Animo Nation: Heart on sleeves

Normally, the phrase “dress to impress” applies to instances when your look reflects the level of effort you put into composing what you wear. In the context of college sports, flashy uniforms and the latest shoes come to mind. Yet, even the crowd, known more for their noise than their poise, needs to dress to impress.

Enter Animo Nation, the brainchild of proud Lasallians RJ Villegas and James Fernando. Now, more than three years after they launched their brand in coincidentally the 2012 DLSU University Week, Villegas and Fernando are looking to explore new options, particularly online, now that it is among the more recognizable brands on and off campus.

“[We] wanted to start Animo Nation because we wanted to have DLSU shirts but we never really liked any of the designs available in the market,” Villegas mentions when asked why they put up Animo Nation, adding that they resorted to designing their own shirts and thought about selling them as well.


Baby steps

Every opportunity has its own set of challenges, and for Villegas and Fernando, building the brand from the ground up was no different. With product design and marketing as their two main focal points, they first came up with rough designs that right now, they would take back and do over.

“Luckily, my partner [James Fernando] had better taste and went with only one shirt design and one hoodie design,” Villegas mentions in jest.

From there it was onto getting the suppliers and the rest of the technicalities out of the way. They were fortunate to have known good contacts that put them in the right situation and gave the right deals to get them started. But now that they had the tools, they needed something to launch their brand and set it apart from the get-go.

“We knew we had to do something that would change the game,” Villegas recounts. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have ideas that we think would enable us to do this save for one: have Jeron Teng, who was still in Xavier at that time but had expressed his intent to join the Green Archers, model our products.”

With a gutsy idea in hand, the boys contacted Teng through Facebook and after the Xavier alumnus agreed to do the shoot, they relied on the power of social media to promote their products with the right person on it. During University Week, their hoodies were sold out within hours and their shirts were wiped out by the second day, partly due to the warm reception it received online. A budding superstar and an emerging brand; that killer combination would eventually lift off the career of one athlete and kickstart a brand for two young Lasallians.

“Looking back at all of this, I consider myself to be extremely lucky that Jeron agreed to do the shoot and that the DLSU community was really into our products given that I really barely knew anything about shirt selling and we had zero capital,” Villegas admitted when reflecting on how far they have come from one booth during Univ Week.

Animo Nation shirts are available at The Store at DLSU
Animo Nation shirts are available at The Store at DLSU, at the Animo Nation booths during UAAP games, and, more recently, at Zalora.

Beyond the store

This month, Animo Nation will launch its online store with the popular website Zalora as its platform. Prior to this partnership, the brand resorted to social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, these platforms, though effective, don’t provide what Zalora can for them.

“We’ll be launching the online store in partnership with Zalora mainly to provide better customer experience and for cash on delivery [of the product],” Villegas said with regards to some of the details of the partnership.

The online expansion was among their early initiatives in 2012 but the idea gained traction after talks with the University resulted in an agreement that allowed the brand to sell their products online while keeping La Salle’s name protected. Most of their future plans aren’t just centered on improving their online exposure; though Villegas admits there’s nothing final, he does admit that their expansion is all about building the brand and remaining competitive amidst the different parties also selling their wares in the market.

“There’s no clear-cut method on how we come up with ideas for our apparel, he says. “But a lot of our designs just happen randomly, after playing with Photoshop. I don’t know why this is so but this has been consistent with our shirt designing process.”


Standing out

Even with their current stature, Animo Nation faces stiff competition. Nike, the school’s most visible athletic sponsor, comes out with new shirts every season, ones that litter the stands along with the Animo Nation shirts in the crowd. Also, other organizations within the University sell shirts during certain times of the year to promote their causes or to help sustain their year-long projects.

“This was an issue that our team has tackled numerous times before but we came to the conclusion that focusing on our competition with them [Nike] is not what’s best for us,” Villegas explains. “We are able to remain competitive because there are differences between Nike, school organizations, and Animo Nation. We’re always available at The Store at DLSU and at the UAAP Games and our products are competitive.”

School pride is best exemplified through deeds rather than through words. Putting on a shirt with your school’s colors, more so with a passionate message written on it, shows that you’re proud of your roots. Of course, there are other ways of showing your love for your school but nothing can beat wearing your heart on your sleeve while witnessing your school’s defining moments.

“Individually, it means to live a life the school wanted you to live through values formation and education,” Villegas said. “There’s a real increase in school spirit when you see your fellow schoolmates wearing one color and shouting for one school.”

By Gio Gloria

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