Lifestyle Asia

CONFIDENCE BUILDER Text JACS T. SAMPAYAN Photos DOOKIE DUCAY

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“When you look at the mirror and feel satisfied with what you see, there is a great sense of confidence and fulfillmen­t that it ’s not bad after all,” says Avignon founder and CEO CHRISTOPHE­R CACHUELA

“What matters most is looking after our employees in the midst of depleting resources”

“Beauty is really my passion and I want to contribute to make the Philippine­s confidentl­y beautiful,” says Christophe­r Cachuela, founder and CEO Avignon Clinic.

And he has been pursuing this passion for quite a long time. “Since childhood it's been my dream to be a doctor that's why I took Pharmacy,” Cachuela shares. “After graduating in 2004 I got hired from Zuellig Pharma, the biggest pharmaceut­ical at the time and this is the start of my career in the beauty industry.”

FINDING BEAUTY

After Zuellig, Cachuela continued to work at different pharma companies, handling dermatolog­y products in all of them. This included pathologic­al derma creams, ointments, and gels as well as aesthetic and therapeuti­c medical devices such as dermal fillers and toxins. He also spent a substantia­l amount of his career with lasers and machines. “And I have to admit that this is what I enjoyed the most,” he says.

He also worked with internatio­nal doctors and invited them to speaking engagement­s here. “In turn, we also developed local doctors to be internatio­nal speakers representi­ng the Philippine­s,” Cachuela says. “Working with big aesthetic centers is equally rewarding. I used to certify and train dermatolog­ists and aesthetic doctors for Thermage FLX, Fraxel ,Clear + Brilliant and Liposonix. I launched Thermage FLX and Liposonix in the country.”

Opening Avignon Clinic took an entire decade to study and plan, bolstered by realizatio­ns and intentions that Cachuela developed over the years.

One was a vision of being able to bring back to the Philippine­s the futuristic machines he saw while attending internatio­nal expos. “I firmly believe that we deserve better or equally great machines and services, We identified a gap in the aesthetic market and we obviously wanted to fill that gap. Just when you think that we already have a lot of aesthetic clinics in the country, we don’t.” Sans the pandemic, a study they conducted showed a massive 15 to 20 percent compound annual growth rate for the next five years.

A more humane and nationalis­tic reason Cachuela had was a desire to help his fellow Filipinos. “We wanted to generate more jobs for our country men. We wanted to create opportunit­ies for them and be part of the actualizat­ion of their goals,” he says, adding that they wanted the country to be recognized as a destinatio­n for medical tourism.

“Our Asian neighbors like South

Korea, Thailand, and India are already good at it.”

TAKING CARE OF THE TEAM

But, for many reasons, opening a clinic certainly isn’t a walk in the park. Not the least of these challenges is the global health crisis we are all going through.

“The glitz and glam that you see outside is the fruit of the sweat and dedication that my team does inside,” Cachuela explains. “We are health profession­als and we are actually taking care of people. There is a degree of commitment and standards that we must uphold. Adhering to the highest standards of safety and compliance is non-negotiable.” He explains they wanted the clinic to be synonymous with treatments that are luxurious but within reach.

Avignon launched just months before pandemic enveloped the world, and Cachuela says it is by far the biggest setback his clinic—and this generation—has faced.

“Looking back, I would not deny that it has caught me by surprise,” he says. “I was in Rome in February 2020! All flights to Asia were cancelled as Italy started to see a spike in cases. I rebooked tickets twice and when I felt really blessed when I got a seat, probably the last FCO-MNL flight at that time. Avignon Clinic QC branch was slated to launch on March 15, 2020.”

Although everything was already prepared, they, of course, had to postpone the opening. The new multimilli­on peso facility remained unused for a few months, and its team felt dishearten­ed. “We are past that event now. We launched Avignon QC in July 2020 with a star-studded event,” Cachuela happily says.

“I can share endlessly about our ordeals with the pandemic but I am keen on sharing what mattered most. It's looking after your employees in the midst of depleting resources,” he says.

No Avignon employee was laid off due to the pandemic, the executive says. “I consider that as one of my achievemen­ts to date. Another is the recognitio­n that we are one of the clinics who has robust safety procedures in place,” he says. “That’s the primary reason why patients still visit us because they feel safe and they can literally sleep like a baby in our suites.”

DEALING WITH CHANGES

Cachuela shares that they redesigned their clinics to make it safe for their clients and employees. This included modifying company protocols and tweaking a few steps in their procedures.

“We put a premium on the safety of the clients and staff, and we implemente­d safety protocols that’s compliant to IATF guidelines,” he says. “We limited the number of people entering each day by pre-screening their clients via phone call. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also provided not just to the staff but to the clients as well.”

(The Avignon PPE, by the way, was designed by Rajo Laurel, bearing in mind government­mandated health and safety standards.)

Apart from baseline measures such as thermal scans, Avignon had each suite sanitized with UVC sterilizer­s and air purifiers. “All the suites are installed with negative exhaust ventilatio­n. Sterilizat­ion is performed after every patient visit. For common areas like the lobby and wash rooms, sterilizat­ion and anti-virus fogging is done periodical­ly,” Cachuela shares.

What helped them be agile to these chances? Cachuela says it was through constant and consistent communicat­ion with their team, which also strengthen­ed their bond with each other.

“Me and the rest of the leadership team did what a ‘good shepherd’ should do,” he shares. “We secured their tenure and ensured that there is a job waiting for them once we reopen.”

They continued to support the staff through coaching, especially those who were experienci­ng “battle anxiety” and a loss of confidence because of the current situation.

They also offered salary loans to augment the staff’s daily needs, and even sent groceries. “I personally delivered these to their doorsteps. We administer flu vaccines and regularly tested them. And to break the monotony in the clinic we conduct regular R&R to keep them engaged,” he says.

“Most importantl­y, around 90 percent of the Avignon frontline team is fully vaccinated. This is an initiative which we tagged as urgent and thankfully it was accomplish­ed ahead of time. The next step is to vaccinate the immediate family members of the staff by Q3,” Cachuela adds.

GIVING YOU A BOOST

But, in the middle of a pandemic, what place does the aesthetics industry have in the larger scheme of things?

“Some might see aesthetics as nonessenti­al during this time. The world that we knew is far from recognizab­le, we were kept at home for prolonged periods, we don’t see our friends, we can’t even shake hands anymore,” Cachuela explains gracefully. “The rising number of cases also adds to our anxiety while the fatalities are starting to be our first degree acquaintan­ces or family.”

All this can take a toll on how we look, he continues. “I’m sure that you have seen friends in the past months and you were startled how much they have changed, well at least their skin and aging process,” Cachuela says. “Avignon can help you delay those signs and even bring you back to prepandemi­c levels.”

Cachuela also wants to underscore the role of aesthetics in terms of self-appreciati­on. “When you look at the mirror and feel satisfied with what you see, these is a great sense of confidence and fulfillmen­t that it’s not bad after all. And then you can resume zooming endlessly and partying virtually,” he says.

“As they say, look good, feel great.”

RISING TOGETHER

The pandemic has flatlined many companies and businesses, sidelined whole industries, and set aside long-term plans. While many can’t see an end in sight, Cachuela remains adamant that we will all get back on our feet.

“When we get through this—and we will get through this—the aesthetic arena will be the first one to benefit from the surge,” he predicts. “I imagine people getting ‘revenge facials’ and really try to cope with the time lost. Avignon and the rest of the clinics will just to keep our heads above the water, [although that’s] easier said than done I know.”

He says the industry needs to evolve to stay relevant, which is what they’re doing at Avignon. It's not just about giving clear and wrinkle-free skin.

“It’s a synergisti­c journey to overall wellness, the use of world class and tech driven facilities to your advantage, the presentati­on of your space as safe and secured, the expertise of the staff and doctors and the vision of the leaders driving growth,” he says.

On a personal level, Cachuela remains vigilant in taking care of himself by taking vitamins and drips, eating nutritious food, maintainin­g social distancing, always wearing a mask and shield, and staying at home as much as possible. He looks forward to the day that he can travel again with family and friends, and to study in the UK to get more certificat­ion as an aesthetic expert or coach.

But until those better days come, Cachuela’s passion for making Filipino confidentl­y beautiful remains always at the ready.

“We wanted to generate more jobs and opportunit­es for our country men, and be part of the actualizat­ion of their goals”

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