A homegrown makeup brand’s office showcases the growth of a beauty empire

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The multi-awarded homegrown makeup brand Happy Skin champions world-class quality and promotes the value of hands-on collaboration with their headquarters. Photo by ERWIN CANLAS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) —  There’s a building in San Antonio Village in Pasig that’s stark-white, carrying with it a quiet reverence that’s almost out of place among the residences it flanks. The words “Glory of God” are carved in large script on the front, so at first glance, one might mistake it for a church of some kind. The only detail that’s seemingly out of place would be the wooden double doors, painted a bright teal. But once you see that, there’s no question: You’ve just found the Happy Skin HQ.

The multi-awarded homegrown makeup brand was launched in 2013 with just five counters, a far cry from its current 85, not counting the five boutiques it has opened. Founded by model and columnist Rissa Mananquil-Trillo and Jacqe Yuengtian-Gutierrez, who headed brand development under Unilever, Happy Skin quickly established itself as more than a local alternative for international beauty favorites with its eye-catching packaging, as well as tongue-in-cheek product names like “Shut Up and Kiss Me” for moisturizing lipsticks and “Eye Am Here To Stay” for heavy-duty eyeliner.

_69A9483.jpg Co-founder of Happy Skin Rissa Mananquil-Trillo never quite saw herself working in a typical workplace and instead valued comfort and inspiration. “Being a model and beauty columnist for so many years, I was never confined to a typical office setting,” she says. Photo by ERWIN CANLAS  

The thing that sets Happy Skin apart, however, is right there in its name: Mananquil-Trillo and Yuengtian-Gutierrez have made it a point to create fuss-free beauty products that acknowledge that skincare is still the number one priority. The makeup is infused with skin-friendly ingredients like cherry blossom, hyaluronic acid, Japanese tea leaf, and argan oil. Other times, harmful ingredients are removed, as is the case with the non-silicone foundation.

“To me, it’s simple,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “Good makeup should be easy to use, be good for your skin, and make you feel more beautiful.” Happy Skin aims to address the worry of breaking out that comes with using cosmetics. “We’re firm believers in good skincare, and we don’t like compromising our skin because of the makeup we use.”

Mananquil-Trillo and Yuengtian-Gutierrez are based in different cities and travel constantly, which requires them to work on their brand mostly online and on the go. It took them almost two years to get a real office. In May 2015, they opened Happy Skin headquarters.

Happy-Skin-1.jpg For the makers of Happy Skin, skincare is still the number one priority. The makeup is infused with skin-friendly ingredients like cherry blossom, hyaluronic acid, Japanese tea leaf, and argan oil. Photo by ERWIN CANLAS

“Our office is actually just a stone’s throw away from my own house, so it’s really like a second home,” Mananquil-Trillo says. A graduate of BS Management from Ateneo de Manila University, she never quite saw herself working in a typical workplace and instead valued comfort and inspiration. “Being a model and beauty columnist for so many years, I was never confined to a typical office setting.”

Stepping into Happy Skin's office is stepping right inside the very essence of Happy Skin itself. The pair tapped Heim Interiors, furniture store Heima’s interior design arm, to bring to life elements of the brand’s packaging in its office’s very walls. “Every corner is intentionally picture-pretty so that the space multi-tasks as a venue for photo and video shoots,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “Great lighting and eye-catching areas make it ideal for shooting social media content, too.”

The office is divided into five sections. There’s the receiving area, which greets guests with a giant gold Happy Skin logo above a pink sofa. It’s surrounded by what the company calls its “Beauty Museum,” which showcases every product it has come out with and all the awards the brand has received — basically a Happy Skin fan’s dream come true. For Mananquil-Trillo, this serves to remind her that “Filipinos can dream and aspire to create brands that are globally competitive.”

_69A9470.jpg “To me, it’s simple,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “Good makeup should be easy to use, be good for your skin, and make you feel more beautiful.” Photo by ERWIN CANLAS

There’s also the conference room, which is the site of meetings and brainstorming sessions, and the marketing cove, where the marketing and graphic design team typically take care of business and creative matters. The two rooms are located on either side of the receiving area, divided only by a turquoise lattice wall and sheer curtains to create an open office environment, which, according to Mananquil-Trillo, is important for a start-up company. Just outside the marketing cove is the founders’ area, where Yuengtian-Gutierrez and Mananquil-Trillo work. “It makes work faster, easier, and more collaborative,” says the latter. “It’s so much easier to communicate with one another. The bright lights and open space also allow the marketing and graphic design team to conduct mini-shoots.”

When the office was conceptualized, Yuengtian-Gutierrez and Mananquil-Trillo prioritized the aspect of productivity. “Photo opportunities weren’t the only thing on our checklist when we were building the office,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “What’s important and conducive to being productive at work is loving the space you’re in. You’re visually stimulated when you come in each day. The ambience is creative but at the same time the office is relaxed, making it very conducive to churning out new ideas and creating products.”

_69A9499.jpg The Happy Skin office has a large makeup boudoir with cabinets and shelves containing every Happy Skin product imaginable. This is where the founders test and evaluate their prototypes. Photo by ERWIN CANLAS

In the middle of it all is a makeup boudoir not unlike the ones found in the brand’s kiosks and boutiques, all lit up with circular bulbs around the mirror and surrounded by high chairs for easy preening and primping. This one, however, is larger, with more cabinets and shelves containing every Happy Skin product imaginable. “With the huge mirror and beauty lights,” Mananquil-Trillo explains, “this is where we all come together to test and evaluate prototypes using both natural light and studio light, making product assessment more comprehensive. This is where we share giggles, selfies, and bond over makeup, too!”

Accessories from L’Indochine adorn the space: pillows trimmed with pom-poms, bird-themed wall art, wooden trays, and intricate vases. According to Mananquil-Trillo, these make her place of work feel like home. “[The pieces complement] the interiors without making it look cluttered.” She says that she never gets tired of seeing her office, which she adds is important to her as an entrepreneur. Everything is pastel-perfect, and the chairs come in various hues: “Naturally, our office had to exude the brand’s colors of teal and pink.”

Happy-Skin-2.jpg “What’s important and conducive to being productive at work is loving the space you’re in. You’re visually stimulated when you come in each day," says Mananquil-Trillo. "The ambience is creative but at the same time the office is relaxed, making it very conducive to churning out new ideas and creating products.” Photo by ERWIN CANLAS  

A typical day at Happy Skin HQ is spent holding meetings, which can sometimes last all day. The team also tests prototypes, checks sales, and holds brainstorming sessions for more innovative products, marketing campaigns, and design and packaging. “Every month, we make it a point to bond as a team over activities like Pilates, yoga, dinner, and watching movies together,” Mananquil-Trillo explains. She admits that the brand is “ambitious, driven towards excellence, and fast-paced with a high volume of work.” However, she believes that it’s important to balance work and leisure, “because we know we are at our best professionally and realize our full potential when we are well rested and know how to devote time to matters important to us.”

Happy Skin’s drive toward collaboration and teamwork has opened up avenues for joining forces with the likes of Kris Aquino, Liz Uy, Preview Magazine, Plains & Prints, Pond’s, Beauty Bar, and Heart Evangelista for special-edition products. Most recently, Happy Skin worked with makeup artists Juan Sarte, Denise Go-Ochoa, Mickey See, and Jigs Mayuga for its “Glam Squad” line. “These collaborations are one of the things that set the brand apart,” Mananquil-Trillo says. “The people we work with are very hands-on and involved in creating the product.”

Mananquil-Trillo attributes the setbacks of launching Happy Skin to the tendency of Filipinos to prefer international products. “It was a challenge creating a beauty brand in an environment where the word ‘local’ [had yet] to be embraced by consumers attracted to anything imported,’” she explains. “But we wanted to change this. 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.” The result are products that, she says, are pro-Filipino not only when it comes to complexion but also when it comes to value.

_69A9514.jpg The Happy Skin headquarters has a conference room, which is the site of meetings and brainstorming sessions, and the marketing cove, where the marketing and graphic design team typically take care of business and creative matters. Photo by ERWIN CANLAS  

The women took their roles as entrepreneurs very seriously and even went beyond their duties. “We ourselves would get down and dirty to pack the products, deliver display units, set up in the stores, wipe shelves clean, train the beauty advisors, and even station ourselves at the different counters personally selling to customers.” They weren’t just the founders — they were “kargadors, delivery boys, salesgirls, and all.”

When she’s able to, she still exerts major effort in reaching out to Happy Skin’s customers, whether it’s on social media or in person through store and counter visits. “What fulfills me the most is seeing how the products we created from scratch make other women feel good about themselves,” she says.“It’s so rewarding when customers tell me how Happy Skin has made them feel more confident and more beautiful. It’s really fulfilling to be in the business of making women feel happy.”