Rissa Mananquil-Trillo’s Happy Skin story goes beyond succeeding in business

Rissa Mananquil-Trillo is known as the woman behind local beauty brand Happy Skin. Established in 2013 at a time when imported brands ruled the Philippine cosmetics industry, Rissa and her team sought to change this by becoming a brand that’s competent both in quality and innovation. In that aspect, they’re proud to say they succeeded.

But Rissa’s journey into becoming a successful businesswoman isn’t one-dimensional. There were many layers that contributed to her becoming a self-made woman, and this is what we talked about in our interview with Rissa herself regarding her book, Read My Lips, which delved deep into her personal thoughts rather than just her business insights. Read on to see how she managed to balance her time, her thoughts on the local beauty industry, and her advice to those who also want to be lady bosses.

Explain to us the writing process. How were you able to juggle your already existing responsibilities with writing a book?

I grabbed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, even if I knew I was still finishing my Executive MBA degree. It was a crazy thing to do. But what was crazier was when one of my professors suggested to make the book my capstone (thesis). It has never been done in AIM’s history.

I actually never told the book team and publisher that the book was also my thesis because I didn’t want it to influence anything they needed to make the book a success on their end. I only told them on the day the entire book was ready to be printed.

I would only 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 my husband, Paolo Trillo, would fetch me even when I would finish early in the morning. During the last stretch of the book, Paolo was so supportive and wanted me to finish already, so he booked me in a small boutique hotel just so I could write in isolation!

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. Ultimately, I think It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s most important to you and spending as much quality time as you can for whatever that is. For me, it’s Paolo and our three kids—Enzo, Celestia, and Audra.

So we got a glimpse of your book and was surprised to see that it wasn’t all about your business. It also tackled beauty standards and one’s identity on social media. What made you decide to include them in the book?

Being in the business of beauty, it was inevitable to touch on important beauty conversations such as beauty standards, self-worth, and the pressure of social media. More than that, surviving in entrepreneurship requires not just business skills but also values you hold on to—a strong kind of beauty that embraces even the intangibles. In an era where personal and professional lines are blurred, principles will be tested, and the most important thing an entrepreneur can have is a strong sense of self.

You’ve been in the local beauty industry for a long time now, what were the biggest changes you’ve noticed?

I am proud to see that there is so much love for homegrown Filipino brands today. It’s become social currency to wear something from a local brand or from a local designer that not many people know about. It’s an exciting time because 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 and paved the way for so many homegrown cosmetics brands entering the market today. It’s great that consumers are being given access to so many different options because this was not the case as early as five years ago. And even though some of these new brands are our competitors, we take the perspective that having them around also makes us better—they keep us on our toes and encourage us to keep our consumer hat on all the time, always thinking of innovative, creative ways to address the beauty concerns of Filipinas.

You said one of the reasons you started the brand was that you saw the need in the market for products that specifically cater to Filipinas. Why do you think it took so long for a Filipina-centric brand to be established? And how do you think your products empower Filipino women?

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 percent of our population uses cosmetics compared to 40 percent in China or 85 percent 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.

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.

Did you ever experience any challenges as a woman in business?

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 what they can do because they see women who have come before them actually paving the way.

If you could only give one piece of advice to millennials who want to start their own business, what would it be?

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. Go for it while you’re young! 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.

As an entrepreneur, model, author, and all the hats you’ve worn so far—what would you say is the greatest learning you have at this point in your life?

Always go for what you are passionate about—something that is aligned with your heart, your values, what you care about and what you believe in. When you pursue something that is most connected to who you are, whether as a hobby or profession, you ultimately become happier and more beautiful.

Photo by Koji Arboleda for Nolisoli.ph
Styled by Vince Crisostomo
Hair by Cats Del Rosario
Makeup by Chuchie Ledesma

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