In many ways, it was a match made in heaven. Top model and beauty columnist Rissa Mananquil-Trillo and marketing maven Jacqe Yuengtian-Gutierrez teamed up to create Happy Skin Cosmetics, a proudly Filipino beauty brand with cheeky product names like Shut Up and Kiss Me and Zit-zapper. (The products, too, are packaged with as much charm.) Using gentle, skin-friendly ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, Japanese tea leaves and collagen, Happy Skin aims to marry makeup and skin care in every single product. Tough to do, but the duo has managed it with ease: from stocking in just five counters when they started a few years ago, Happy Skin can now be found in 75 counters, with a flagship store in Glorietta 3.
Neither of you are strangers to the beauty industry. What did you know about makeup behavior among Filipinas when you were starting out?
Rissa: The Philippines is one of the lowest makeup users across the region. Filipinas are afraid that using cosmetics will ruin their skin. When they see a woman with good skin, they think, “siguro she doesn’t use makeup kaya maganda skin niya.”
Jacqe: I’ve had a lot of training and immersion while I was with Unilever, so I have a pretty good understanding of the beauty industry in terms of both trends and consumer behavior. I know for a fact that cosmetics have a very low penetration in the Philippines, and that 90 percent of Filipinas only use lipstick as their makeup! I felt that we could offer a brand that’s differentiated to finally break that barrier for non-makeup users to finally start using it.
What’s the scope of your responsibilities within the brand?
R: Starting your own business will never be easy, but when you’re passionate about what you do, giving up is not an option. We are an extremely small but very hands-on team, so no task is too small for us. We are not just founders of the brand—we ourselves would get down and dirty to pack the products, deliver display units, set up in the stores, wipe shelves clean, train the beauty advisors, and even station ourselves at the different outlets, personally selling to customers. Yes, we are not just owners but also kargadors, delivery girls, salesgirls and all. We poured blood, sweat, tears and personal savings into this business venture. Happy Skin is a business that is run by a few people, so we’re very much hands-on with everything—it’s really our baby.
Happy Skin is known for formulating products suited for the Filipina complexion. What did you learn about the way Filipina women use makeup, and how did that affect brand strategy?
J: Filipinas are generally more conservative in choosing colors—they go for more nudes and the no-makeup look. But recently, our more vibrant shades are also doing well, so it’s exciting to see filipinas being more adventurous. So we always try to balance trendy new shades with more dependable shades so that we can offer Happy Skin customers more options.
What sort of woman do you have in mind when you envision the Happy Skin user? What does she look for in a beauty product?
R: Happy Skin is for the woman who believes that looking beautiful doesn’t have to be difficult nor damaging to your skin. It’s for the woman who feels she deserves nothing less than makeup that cares for the skin. Yes, looking beautiful no longer has to be a compromise.
R: When we launched, some people asked us why we only had a handful of products. To us, it wasn’t about offering a hundred choices. It was about offering the right products that truly work for women. We’re all tired of having a drawer full of expensive mistakes. We promised ourselves that whatever we launch or release would be the best possible we can give women. The first set of products we released provide the essentials every woman should have in her makeup kit, the building blocks of a good beauty routine and great-looking skin.
You've had a number of notable partnerships, including ones with stylist Liz Uy and Preview. How are these collaborations integral to the Happy Skin philosophy?
J: We believe in pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo—that’s the only way we move forward! So we find the best in other industries, like Liz and Preview, and we pick their brains on product innovations so we can create something different that would amaze Filipinas! Both the Liz and Preview collections are best-sellers! We often get messages from women who are begging for us to release more stocks of Style Icon (Liz’s lipstick) and Hot Stuff (the Preview lippie)!
R: This month is a special month for us because we are launching our collaboration with retail clothing giant Plains & Prints. Husband-and-wife tandem Erickson and Roxanne Farillas were the first to believe in our brand. Having the same goal of making women look pretty, our first five counters found a home in Plains & Prints’ top five stores. This February, we join forces in making women feel beautiful with a special clothing and makeup collection called Prints Made Pretty.
What advice would you give someone who's trying to break into the beauty business here? What should they prepare for?
J: I believe that you always have to go back to your consumer. Keep in mind these three simple tips: create products that will appeal to them, mesmerize them, and delight them. You will never fail in getting their attention if you had them in mind all along. Be a step ahead in your innovations—always ask yourself if your product is differentiated, fulfilling a latent need, and is way better than what is currently in the market. Ensure that your brand identity is consistently brought to life in your entire product line, as that’s what will make your brand more sustainable.
R: It starts with the little things. You have to make the small things unforgettable. Don’t look at competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at competition and say you’ll do it differently. You’ve got to put the hours in to make something great. Do what is right, not what is easy.
*This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Preview Magazine.