Girl Wonder: Ayla Gomez

A part-time model, online store entrepreneur, and bag and accessory designer, Ayla Gomez may be a laidback boheme with an invitingly easygoing deameanor, but Zee Lifestyle finds out nothing about her success is accidental.

It’s a windy afternoon just off the holiday season, and the team is trying to keep the makeshift white background for the photo shoot from flying off the rooftop of Harold’s Hotel. Once we have the billowing sheet under control, Ayla Gomez emerges on the balcony for her first shot. She’s smiling shyly and comfortably quiet, carrying her outfit in the kind of cool girl nonchalance that everyone tries so hard to emulate. She brushes her long hair off her face and bobs along to the music of Two Door Cinema Club. “I listen to a lot of indie bands, some folk, old school rock, chillwave, house, and of course, we can’t resist some pop,” she shares, before listing Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Feist, Toro Y Moi, Girls, The Drums, The Horrors and Kings of Convenience as bands she’d seen live and loved. Finally, the photographer motions that the shoot is officially starting, and we see her relaxed charm turn into steely confidence once the camera starts clicking.

She moves in front of the camera with an ease that comes from years of experience, having worked as a model for various magazine and newspaper editorials since her first photo shoot for the cover of Zee Lifestyle’s February-March 2005 issue. Then, she had just graduated from high school and preparing for her move to Manila to study early childhood education in De La Salle University. “I think I look younger in this one than in that first shoot,” she laughs. “I think I was a lot stiffer then, and really conscious about how I looked. I definitely wish I knew my angles and facial expressions more— basically just how to work the camera.”

Today, it’s clear that she’s learned to do just that, moving and posing fluidly through each layout. It might have helped that the photographer Emman Montalvan is a childhood friend, and the one who got her into modeling in the first place. “He was my neighbor during college. He was taking up production design in Benilde, and he would ask me to model for him for his school projects.” She’d since done campaigns for Spruce, a consignment store in CDO, since 2010 and Sueno de Espadrilles in 2011, and did a photo shoot for Vanilla Label by fashion designer Vania Romoff—though she admits she doesn’t see modeling as a main career choice. “I never really signed with an agency, because I didn’t really think of it as a job. It was just something to do every now and then.”

Of course, that’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy doing it. “The best part is getting all dolled up and being styled, and who doesn’t like a good photo of themselves?” she laughs. “I enjoy doing different looks, which I normally wouldn’t wear or think of putting together. I have definitely learned how to dress, and picked up a few tips here and there from stylists and make-up artists.” She does admit that she has a lot to learn, but also dares to dream when thinking about who she would model for in the future if given the chance. “I’d have to say Marc Jacobs, Topshop because I frequent that store a lot, and Zac Posen! I love his gorgeous gowns,” she gushes. “I also would really love to model for a great Cebu gem, Cary Santiago. There’s really nothing like his intricately detailed dresses and the workmanship that goes into each one.” After the interview, she sends an email to add, “I would have to add Chanel and Roberto Cavalli!” that was ended with a sheepishly cute “hehe.” That little exchange showed off the bright and bubbly persona that emerged from the reserved Ayla infront of the camera. Off-duty, she transforms into someone who answers questions with a flurry of sentences that are excitedly strung together. “Most people think I’m shy and very quiet, which I can be at times. But I’m very easygoing and I love to goof around.” The open and animated way she shares her life stories projects a youthfulness that seems to defy her age of 26. “Honestly, I still feel like I’m 21 inside, and sometimes even younger when I’m with my nephews. I won’t lie though, I’m also a bit freaked out about the idea of turning 30.”

In truth, she’s further from her 30’s than she thinks, which makes her list of accomplishments even more impressive considering she’d just emerged from the younger half of her roaring decade. She’s started two online stores, models for various brands, and is the marketing manager for her mom Melinda Garcia’s Club Serena Resort in Moalboal. “I’ve been going there since I was a child,” she says of the family property. “It’s my happy place, specifically underneath my favorite tree next to our beach house.”

Whether it’s her dad Quintin Gomez waking her up on weekends by bringing the family’s dogs into her room or the elaborate Theme Park birthday parties she had in her backyard and later at theme parks, Ayla’s been gifted with a childhood of normalcy that attests to how much family plays an important role in her life. “My best memories were from when our whole family would spend Holy Week together at the Moalboal beach house, my tito’s farm in Bohol, or at our close family friend’s ranch in Bukidnon,” she recalls fondly. Of course, time has seen the group of cousins growing up and having their only families, which means less time to spend basking in the sun and playing shato, but Ayla still looks forward to the Christmas holidays spent at her grandmother’s house. “Every year she serves a huge feast, but the staples are always roast beef, turkey, lechon, and her famous callos and bacalao.”

Her familial ties carry over to her business life, when she opened The Lost Nomad with cousin Paolo Sarmiento. “Like how most things start out, it was over drunken talk,” she jokes about the beginnings of the brand. “Whenever my cousin visited Manila, we would always find ourselves talking about how cool it would be to collaborate and work on a store that sold bags.” After more discussions over coffee, the duo dove right into the project, looking for manufacturers that could create their concept of usable but stylish travel bags. Created to represent the modern day nomad, The Lost Nomad’s collections are on display on the website www.thelostnomad.com.ph, which show the collection of roomy duffels in bright primary colors, or clutches and backpacks in prints that bring to mind exotic locales. Their bags marry form and function, deceptively compact but in truth providing a good amount of space to carry travel essentials, while maintaining a design that maximizes on beautiful details and quality materials.

The inclination to designing bags stemmed from a recent realization that she’s turned into a shoe and bag lady, the kind who immediately gravitates to those specific accessories when entering a store. “Every girl turns into one sooner or later, I think,” she laughs. “I guess that’s where designing bags really started, with my love affair for owning nice-looking bags that didn’t hurt the pocket too much.”

Her first creation and current favorite is the Hatra, a weekender bag made of colored canvas and faux carabao leather accents. “Paolo and I discovered that there aren’t a lot of stores that sell nice affordable weekenders of good quality. So our first design was one that showcased a certain style. We made the blue and red for the more classic traveler, and the teal and yellow with stripes for those who like color and prints.”

“The Lost Nomad for me is laidback, but has a good sense of style and what looks good without sacrificing functionality,” Ayla says about the brand. “It’s a store that will hopefully inspire you to travel and explore beyond the four walls of your personal comfort zone. It’s also about spontaneity and the awesome stories a good adventure can bring.”

Creating The Lost Nomad, though, might have proved less of a challenge than it would have been for most, considering Ayla already had experience with putting up The Little Pinky Store after she graduated from college. The store boasts of a collection of quirky accessories, the kind that immediately adds a sweet kind of spunk to any sort of outfit or room. “Having a lot of time on hand after graduation helped me realize I had more of a creative brain than I originally thought,” she says. “The items that I sell are generally a reflection of my personal style and things that I would wear myself, or would like to have in my own home.”

Actually, The Little Pinky Store feels very much like an extension of Ayla’s closet, a collection of her own designs and items picked up from her travels that properly encapsulate the alluring character that she makes up for the brand. “A TLPS girl is most definitely someone who likes the sand between her toes and the sun on her skin, has a knack for traveling, a fun outlook in life, likes to dress up and wear cute little things. She loves color, bold prints, appreciates good music, food and handmade things,” which sounds very much like Ayla herself.

“My personal style would have to be a little boheme chic—sometimes feminine, sometimes masculine but mostly casual. I love the way Kate Hudson, Rachel Bilson and Alexa Chung dress.” The laidback look is evident in her daily uniform of denim shorts and a white tee with flats, and her closet filled with pieces from Zara, Topshop, Renegade Folk, Lulu Swing, Spruce, H&M, Urban Outfitters, and clothes found while rummaging through tiangges and local markets. For nights out, she sticks to keeping it simple but fashionable in a sense that best represents her personal look. “It’s always jeans with a plain top, topped off with a great bright or printed blazer, then some sexy black heels and a few bangles,” she enumerates. “I take literally ten minutes to do my face—just some mineral foundation, a subtle smoky eye with eyeliner, and maybe a red or nude lip to balance it off.”

When traveling though, her The Lost Nomad luggage will always have a bikini and pair of shorts packed, along with her favorite pair of Keds. “Unless of course I’m going to be in New York for the winter, then it’s just all sweaters and socks,” she adds. “I’m a very organized packer and actually take pride in my packing skills!” She breaks out in laughter before saying, “That sounds funny. Anyway, I know how to make a lot of things fit into a small maleta. I’d like to say I pack a few days before the trip, but that’s really not true. I’m good at packing, but also hate the idea of it, so I usually just start the day before and finish a few hours before I have to leave.”

It may not be a surprise considering her line of bags, but it must be said that Ayla loves to travel. “It has a lot to do with how I view life now,” she shares. “I used to be quite close-minded when I was a lot younger but now I’m more open to trying new things, discovering new places, and am more accepting of other people’s views and ways of living.” She has fond memories of trips around Europe, including her irst time in 2005 with her grandmother, aunt and a large group of cousins. “We ate frankfurters in Germany, visited Disneyland and went up the Eiffel Tower in Paris, chowed down a whole paella in Valencia, Spain, visited relatives in Barcelona. The list just goes on from that trip!”

The wonder at new places clearly hasn’t stopped with age. Just last year, a trip to New York to visit her brother led to her first experience with snow. “It was always a childhood dream of mine. Happiest day ever!” she gushes. As for big travel plans and extreme destinations she wants to have on her passport one day, Ayla lists down Angel Falls in Venezuela, Corsica, the Maldives and Africa with her dad. “I’ve always wanted to go on a hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti. I would also say Antartica, although I don’t know how well I would do with the bone- throbbing cold winds.”

For now though, Ayla is happily content to stay put, though she shuttles between Cebu and Manila, where she’s based. “I love Cebu because my family is there, and that you can easily go to the beach for a day out. And in Manila, there’s always something new to do or go to. There are also a lot of art events and galleries, plus the concert scene is getting better. Plus my dad and my boyfriend live there too.”

Having been with her boyfriend since her sophomore year of college, Ayla is happily committed to someone who supports her endeavors and allows her to let out her goofy side when they’re together. “We’ve been dating for six years now. Yup, that’s quite a long time but it doesn’t feel that long. So that should be a good sign,” she says as if expecting the usual awe that comes from hearing about long-term relationships at a young age, especially now in the age of social media. “I think in a way the internet can be bad for dating because some of the mystery is gone because you can easily look someone up on Facebook. But then, it can also save you from going on a really bad date by doing a little research first. But what would I know about how it is now? I’ve been dating the same guy for years,” she laughs.

That might be true for the dating scene, but that doesn’t mean Ayla isn’t as online as the rest of the population her age is. “I haven’t been as active on Facebook as I used to,” she admits. “Looking back at my old status’ makes me cringe sometimes, like I really said that or why the hell would I post that?” She laughs before adding, “But I am active on Instagram! I love taking photos, so go figure.”

At the enthusiasm over her Instagram profile, there’s a glimpse of how young she actually is—part of the generation of 20-somethings who are now comfortably shuffling between addressing grown-up responsibilities and indulging in bouts of responsible immaturity. Of course, she’s recently gotten a lot more laidback. “Lately I find myself wanting to just be at home and spend time playing with my nephews or hanging out with my cousins,” she says of her days in Cebu. Now, she’s also gotten into archery, though her plans include concrete ones to address her growing business portfolio. “I want to take a short design course at Parsons for The Little Pinky Store and The Lost Nomad,” she says. At the mention of opening an actual store in the future, she turns giddy. “That’s the big dream! As of now, online is the best thing, but we’re definitely going to make that happen in the future. Fingers crossed!”

  • by Shari Quimbo
  • sittings editor David Jones Cua
  • photography Emman Montalvan
  • make up Angela Montalvan
  • hair Romero Vergara
  • assistant Jessie Egos
  • fashion stylist Dominic Sy
  • assistant Lor Yutico
  • locale Harold’s Hotel Rooftop
Shari Quimbo
Shari Quimbo

Shari Quimbo is the managing editor of Zee Lifestyle. In her spare time, she likes cooking for family and friends, and escaping to the beach on weekends. Follow Shari’s adventures on Instagram at @sharinuh.

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