From modeling and writing a beauty column, Happy Skin co-founder Rissa Mananquil-Trillo created a homegrown makeup brand that she swears by. Read on to find out more about how she got into the beauty business and discover what it’s like building a brand from the ground up.
How did you get your start in business? Was it something you’ve always dreamed of or something that you discovered you wanted to get into later on in life?
My first attempt at business was co-founding Happy Skin back in 2013, but even as a child, you could say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. I sold anything I could create—from my own stories, poems, comics, and newspapers, to woven bracelets and even food—and found customers in my neighbors, family members, and friends.
As I grew older, and the more time I clocked in the beauty industry as a model and a beauty columnist, it became a dream of mine to create my own makeup line. Not just the kind that attaches my name on the packaging, but the kind that allows me to be hands-on with creating, formulating, and testing everything from the start. Through Happy Skin, I was able to create products I can swear my life on.
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There comes a point in your life where you start measuring wealth not in money but in time and freedom. Time is a currency. The only thing more precious than time is who we spend it on. Every time I’m at work, that actually means I’m saying no to spending time with my family. That’s why I really value productivity and efficiency. Balancing responsibilities for my business and being a hands-on mom is so much easier with my Samsung Note 9 with big data powered by @livesmart. #SmartNote9 #SmartGigaX
What was your background before getting into business? Why did you choose to get into the beauty industry?
I graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a Management degree and took up post-graduate courses on Strategic Brand Management and Marketing Distribution Management at the Asian Institute of Management. I also served the Professional Models Association of the Philippines for five years as president. With so much exposure and experience in the beauty industry, it was natural for me to start a business where my roots were. Happy Skin stemmed from a very personal pain point. Even with 15 years as a model and beauty columnist, I hadn’t come across a single makeup brand that would care for my skin and also celebrate Filipina beauty. So I thought, why not create one?
What were challenges or setbacks in the beginning? How did you overcome them?
When Happy Skin was created in 2013, it was also a challenge to share a beauty brand in an environment where the word “local” was yet to be embraced by consumers. Six years ago, foreign brands comprised 90% of the Philippine makeup industry. This was a figure we wanted to change by competing with the best in terms of quality and innovation—and we did. 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.
I am proud to see that there is so much love for homegrown Filipino brands today. More people have pride in local talent, and I would like to think Happy Skin contributed to this change in culture from prizing what’s imported to genuinely loving what’s local.
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In a generation where everyone wishes to have their own makeup line, it’s still so important to intentionally want your makeup line to be a reminder of what is good. And that’s what I love about Kathryn Bernardo. Beyond making women look pretty and feel confident, @bernardokath understands that makeup can also empower and remind people of what really matters. Deemed the voice of her generation, especially after how her talk influenced the youth at the Youth Sustainable Goals Summit last year organized by the United Nations, there’s no better or bigger voice for today’s generation than Kath Bernardo. . This is why for the #KathxHappySkin collection, Kath wanted values and virtues to be the shade names because at the end of the day, it’s the simple things like these that really matter. It goes perfectly with the collection which embraces a new breed of women who understand that even with makeup on, beauty should be natural and simple. . Authenticity. Wonder. Courage. Spunk. Freedom. Love. These are just some of the words Kath herself chose. I remember how Authenticity was so important to her when we were creating the shade names. “A lot of girls nowadays are scared to show who they are because of society,” she said. And unlike most makeup products which possibly come from existing pegs and products, shade names are more special because they are unique and never inspired by anything else but the collaborator. The #KathxHappySkin collection is a reminder of the effortless beauty of Kath and her personal values too. . I’m excited for you all to know Kath more through every color and word! There’s really nothing more beautiful than a pretty woman backed with a kind heart. No one ever asked her or told her to do so but she chooses to raise awareness, speak up, or do a small act for what she is passionate about. . With less, she is really more.
The biggest barrier for Filipinas when it comes to using makeup is the worry that it will cause them to break out. This was a fear we wanted to allay, and in order to break this barrier to entry, Happy Skin was designed to be makeup that cares for the skin. 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.
Was it difficult to come up with a homegrown brand that could compete with all the other brands already in the market—local or global? What do you think sets your brand apart?
In addition to our unique and inimitable product proposition and our passion for innovation, Happy Skin also has consumer-first mindset. Our consumers are our core, our heartbeat, and part of our DNA. They keep our perspective fresh and ever-evolving, and motivate us to always offer the best.
What made you obtain an Executive MBA from AIM? What do you think are the advantages of taking up further studies if you’re looking into starting a business?
Graduating with an Executive MBA degree from AIM last December opened up my world in immeasurable ways, even beyond business. After 20 months through the rigorous program, I can say that pursuing post-graduate studies has been one of the most rewarding moments of my life. I didn’t just learn from the most brilliant minds who share the same values—I also gained lifelong friends in the process.
For anyone looking to start their own business, it’s essential to have a student mentality. It’s both empowering and humbling to believe that you always have room to grow and learn, and that there is always something new to know. You don’t necessarily need to pursue an MBA, although I would recommend it from personal experience, but you always need to be educating yourself. Education, whether you receive it inside the four walls of a classroom or through life’s many lessons, is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.
How do you manage your time between business and personal life? Do you ever find yourself having to sacrifice one for the other? What are your non-negotiables?
Yes, of course. They say that when you’re a mother who works, you are always thinking about your family while you’re working, but when you’re with your family, you also can’t help but think about work. This is true and it causes a lot of moms, me included, to feel a little guilty. I think it’s important for moms to accept that we cannot be in two places at once and to be two people at once, and when we’ve embraced that, to be fully committed to spending as much time to what matters most to us. For me, that’s my family. If a business engagement gets in the way of one of my children’s milestones or an occasion that’s important to my husband, it’s the former that I will try to adjust. I’m also very lucky to have Paolo, my husband, be very understanding of my role as an entrepreneur. Because of him, I am also able to fulfill my roles as a wife and a mother.
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Haven’t been on my phone as much so I can embrace every minute of being with my family for the holidays. If there’s one thing I noticed different, people here were hardly on their phones. Even if the lines to the rides were long, they chatted with family and friends and savoured conversations. During the parade, all eyes were on the show with hands and arms around family, not on their phones. . I loved how the people here were a reminder of what mattered. When you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back. To be present is really the best present.❤️ #trillotravels #mychefenzo #celestiatrillo #audratrillo
What’s the best thing about owning your own business? On the other hand, what’s the not-so good thing about it?
You have the luxury of managing your time. But since the business is yours, even when you’re not physically working, the business is on your mind 24/7. Entrepreneurs find it difficult to shut their minds off. The reality is, entrepreneurship is an exhausting journey that can eat up your time and energy, both mentally and physically. That’s why if you’re always working on and thinking about your business, you can—and should—delegate.
If you could give 3 tips to someone who wants to start their own business, what would those be?
Pursue your passions in whatever you decide to do. The result will always be different, but you’ll never look back with regret. Starting your own business will never be easy and passion is like the raft that keeps you from sinking and giving up when you don’t have much else left to go on. Above all, remember that profit is no longer the measure of success, but if you are solving the big problems of the world. Never compromise your values and know how to give back.
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If there was any secret super power I wish I had, it would be the ability to teleport. If only I could close my eyes, imagine where I could be and be there in a blink, I would save so much precious time away from traffic, waiting, and lining up—and that time can instead be devoted to the more important things in life. . That’s why when I heard that the @INGPhilippines app allows you to deposit cheques by just taking a pic, I was floored! Whether I’m working at the office, spending time with my family, having dinner with good friends, or even just enjoying a pamper day, I can just pick up my mobile phone beside me, snap a photo of the cheque, and finish the task no matter where I am. It’s really impressive how @INGPhilippines truly embraces being an all-digital, completely branchless bank. Innovations like these from them afford you convenience, better quality of life and work-life balance, and the most irreplaceable and priceless of all—time. You can always make more money but can’t make more time. #LiveUninterrupted #INGPhilippines . ?: @sheilacatilo
Can you share more about how your book with Summit Books, Read My Lips, came about? What do you want readers to take away from it?
I’ve always had a passion for reading and writing, and I never imagined I would one day get to write my own book. 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, and I just knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I wrote Read My Lips for 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 them about my own learnings and sacrifices, and if what they read can help them forge a path that’s more fruitful and maybe even less painful than mine, then I would consider it an honor to have been able to be part of their journey.
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My heart is so full—getting messages everyday from those who bought Read My Lips!❤️ Sharing nine special things you never knew about the book! . 1) I didn’t want my face on the cover but @summit.books felt otherwise on what would be best. (Thank you Lisa Gokongwei & @myrzasison!) Since it was never the original cover concept, we did a last minute cover shoot a few days before the final turnover! . 2) I did my own makeup using @happyskin_ph for everything we shot in the book. Special shout out to @studiofixbyalexcarbonell for my easy to style cut & color! . 3) The offer to write a book came as early as 2017 and I started working on the outline. Summit Books said they always wanted a “Rissa Mananquil Trillo business book” and the idea was verified in a meeting with @xandraramos & @nationalbookstore. . 4) I grabbed the once-in-a-lifetime chance even if I was still finishing my EMBA degree. Crazy, I know. But it was crazier when one of my professors suggested to make the book my capstone/thesis! It has never been done in AIM’s history. You’ll see a photo with my super supportive EMBA classmates—even the AIM President came to the launch! . 5) I never told the book team & publisher that the book was also my thesis—I didn’t want it to influence anything they needed to do to make the book a success on their end. I only told them the day the entire book was ready to be printed. . 6) I got to write at night after leaving the Happy Skin office, after my EMBA class, or during the weekends. I would go to the AIM library to write and @paolotrillo would fetch me even late at night. . 7) During the last stretch of the book, Paolo was so supportive & wanted me to finish already, so he booked me in a boutique hotel just so I could write in isolation! . 8) During the book signing, it was funny when @dochayden approached the table with 20 books! I’m sure everyone lined up wanted to faint! I signed 2 books first so people wouldn’t wait. The rest I signed when the line finished. . 9) Still so overwhelmed—155 attendees and 201 books sold during the launch in NBS Shangri-la Mall!We were supposed to finish 6pm but extended until 7pm to finish signing everyone’s books. #PleaseReadMyLips
Who do you look up to when it comes to business?
There are many, from National Book Store’s Nanay Coring Ramos 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.