In the five years after midwest native Alina d’Aubermont graduated from the bucolic Smith College, she lived and worked in some of the world’s most metropolitan cities, from New York to Shanghai to Chicago. She lives a more settled life in Philadelphia these days, and she recently took over the reigns at Allin Interactive Latin America, a hospitality-focused mobile app company.When she’s not traveling throughout Mexico and Central America for work, she pursues an extracurricular passion or two, one of which is being the stylist for the band tUnE-yArDs. We chatted with her about how she mixes her career with her creative process.
Interview & photos by Corinne Warnshuis.
Tell us about your background and how you came to lead Allin Interactive Latin America.
I went to college in Northampton Massachusetts at Smith College, a liberal arts school, where I was an American Studies major. Within that major, I concentrated on mostly intercultural communication and cross-cultural studies, so that means that I often compared the Philippines and the US, or studied Asian immigrant culture or popular culture. I wrote papers on graffiti and Filipino immigrants or Korean immigrants.
I ended up going to the Philippines as a study-abroad during one summer—my mother is Filipino; my father is from California— and I did a sort-of a thesis my senior year: a photo essay that explored Filipino identity and Filipino-American identity. And I started playing around with graphic design. And that was around 2000.
I graduated and got a job in New York City at Scholastic Entertainment, which made Clifford’s Puppy Days, Maya & Miguel...mostly in the film and television department.
I worked there for three years and then decided to teach English in China with my boyfriend at the time because we wanted some international experience. We lived in Shanghai for six months and returned to the US because he got into Law School, so we moved to Chicago.
I got into the University of Chicago and did a Masters in International Relations where I focused again on Chinese contemporary culture.
I sort of always had the idea that I wanted to be in a role as a cultural liaison between two parties in an international role.
Ideally, I wanted it to be with a fashion label.
When we graduated, the economy tanked and we decided to explore Philadelphia and I got a job with Innovation Philadelphia as a communications manager, a nonprofit dedicated to foster the creative economy.
What did you do there as communications manager?
We put on this huge summit that was very successful. During that conference, for the mobile side, I was running all of the digital resources. I met Chuck Sacco and Doug Bellenger, who were running a company called PhindMe.
It was sort of the beginning of mobile web sites and mass campaigns with SMS. And that opened up this fascinating world: mobile technology is the new frontier.
When Innovation Philadelphia folded, I started working for Movitas. In the meantime, PhindMe had been acquired by Movitas which focused on hospitality, so I started working more as an account manager there. I had clients like the Pocono Mountains, Dover Speedway—some smaller destination management organizations around the area and beyond.
And that’s where I’ve been ever since, for about four years, and slowly moved up to focusing on creative direction when we had a bigger team. We transitioned to apps, and I was on the original team that created some of the apps that AM Resorts and Apple Vacations are using today. So in that role, I learned about usability, design, creative direction, product management and I have enjoyed that ever since.
So I continue to bring it all back: I am in this communications and production role and with the fact that we’re working a lot in the Caribbean and Mexico I get to bring in that international, cultural liaison role. It’s great that I am able to interact with the hotels and the staff, and speak Spanish and train them; it’s pretty exciting.
What has it been like taking over the leadership role there?
The transition is still going on. Not only am I in this leadership position at the organization, but I am still working as essentially the account manager, the product manager, all the roles that I was working on before.
In a startup environment, as everyone knows, you’re doing like 20 million things at the same time, and to add another one was great, because I enjoy the new responsibility, but it’s just been harder to juggle the time.
I find that I need to learn to delegate more, ask for help more.
Who are some leaders that you consider role models?
I don’t have a specific role model or mentor that I rely on constantly, which I think is really important. My husband and I talk about this all the time:
...it’s really important to have one or two mentors throughout your life that you can bounce ideas off of.
Throughout different stages in my career, I have often reached back to Smith professors, my advisor there. The college in general is very supportive, in terms of the alumni network.
And then I have my group of girlfriends from college. We’re scattered all over the country and don’t really talk much but every time we do get together and talk, catch up every couple of months, I can rely on them to bounce ideas off of.
One of my friends in particular shot up quite quickly on the corporate ladder as a director of creative services, so she and I have shared frustrations, challenges, and successes.
My parents are always there for emotional support and comfort. And my husband is a great sounding board, too.
Creatively, in the distance, I have always admired Bjork. She has nothing to do with what I do in my real job, but just as a creative person, she’s my idol.
What excites you the most? What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
Life in general. Just being alive makes me jump out of bed!
Career-wise, it’s kind of funny to define my career. My real job is obviously working with Allin Interactive Latin America thus far and I think I will continue to be in the tech space because I enjoy it. It moves quickly; it’s the future, right?
I work with tUnE-yArDs and do styling for them.
But there’s this other aspect with my styling work and the creative stuff that I am trying to kind of squish together in this weird way, but they’re still kind of separate.
So I think that lately what gets me out of bed is the responsibility in my job: getting these apps to the client, communicating with the hotel, making sure this project is running as it should be and trying to improve what we have—making it the best digital experience we can for the clients.
That is a big project in and of itself.
With the tUnE-yArDs stuff and the creative stuff, trying to balance that and somehow figure out what I am going to do with that in relation to my real job is another motivating factor. Whether I’d be creating accessories, trying to design a whole line, taking more sewing classes...
Tell me about that. How did you become the stylist for tUnE-yArDs?
So Merrill [Garbus] and I are friends from Smith. She’s a part of my core group of five ladies. We all lived in the same house together and we did fun stuff like hip-hop dance groups and shit like that.
When she started the tune-yards project, she asked me to make some stuff for her; she essentially asked me to be her stylist.
We were trying to hash out what worked for her, and it started out mostly with these fabric necklaces because she was playing the ukulele and she couldn’t have anything be noisy on the ukulele.
I started making these fabric necklaces, and I am really big into prints. In the Philippines and in Indonesia, they have these things called malongs, which are like tubes of fabrics but that kind of batik or malay print. I noticed the print in the Philippines is particularly different from Indonesia’s. So I have this huge collection of these prints.
I was messing around, braiding fabric, wrapping it with yarn and just kind of experimenting and Merrill really liked it, she was like “Oh my god, these are the best!” So I started making more, and as she got more famous, particularly with the last tour, she was playing Coachella and these big festivals, because my sewing skills are quite basic, I had to find a costume designer who could help me execute some stuff.
The greatest moment was when she played Jimmy Fallon for the first time and I coordinated that whole styling: made t-shirts with pom-poms for the guys and got her a dress from a designer and some necklaces etc. She debuted and then she blew up.
With this album, Nikki-Nack, we had a little more leeway and were a little more strategic about discussing the look and the feel. We started using Pinterest, sharing a secret board among our other friend Alex Chitty, who is the album cover designer—who is also a Smith girl and part of our core group— and her sort-of creative director, Maureen Towey, who does a lot of theatre work and worked for Arcade Fire in their production design.
And so we all collaborated with images and themes and I started pinning outfits and then Merrill would buy them. It was actually quite a streamlined process. I started experimenting more with the necklace idea and the rope idea, and tassels and made a bunch for the rest of the band.
Now we’re getting a lot more contact from other labels. Doc Martens and Mod Cloth gave the band a bunch of stuff. It’s nice when the brands start contacting you.
I used a company called Print All Over Me where you can design whatever you want and they will make that thing. It’s nice to be able to bring elements of the tech world and the fashion world.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to mix passion with career?
I’m sure that everyone struggles with this. You know, you always look to people with envy who are like “I want to be a doctor. That’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was 10 years old!”
It’s the curse of a liberal arts education or it’s the curse of our post-modern world where there’s just too much stimulation.
I think time-management is crucial, and that is something that I have always admired about Merrill, and Alex Chitty, who is a fine artist. Both Alex and Merrill are artists in general and have always had that focus. They’ve have odd jobs here and there, but when Merrill first started in Montreal, she was like eating food out of garbage cans and doing her music.
Those ladies were always very good at time management, like “I need to spend one hour a day focusing on ideas or sketching or brainstorming or sewing fabric.” Alex told me one time that she had jars of different stones which represented time for each project. So she would drop stones in each jar to indicate how long she spent on it and she could just see it right there.
Setting aside those times in your day-to-day is crucial for trying to move forward on whatever ideas you have.
It’s extremely challenging; I don’t know anyone other than those two ladies who are really good at it.
You know, you work hard all day at your real job and you want to sit in front of the TV and veg out, or what about cooking dinner or going to the gym? I need to clean the house, etc. All this stuff often gets in the way, because your brain is telling you right away that these things need to get accomplished and the other stuff can easily get pushed aside.
If someone wants to continue to pursue their passion: write stuff down. Hook up with another person who can hold you accountable. For me, it always helps if I have a little more anxiety. Take the real skills that you have in your real job, apply that to your passion project. If you do a lot of research in your job, use that to work on your passion.
If you’re working in a job that you don’t like, getting together with like-minded people, it’s so easy these days.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
I don’t really have one, but the thing that pops into my head is my routine.
I am a very routine person. I wake up, I have the same morning routine that establishes my baseline so that I can do my work. I think yoga is very important; I do ten minutes every morning.
I meditate for five minutes afterwards, so just kind of establishing that as a physical motto—not necessarily words—but as a feeling could be my motto.