As a one-man shop, Tolentino covers a lot of territory from corporate identity to packaging, website concepts and retail space. He is a godsend for small manufacturers who cannot afford a large branding consultancy but are smart enough to avoid enlisting the help of their occasionally artistic nephew.
Although he is formally schooled with a degree in advertising from the University of the Philippines, Arnel’s first job in New York City was actually at a bakery, where he looked for work in his spare time. When the owner of the bakery came across his portfolio, she asked him to design a logo and packaging for her business, and his career in New York began. His first jobs were at design and communication firms until he set off five years ago to set up his own shop in Brooklyn.
There are a few things Tolentino misses about working for someone else. Not least of which are the financial security and the office help. Having to take a job from the opening pitch to the FedEx slip on the finished work inevitably means longer hours. “I prefer working by myself but sometimes I wish I worked with someone so I don’t have to worry about getting paid by the client. Then you have help and you don’t have to front your own money on a job,” he says.
But the rewards usually outweigh the negatives. Working his own hours gives him the space to arrange his day around the creative process without forcing ideas into a nine to five day. It also enables him to avoid a hectic commute. “I hit traffic between the bed and my home office,” he says smugly. Also he notes, rather ruefully, you don’t have someone else yelling at you.
It also allows him to work within his unorthodox, yet apparently successful, environment. Instead of turning to museums or galleries to seek inspiration, Tolentino is a self-described television addict. Although he confesses to watching whatever is on (drawing the line at soap operas), he finds it most useful to watch daytime talk shows where he can get a sense of fashion and color trends and see what appeals to the mass market.
Apart from the constant noise of the television, Tolentino browses design books and trolls retail outlets like toy stores to pick up ideas and gain inspiration. However, he confirms a suspicion that most of what he does is internal instinct.
And it seems to work. His current clients range from small upstarts to larger, mostly kitchen product clients like Circle Glass, SteelTek, Chef Revival, Lush Life, Frieling, Verge, Candle Café, Protocol, Once Upon A Recipe, Mika Inatome, Youlin New York, and Rainbow Pops.
The client’s benefit of working with Tolentino is a lower cost alternative without compromising any of the design integrity. Additionally, the manufacturer gets to work directly with a designer who can understand the project at the source without the possible reinterpretation of an account manager.
Most of his work is from repeat clients who continue to use him for product launches or relaunches. Oftentimes he works projects like repackaging a $1 product to allow it to sell for more. For a lollipop manufacturer, Tolentino designed pillow-pack packaging to convey a more up-market product. But he didn’t stop there. He also designed a place to park the pop with his PopStand – a convenient alternative to laying a sticky pop on your desk when you simply have to get back to work.