Former model strikes gold creating cosmetics for Filipinas
Rissa Mananquil-Trillo is a stunning and inspiring woman – both brilliant and beautiful, and everything you could imagine in a make-up mogul behind the successful local beauty brand, Happy Skin.
She stands tall, with a radiant smile, easy charm and an air of authenticity instantly admired by those who meet her. The former president of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines [PMAP] and mother of three, however, says she hasn’t always felt this confident in her own skin.
Transcending the labels
She remembers a friend’s ex-boyfriend calling her and barkada [friends]in high school “pangit [ugly].”
“In addition, other classmates would make fun of me. They called me ‘negra’ [dark], because I was dark-skinned, and ‘Somalian’ because I was skinny and shapeless. It hurt, but after receiving so many labels, what I did was accept those names and transcend them,” Trillo says, laughing about past incidents. Rising above the insults, she and her friends spun the situation around, embraced the sobriquet and dubbed themselves the “Ugly Duckling Club (UDC).”
As a student, Mananquil-Trillo excelled and displayed a perfectionist streak. She was often on the Dean’s List and a consistent honor student. “I was a complete nerd!” she reveals with a laugh. “Perhaps that’s why my dad wanted me to become a lawyer and my mom [the renowned Philippine Star editor Millet Mananquil]wanted me to become a doctor.”
But beyond the grades, Mananquil-Trillo showed off a multi-faceted personality even as a child. She trained as a ballet dancer for five years at the Philippine Ballet Theater, dreaming of following in the pirouettes of her idol, prima ballerina Liza Macuja. She showed an entrepreneurial bent selling goods and knick-knacks at schools and bazaars, and broke into the modeling world at age 12.
Looking back, she says: “When I was grade 2, I would make woven friendship bracelets and sell them to our neighbors for two pesos. As a teenager, I would set up a stall every summer to sell food to the nearby offices and townhouses. I also loved to read and write, so I wrote my own short stories, poems and comics, and even created my own newspaper to sell to family and friends.”
In all these endeavors, she poured herself wholeheartedly. As a neophyte in the modelling world, she soon became every designer’s coveted muse.
“One of my milestones was when I modelled for United Colors of Benetton as one of the first Filipinos to represent a global campaign that celebrated all forms of beauty,” she says. She walked down the runway and posed for glamorous spreads for the biggest publications and most recognized names in fashion, including the “Queen of Knitwear” Lulu Tan Gan, Rajo Laurel and Rhett Eala among many others.
Her admirable work ethic also landed her the presidency of the Professional Models Association of the Philippine, serving from 2003 to 2008. She later went on to become a Pond’s Ambassador and a beauty columnist for The Philippine STAR.
Mananquil-Trillo, who is by definition the “ultimate over-achiever,” now flexes her muscles as an inspiring entrepreneur and the driving spirit behind Happy Skin, a cosmetics brand that she established in 2013.
Celebrating local beauty
“As a model and beauty columnist who has road-tested countless makeup brands and listens to women’s beauty frustrations, it was always my dream to create my own makeup line that could take good care of skin and wonderfully celebrate Filipina beauty,” she explains. “I didn’t want to merely attach my name to the packaging. I wanted to be hands-on with creating, formulating and testing everything from the start.”
Mananquil-Trillo saw the urgency to create a cosmetics line for Filipinas because not many brands were catering to the very specific needs of Filipina skin. In addition to products that would hold up in humid, tropical weather, Filipinas were looking for make-up that would complement their different complexions and skin tones, and which wouldn’t irritate their skin.
Mananquil-Trillo partnered with Jacq Yuengtian-Guiterrez, whom she first worked with in Pond’s. “We created Happy Skin as a makeup brand that is a fusion of skincare and makeup, which focuses on using skin-caring ingredients so that women’s concerns are addressed.
“At the time of our launch, no brand had actively positioned itself as a dual citizen of skincare and make-up, and that is what differentiates Happy Skin from other makeup brands,” Manaquil-Trillo believes.
It was “all or nothing” for the dynamic duo from the start. “We were both first-time entrepreneurs so failing was not an option for us,” she adds. With their expertise, deep understanding of the Filipina psyche and expert marketing chops, they catapulted Happy Skin, from a fledgling brand into a top-of-mind cosmetics line within a few years.
“Despite the influx of cosmetic brands in the past years, the Philippines remains to be one of the lowest penetrated countries,” says Mananquil-Trillo. “Less than 25 percent of our population uses cosmetics compared with 40 percent in China and 85 percent in Korea. The Philippines is one of the lowest makeup users across the region.” These conditions – along with the influx of foreign beauty brands – have roused excitement in the business landscape of beauty. And Happy Skin is more than willing to fill in the gap.
In hindsight, Mananquil-Trillo is amazed, saying: “We now see the rise of entrepreneurs. Creating a business in an era of social media has empowered so many to chase their dreams and fulfill passions, and for young, local brands to thrive.”
In the digital age, where the movement is kinetic and frenzied, Mananquil-Trillo encourages entrepreneurs to embrace the internet and social digital terrain, which is now vital to any brand’s survival and success. “We started in 2013 with just five counters and now, we have almost 100. Had we entered in the era of TVC and billboards, we wouldn’t have stood a chance. But thanks to social media, our homegrown brand has a voice. Social media has become a great equalizer for all brands, big and small.”
But, Trillo says, no matter how much you put into marketing and advertising, if your product does not meet the standards of quality, it is bound to fail. For a product or brand to have traction, you must always start with a quality product. Precisely why she and her partner make sure every item they launch not only meets their own high expectations but also those of their customers. “A Happy Skin product always has to be three things: innovative, answers a beauty need and promises to care for your skin. From Day One, we aspired to be a global Pinoy brand – proudly homegrown with Filipino minds behind it and committed to offering world-class quality,” says the cosmetics czarina.
For her inspiring work and Happy Skin’s incredible success, Mananquil-Trillo was recently awarded Ernst & Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.
“This win is for every single person in our passionate team – my partners, marketing, product development, operations, HR, finance, admin, warehouse and all the hardworking beauty advisers who man our counters, who share my belief in a beauty make-up product that also takes care of your skin.
She also dedicated the award to her husband, Paolo Trillo. “This award is for him – my supportive pillar of strength who believed in me and my dreams despite the odds. Every triumph was his but every sacrifice I made was his sacrifice, too.”
Mananquil-Trillo shares how she defines success in business. “To me, it’s not about feeling fulfilled because of numbers, but at the end of the day that you’re changing lives of people. I remember when I was in Silicon Valley for a tour and one of the innovation speakers explained the new era of doing business: ‘Profit is no longer the measure of success, but [whether]you are solving problems and changing lives of people.’
“Since then, I’ve taken that to heart. Being an entrepreneur isn’t just about loving what you do, but also adding value to other people’s lives. It’s about purpose. More than being successful, it’s about being significant. Significance means making a contribution to others.
Now with her brand growing exponentially, she is ensuring that she evolves along with it. Her quest for knowledge is very real. “I’m currently taking up my Executive MBA at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). Committing to a 20-month program isn’t the easiest, but I’m a firm believer of continuing education and its value. It’s very important to approach life and business with a student mentality.
What inspired her to take up further education? “First, the pursuit for excellence. Second, the humility that no one can know everything – there is always room to grow and learn.
“As a first-time entrepreneur, I also feel this program will encourage me to be forward-thinking in ways I never imagined. It will further hone business objectives so that there is a good balance of profit and purpose.
For Mananquil-Trillo, “Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.”
LEADING THE WAY
Juggling several roles suchas beauty columnist, entrepreneur and boss, Mananquil-Trillo shares insights that have molded her, hoping these will also mold others to become better leaders and bosses.
- PURSUE HIGHER EDUCATION. I’m currently taking up my Executive MBA at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). I was inspired to pursue my MBA for two reasons. First, for the pursuit for excellence. Second, the humility that no one can know everything – there is always room to grow and learn. Committing to a 20-month program isn’t the easiest, but I’m a firm believer of continuing education and its value.
- LIFE OF A STUDENT. It’s very important to approach life and business with a student mentality. It’s important to me that I approach the work that I do as a continuing education. I’m exposed to brilliant minds in the MBA program and every day I get to learn something new, and this drives me to do more and excel.
- EDUCATION IS KEY. As a first-time entrepreneur, I feel that an MBA will encourage me to be forward-thinking in ways I never imagined. It will further hone business objectives so that there is a good balance of profit and purpose.
- VALUE WHAT MATTERS. I see Happy Skin employees, our biggest assets, as family. Being a leader in a company isn’t just about my growth, but about their growth, too. It’s not just about growing Happy Skin and reaching the goals of the company, but developing them to be the best that they can be. Success is when I can see they are doing amazingly well and are successful in what they want to do. As Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
- LESSONS ON LEADERSHIP. The best leaders are those who possess the following qualities: intelligence, energy, purpose and integrity. Anyone can be a boss or entrepreneur – start a business, make some money – but not everyone gives back or adds value to the lives of people. Leadership is not a position or title. It is about action, purpose, empowerment and changing the future.