Long before argan oil from Morocco, tamanu oil from Hawaii, henna oil from India and cammelia seed oil from Japan became all the rage in the beauty industry, makers in the Philippines were already harnessing natural ingredient.
Coconut oil and kalamansi (Philippine lime) was used to soothe irritated skin after a day spent outside in the tropical heat, condition silky-smooth locks and everything in between.
Aloe vera was sliced up to heal burns and prevent hair loss. Papaya was harnessed for its special ability to even out blemishes.
And you’d have been hard-pressed to find a Filipino’s bathroom cabinet without a trusty bottle of gugo (a forest vine plant), always on hand to help keep hair thick and glossy.
These Manila-based Filipino entrepreneurs have rediscovered these indigenous natural ingredients and – with the help of modern techniques – are transforming them into a range of products that put chemical-loaded drugstore varieties to shame.
Four years ago, Tyffannie Short, the founder of One Earth Organics, was just another single mother with an office job who had big dreams about owning her own business. Her first attempt? Selling a chemical-based face cream online. After two months and relative success, though, she started getting cystic pimples from using the very product she was selling.
“My skin had become so thin. Even with minimal sun exposure, I felt like it was burning,” she recalls. She quickly dropped the business, but didn’t quit looking for ideas. “I knew there had to be something else that produced the same results, but that was organic and natural, so I got really curious.” Obsessed is more like it, as Short wholeheartedly dove into research about different plant-based ingredients and skincare formulations. “I was like an instant dermatologist!” she laughs.
But it was ultimately her self-consciousness with her unevenly colored underarms that sparked her first product.
“It was my biggest problem, so I focused on making something to address it,” Short says. She sunk the $735 she had in the bank – which was supposed to be her son’s tuition fees for the following school year – into raw materials and containers, and solicited help from a chemist friend who also owned a facility. This gamble birthed One Earth Organics’ Underarm Therapy Set, a phenomenally successful product that remains a bestseller to this day.
Short harnessed the power of social media to push her product on various platforms, and also started selling at bazaars. Within six months, she had built up a solid client base that sent positive feedback and even offered to be distributors.
There are currently 30 products under the One Earth Organics brand, all of which are produced from organic ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Even our preservative is derived from coconut oil,” she adds. Her key ingredients – coconut oil, aloe vera, moringa and papaya – are all sourced from farmers she trusts.
Looking at Short now, it might be hard to believe she ever had any insecurities. Aside from her successful business, she’s also a triathlete and trains in muay thai, all while caring for her 16-year-old son, who she had when she was just 18. “I didn’t have a high school degree, but I had to work. I told myself, ‘Nothing will hinder me from giving my son the best environment or the brightest future he can have.’ So, I believed in myself,” she says. “I just believed and believed.”
Mary Jane Tan-Ong
An advocate for the organic farming movement in the Philippines, Rosalina Tan – Mary Jane Tan-Ong’s mother – couldn’t resist helping farmers in need, particularly those from the Bicol region that’s known for its pili trees. While more popular as a snack, the pili nut yields another even more lucrative prize: its oil.
“My mother kept on buying pili oil from farmers, who told her it was what they used for skin ailments or as a massage oil,” Tan-Ong recounts. “Before I knew it, she had already filled an entire warehouse with the stuff! I had to step in and tell her, ‘Wait, stop. We have to find a way to make this sustainable.’”
Her mother had started making soaps and lotions in their backyard, and eventually partnered with a team from University of the Philippines-Los Baños to develop lipsticks, lotions and essential oils. After the pair exhibited their products at the Manila FAME Expo, Tan-Ong realized their business’s enormous potential.
“Visitors from Europe and the United States started asking about the oil, and someone even came to my office making serious inquiries about the lipsticks,” she says, adding that their email inbox was also flooded with enquiries. “We really had to do something. Pili is something to be proud of – we had to show the world what it’s about.”
After boosting their research and production, Tan-Ong developed a luxury skincare line for the US market called Pili Ani (meaning “pili harvest”). Launched this July, it’s a gorgeously packaged set of serums and creams that rival similar bespoke products from Europe. “Our product is comparable to argan, but argan doesn’t have the firming abilities that pili does,” Tan-Ong explains.
While Mary Jane builds the business, her mother continues to work with farmers through the government-initiated Philippine Pili Group. “She also holds seminars so the farmers know not to abuse the trees,” Tan-Ong says. “We purchase the sap or resin at a premium and stress that this is their livelihood – that it can give them a chance at a better life.”
Indeed, social entrepreneurship and giving back to the community are part of the foundation of Tan-Ong’s business philosophy – values that she credits her mother with instilling in her.