Traffic Collection because the vehicles look as if they were stuck in traffic.”
For Santino’s second birthday party, she illustrated all kinds of vehicles for the invitation, party favors, cake and giveaway book plates. “I did a pinwheel of a fire truck. The kids would stick the missing wheel into the truck.”
The Travel Collection has become one of the best-selling designs, especially the gift wrappers. “People love them for little boys,” said Albert-Llamas. “I really get inspired to create stuff that my family will appreciate.”