Rissa Manan­quil-Trillo dis­cusses the im­por­tance of home­grown en­trepreneur­ship and so­cial me­dia in the new age


Rissa Manan­quil-Trillo calls so­cial me­dia “the great equal­izer”

In be­tween ca­sual con­ver­sa­tions about beauty prod­ucts, Rissa Manan­quil-Trillo pro­vides in­sights on so­cial me­dia: “I think it has def­i­nitely changed en­trepreneur­ship,” the Happy Skin co-founder says of how the dig­i­tal au­di­ence has played a huge role in the home­grown brand’s early be­gin­nings.

“[ When Happy Skin started,] we were com­pet­ing with brands that had bud­gets for TVCs, bill­boards, and print ads. And as a start-up, we only had In­sta­gram, and Face­book. But th­ese plat­forms have be­come great equal­iz­ers, whether you’re a big global brand or just a shop around the cor­ner. Ev­ery­one is given an equal op­por­tu­nity to be dis­cov­ered on so­cial me­dia. That is what I feel has been a big gamechanger in the busi­ness, and it has helped a lot of home­grown brands.”

Even to those who are averse to so­cial me­dia, Manan­quil-Trillo’s take makes a lot of sense. “It’s an ex­cit­ing time be­cause, even for me, when­ever I browse so­cial me­dia, I dis­cover so many new brands even from other coun­tries. And I’m hop­ing one day, from across the world, some­one will dis­cover Happy Skin, too.”

Pass­ing on an in­valu­able child­hood

As a child, Manan­quil-Trillo was teased for her com­plex­ion. “But I wasn’t both­ered about it, maybe be­cause I grew up in an en­vi­ron­ment where I felt much love. I’m happy I grew up in an en­vi­ron­ment where I was en­cour­aged to read [and] pur­sue my pas­sions.” As she’s now rais­ing her daugh­ters Ce­les­tia and Au­dra with her hus­band Paolo, she’s re­solved to bring them up in the same way. “The way we raise them is not through [telling them,] ‘Oh, you’re so pretty, your dress is so nice.’ Rather, we re­in­force good val­ues, the right traits, and skills.

“I think it’s a com­mon mis­take that par­ents make be­cause nat­u­rally, peo­ple like to get com­pli­mented for their ap­pear­ance. But I want my daugh­ters to feel con­fi­dent not just about how they look but also what they can do in the fu­ture, even at a young age.”

Manan­quil-Trillo re­calls some of the less pleas­ant parts of her youth: how her neigh­bor crush had teased her as ne­gra, how she was called “So­ma­lian” for her skinny fig­ure, how a friend’s ex called her and her barkada “pan­git” (which they pro­ceeded to re­claim by call­ing their group the Ugly Duck­ling Club). “I’m sure those sce­nar­ios don’t paint the typ­i­cal pic­ture of a fu­ture fash­ion model. I was of­ten on the Dean’s List. In school, I was a nerd and a con­sis­tent honor stu­dent. Per­haps that’s why my dad wanted me to be­come a lawyer and my mom wanted me to be­come a doc­tor.” De­spite all the ap­pear­ance-based la­bels tacked onto her, none left a last­ing mark. “They af­fected me but not to the point that they were de­stroy­ing my life and I couldn’t func­tion any­more. I guess af­ter re­ceiv­ing so many la­bels like those, what I did was to ac­cept them—then tran­scend them.”

Tran­scend­ing colo­nial men­tal­ity

Hav­ing mod­eled for over a decade, hav­ing her own beauty col­umn, and own­ing a home­grown cos­met­ics brand, Manan­quil-Trillo is deeply en­trenched in the beauty in­dus­try. Be­cause the lo­cal stan­dard is still quite rigid when it comes to main­stream beauty ideals, she ad­mits to en­coun­ter­ing tri­als when Happy Skin was still be­ing in­tro­duced to the mar­ket. “It’s still a bit dif­fi­cult be­cause there re­mains a men­tal­ity among women that a cer­tain ap­pear­ance is more beau­ti­ful [than oth­ers]. What we try to do with Happy Skin is to show them that women are [at their] most beau­ti­ful nat­u­rally. We’re not trend-driven.”

Another chal­lenge, she re­veals, is the Filipinos’ pref­er­ence for the for­eign. “We en­tered an arena that’s dom­i­nated by in­ter­na­tional cos­metic brands. That’s a chal­lenge, be­cause our coun­try was col­o­nized for hun­dreds of years and [that caused us to de­velop] the Coca-Cola men­tal­ity: We think any­thing im­ported is al­ways bet­ter.” How­ever, the re­cent in­cli­na­tion among Filipino buy­ers to­wards lo­cal, hand­made, and

even sus­tain­able prod­ucts has shifted that mind­set one in­dus­try at a time. “The past few years have been ex­cit­ing for entrepreneurs,” Manan­quil-Trillo says. “There is so much love for home­grown and Pi­noy brands. It’s be­come so­cial cur­rency to wear some­thing from a lo­cal brand or from a lo­cal de­signer that not many peo­ple know about. It’s an ex­cit­ing time be­cause more peo­ple have pride in lo­cal ta­lent.”

Cre­at­ing a bench­mark in lo­cal beauty

What sets Happy Skin apart from the hun­dreds of cos­met­ics brands pen­e­trat­ing the Filipino mar­ket is its ded­i­ca­tion to the Filipino skin. “Ev­ery prod­uct we come out with is in­fused with a skin-car­ing in­gre­di­ent,” Manan­quil-Trillo af­firms. “This all started be­cause of my mod­el­ing back­ground. I’ve been mod­el­ing for over a decade, and it was at the peak of my mod­el­ing that my skin was at its worst. It was hard to find a makeup brand that would com­ple­ment the Filip­ina com­plex­ion and sur­vive in our trop­i­cal weather.”

Happy Skin prod­ucts are meant to ad­dress skin prob­lems that re­sult from makeup and, hope­fully, give con­fi­dence to Filip­inas to play around with their looks. “The big­gest hur­dle a lot of Filip­inas have is that they’re afraid to use makeup. One, they think it will ruin their skin. Two, they just think it’s re­ally com­pli­cated. So ev­ery prod­uct we come out with has a guide or a cheat sheet. That’s im­por­tant es­pe­cially now, be­cause we live in the so­cial me­dia era where every­thing [is ac­ces­si­ble] in a swipe or a click. Peo­ple want things fast, quick, and re­li­able, so a lot of our prod­ucts are multi-taskers and time-savers.”

Round-the-clock, hands-on en­gage­ment

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Manan­quil-Trillo is very hand­son with the la­bel, from re­search de­vel­op­ment to its mar­ket­ing. “All the prod­ucts are made in beauty cap­i­tals like Korea, Tai­wan, and Ja­pan. When we first came out, many thought [our stuff] were im­ported and we just slapped our la­bel on them. But ev­ery for­mula was cre­ated unique to the brand. We’re very hands-on with de­vel­op­ing it, in work­ing with our sup­pli­ers. We work with a so­phis­ti­cated team of sci­en­tists and lab­o­ra­to­ries that have ac­cess to all the in­for­ma­tion, whether it’s the skin’s bi­ol­ogy or the lat­est in­no­va­tions in skin­care,” she says. It makes a lot of sense then to see Happy Skin’s growth from a mere five coun­ters to al­most 100, with so­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially In­sta­gram, as its great­est mar­ket­ing tool.

It’s a tool that Manan­quil-Trillo ap­pre­ci­ates a lot, de­spite the dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship or­di­nary peo­ple have with so­cial me­dia in their quest to find the bal­ance be­tween hid­ing be­hind an on­line per­sona and en­gag­ing with the larger world. “As a beauty colum­nist for over a decade now, I’ve al­ways val­ued my con­stant con­nec­tion to read­ers and con­sumers. To­day, as a model-turned-en­tre­pre­neur, my deeply rooted ex­pe­ri­ence with cos­met­ics is fur­ther strength­ened by do­ing store vis­its and lis­ten­ing to con­sumers. Be­ing in touch with women, even through our so­cial me­dia ac­counts, gives me a wealth of price­less in­sights. The prod­ucts we churn out are tes­ta­ment to how much we lis­ten to our con­sumers.”

For some­one who has been in the in­dus­try long enough, Manan­quil-Trillo un­der­stands well the po­ten­tial of hav­ing a dig­i­tal con­nec­tion to the mar­ket, and her con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with so­cial me­dia only shows how in tune she is with the needs of the au­di­ence she likes to serve. “Dig­i­tal pres­ence is also cru­cial to re­main­ing rel­e­vant in the fast-chang­ing re­tail land­scape. The dig­i­tal mar­ket has def­i­nitely be­come the new av­enue of growth. Apart from a new gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers whose tastes, pref­er­ences, and lifestyles are driven by so­cial me­dia, more and more peo­ple are opt­ing for the con­ve­nience of shop­ping on­line. The younger gen­er­a­tion is al­ways on their mo­bile phones, so it’s cru­cial that our store and our brand’s re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence com­ple­ment their on­line ex­pe­ri­ence and their im­pres­sion of our prod­ucts,” she con­cludes. “Peo­ple post their ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence on­line; they make ev­ery pur­chase a so­cial me­dia mile­stone.”

“Dig­i­tal pres­ence is also cru­cial to re­main­ing rel­e­vant in the fast-chang­ing re­tail land­scape.”

Cover photo by Koji Ar­boleda

Blouse, Bench, SM Mega­mall Pants, Paulo De­ofiero, 0905-3945730 Shoes, Charles & Keith, SM Mega­mall

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