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Woman We Love: Rissa Mananquil-Trillo
Rissa Mananquil-Trillo has been a household name for fashion and pop art lovers since the early 2000s. She started modeling even before graduating college for Anonymous, the now-defunct, minimalist shop that sold everything from basic tees to atomizers. There, perched on the walls of the hip store, was Rissa’s face front and center in black and white with barely any makeup on yet looking fresh and beautiful nonetheless. That was the year 2000 and soon after that, she started her magazine and runway modeling career, right when print was just reaching its peak; Rissa was one of the pioneers of local models who became the new generation that followed the senior ‘supers’, along with other notable names. She enjoyed success and a ton of magazine exposure for over a decade before settling down and raising a family. These days, Rissa is the respected girl boss of Happy Skin cosmetics along with her co-founder; both women revolutionizing the local cosmetics scene, creating make-up that’s wearable and kind to the Filipina skin. She is also a published author, Master’s Degree holder and fitness buff whose features barely changed since twenty years ago when she made her modeling debut in-store. Read all about this woman we truly love and admire, whose style remains eternally chic and works splendidly with the latest color (ochre) of our Mini Mini Boite.
Congrats on Happy Skin and congrats on your book! What inspired you to write it?
To be very honest, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would someday write my own book. But when Xandra Ramos-Padilla, the managing director of National Book Store and the granddaughter of its founder, Socorro Ramos, suggested to Summit Books that they publish their first female business book with me, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.
When I think about the “who” my book is written for, it’s really the Filipina. The Pinay who dreams of creating something world-class for her industry, the wife and mom who never runs out of innovative ideas as she tries to find the balance between her work and home, the budding entrepreneur who needs an extra push to pursue her own business. I wanted to candidly speak to these women and help them through their own path by sharing my journey, and all the sacrifices and learning that came with it.
How long have you been exploring business?
Perhaps for as long as I’ve been in the beauty industry. I’ve always wanted to create my own makeup line—something that would care for my skin and also celebrate Filipina beauty. But in my more than 15 years of being a model and a columnist, I hadn’t come across a single brand that could do both, so I thought: Why not create one?
Describe your first experience in business?
Even as a child, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. In addition to selling woven bracelets to my neighbors, family members, and friends, I would also create and write my own stories, poems, comics, and newspapers, and sell those, too. This is also why getting to write my own book is such a dream come true for me!
What made you start Happy Skin?
As a model and beauty columnist, the beauty industry has always been a part of my life. It was this work that gave me the opportunity to road-test countless makeup brands and to listen to women’s many beauty frustrations. Modeling for fifteen years, I’ve had every imaginable makeup brand on my face—and at the peak of my modeling career, I found that my skin was at its worst. I learned that while makeup can instantly prettify you, the biggest beauty woe is still going home with ruined skin. Being a beauty columnist also allowed me to try so many cosmetic and beauty products. There were a lot of amazing brands out there, but none seemed to have the Philippines’ tropical weather and the Filipina skin tone in mind, which normally has yellow to olive undertones.
In spite of having access to so many beauty solutions, I still had not come across a makeup line that would take good care of my skin and also wonderfully celebrate Filipina beauty. In an era where anything imported or foreign was celebrated, it was a risk. As a proud Filipina who is passionate about beauty, it was always my dream to create my own makeup line. Not the kind that merely attaches my name onto the packaging but the kind which would allow me to be hands-on with creating, formulating, and testing everything from the start. With Happy Skin, I really wanted to be able to create products I can swear my life on.
It is a fact that a lot of Filipinas are afraid to use makeup because they're worried it will cause them to break out. This is the biggest barrier women face in trying makeup. With the influx of new cosmetic brands, the global beauty landscape has been very exciting in the past several years, yet the Philippines is still one of the lowest penetrated countries. Less than 25% of our population uses cosmetics compared to 40% in China or 85% in Korea. The Philippines is one of the lowest makeup users across the region.
We wanted to break this barrier to entry, and that is why Happy Skin is all about makeup that cares for the skin. The brand is a fusion of skincare and makeup. Happy Skin satisfies women’s skincare needs by focusing on skin-caring ingredients, addressing these concerns so that they can start enjoying the transforming power of makeup. Women no longer have to compromise their skin because of the makeup they use. At the time of our launch, no brand had actively positioned itself as a dual citizen of skincare and makeup, and this is what differentiates Happy Skin from other makeup brands.
We also intentionally tapped beauty capitals around the world to develop our products. Our bases—foundation, powders & blushes—are all from Japan as they are experts in skin care. Our lippies are from Taiwan because they are able to create highly-pigmented lipsticks that really show a pop of color while moisturizing the lips. Our eyeliners are from Korea—we all know that Koreans are the best when it comes to eye makeup.
I remember when I was in Silicon Valley for a tour, and one of the innovation speakers explained that in this new era of doing business, "Profit is no longer the measure of success. It's solving problems and changing the lives of people." I always took that to heart. Every time I visit Happy Skin stores and I get to talk to our customers, it's so rewarding to hear stories like, "You know what, I never thought I could wear makeup, but now I can because of Happy Skin." I've met brides-to-be shopping for the makeup they'll wear on their special day. We have our beauty advisors telling us that there are customers coming to our stores bringing prescriptions from doctors or gynes because Happy Skin is the recommended product. It’s so fulfilling to hear these personal stories of how Happy Skin has made women feel happier.
What have you learned during the early times about being a businesswoman?
There is never a task too small. When Happy Skin was launched in 2013, it was only the partners who were involved so we had to do every kind of work imaginable, including hauling the very beauty boudoirs where our products would be displayed. But this experience and mindset pays off, because it helps build a culture for future employees to also understand that no task is beneath them.
What is your favorite part of the job? Worst part?
The best part: never running out of new things to learn. The worst: often feeling like you’re never doing enough as a wife, a mom, and as a boss.
What do you think makes a brand work?
Being able to create value for your customer through products and a proposition that’s inimitable. More than ever, it’s been easier to start a business. Social media and the internet are democratizers that have empowered us all to be potential entrepreneurs. Today's generation has the power to create products they are passionate about and put them out in the world. But don't start a business thinking about how it can make you more money. The better mindset is to think of how your business makes people's lives better. Money is a measure of success in business but not a measure of success in life. Success to me isn’t about being fulfilled because of numbers, but about making an impact and changing lives of people. At the end of the day, you don’t have to succeed by killing competition. You succeed by creating value.
In the early days of the business, were there issues about women as leaders of a company? How did you deal with it?
For Happy Skin, thankfully, there were none. We’ve always been proud to be a women-led company.
With the help of my parents, I grew up knowing that with a lot of hard work and the right values, I can become whoever I set my mind to be. That's why even if the entrepreneurial landscape was and still is mostly dominated by men, I never thought twice about becoming a female entrepreneur. I celebrate and honor other women who have also chosen this path because the more women leaders there are in different industries, the more the younger generation of women can see that there is no limit to what they can do because they see women who have come before them actually paving the way.
Were there any female entrepreneurs you looked up to when you were starting your business? Any mentors, too?
There are many, from National Book Store’s Nanay Coring to SM’s Tessie Sy-Coson and Rustan’s Nedy Tantoco. I will never run out of female entrepreneurs to look up to, and I’m glad that I got to interview almost all the women who have impacted my life and my business in my book Read My Lips: What It Takes to Build a World-Class Homegrown Brand.
You’ve talked openly about being a working mom. How do you manage that work-life balance?
When I figure it out, I will let you know! Haha. I think all moms are in search of that balance, whether they are employed by companies, run their own business, or are full-time at home.
I will not admit to having it all figured out because I don't. But I've learned that a woman's secret weapon in juggling numerous roles can be as uncomplicated and simple as having an excellent support system. My husband, Paolo Trillo, is my anchor. His goodness and leadership inspire me every day, and he supports me to the point that he always makes sure I have the time to accomplish whatever I need to do.
Ultimately, we just need figure out what’s most important to us and spending as much quality time as we can for whatever that is. For me, it’s Paolo and our three kids—Enzo, Celestia, and Audra.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be?
Possibly a journalist, writer, or a ballet dancer.
Enumerate the three qualities that got you where you are today.
A constant pursuit of excellence. Resilience. Integrity.
How do you get out of a bad day?
I spend time with my husband, Paolo and my kids. My family is a constant reminder that there’s always something to be grateful for.
What's your top three destinations for a leisure trip?
El Nido in Palawan, anywhere in Japan, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
What is your best achievement so far?
I’m really proud of being able to graduate from my Executive MBA degree last December. I worked on it for nearly two years, while juggling being a wife and a mom of three, running Happy Skin, and writing my business book. It was really tough and it demanded a lot of work but it has been one of my most eye-opening and rewarding experiences.
Best advice you ever received and given? And from/to whom?
I learned this from experience and I share it when someone asks if I have words that I try to live by. In business and in life, it’s important to know what your values are and to stick to them. Always choose to do what is right, even (and especially) when it isn’t easy.
What’s in your beauty kit?
It depends on the size of the bag I’m carrying, but I’m never without a Happy Skin lippie. Lately, I’ve been using our Generation Happy Skin On-the-Go Blush, one of the products we collaborated on with Kathryn Bernardo, as a blush, lippie, and eyeshadow in one.
You made that Disney and Sanrio collaboration happen. What else is in the pipeline for Happy Skin?
More products that put a spotlight on Filipino talent and beauty.
Do you consider yourself to be a Type A person? Why or why not?
Yes, if being Type A means being a stickler for doing things properly and excellently!
SHOOT PRODUCER Anne Bella Arguelles
PHOTOGRAPHER Kurt Alvarez
INTERVIEWS Kat Erro & Anne Bella Arguelles
Shot on location at Happy Skin, SM Aura
Follow Happy Skin on Instagram
Rissa's book "Read My Lips: What It Takes To Build A World-Class Homegrown Brand" is available at all National Book Stores nationwide.