BEAUTY products are often considered individually beneficial as they are intended to make one look and feel good. But certain brands take it a step further and help others as well. With the season of giving in full swing, purchases from two Filipina-owned beauty and skincare brands in the United States support causes back in the Philippines, from feeding school children to supporting mothers in need postpartum.
The story: With $3,000 of her own money and mixing and packing products by hand, Stefanie Walmsley started Prim Botanicals from her New York apartment as a passion project. Today going four years strong, Prim Botanicals is now sold at all U.S. Anthropologie stores, certain natural beauty storefronts, and online on its website. Each month, the company sets aside an amount to donate to Philippine-based organizations, but customers can also add an extra donation while checking out.
“Whatever free time I had, I would play around and study all kinds of essential oils and got really lost in it,” the Filipina American founder recently told the Asian Journal. “It was a great outlet.” Walmsley had been working in TV and film as an actress and producer (one project she produced, “God of Love,” won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 2011) and was experimenting with ingredients, many of which came from her native Philippines to treat her various skin concerns.
“The more I owned my story as a Filipina from the Philippines and reflected that in Prim’s products and branding, the more attention the brand got,” she said. “I wasn’t just another brand — I was a brand with a real identity, story and full culture behind it.”
The offerings: Prim Botanicals offers products predominately using Philippine-found ingredients that can be used on hair, lips, body and face. Prices range from $12 to $60. Her first concoction was a Face Oil that took a year to create and then was sent to different women to test out and provide feedback. It’s now one of the signature brand products using cold pressed sea buckthorn, black cumin seed, wild moringa from the Philippines, Polynesian tamanu and African marula to address inflammation and blotchy skin. There’s also the Hair Oil that has Virgin Coconut Oil from the Philippines, camellia, moringa, marula, and black seed; the Debauchery Detox Body Scrub using Activated Charcoal, Philippine Barako Coffee, Hawaiian Black Lava Salt; Aura Mists to energize you; and CBD-infused products from gummies to honey sticks.
“The question I ask myself each time is, ‘Is something that I confidently feel is better than whatever else on the market?’ ‘What could I sell that I would buy and confidently get my friends to buy it?’ But I also need stuff that’s affordable. Trust my gut, know my customer and know what I would like to see and so far, that formula has been working really well,” she said.
Not so proper: The product formulas at the beginning used a lot of evening primrose oil so the brand name is a play on that ingredient, as well as Walmsley liking “how nice and clean the name sounded,” she said. “But we’re not so prim and proper…and we try to highlight all of that in our copy. It’s a brand effort to keep the writing accessible, snarky and more tongue-in-cheek. With everything that I do with Prim, I want to take away any sense of intimidation and make the language like if a friend is talking to you.”
Embracing womanhood: With Prim Botanicals’ products, Walmsley wanted to bottle the excitement a woman gets in the moment before she uses a product. Each product is not meant to be mindlessly used. “It’s not meant to be a prissy brand. But I wanted to fill this white space that was decidedly and unapologetically feminine and celebrated womanhood,” she said. “It’s not unisex…I wanted something that felt really feminine and was also clean and something you would keep on your bathroom shelf. I know there are so many products that are hidden behind, I love that a lot of our customers come from seeing a Prim product in someone else’s shower or on their shelf.”
Teaching Pinay beauty rituals: Rooted in the beauty and wellness rituals Walmsley grew up following — whether using coconut oil as a mask or barako coffee as a skin scrub — she said Prim Botanicals is a way to teach others about the ingredients the country is rich in and its resourceful, inventive traditions. In the coming months, expect more basic, day-to-day products from a cleanser to body wash too.
“In 2020, I plan to go harder on wellness as a whole and I’m happy that trend is occurring. Back home in the Philippines, you don’t even think about it. When you get a sunburn, everyone says to put aloe vera. If you have a stomachache, they say to drink ginger tea. These are things we have taken for granted but the rest of the world… I’m very that most of our ingredients come from the Philippines,” Walmsley said. “Younger generations are now paying homage to our roots — I see it in fashion, design. It’s such an exciting time and I’m glad this generation is looking more at our own history and own traditions instead of constantly looking at what the rest of the world is doing.”
On paying it forward: Since 2015, Prim Botanicals has identified several Philippine-based non-profits to give back to, including the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation which builds boats for kids in flood-affected areas so they can get to school and Glory Reborn in Cebu that helps marginalized pregnant women receive medical and childcare support. Walmsley announced that the next non-profit the company will support for the next eight months is Tiny Blessings, which provides food, shelter and basic needs to homeless children in Manila.
“It’s 2019 and there’s so much going on. I don’t think it’s enough to just sell a product for profit anymore. At one point, it was enough that we’re natural and sustainable, and we know where everything is coming from and we’re transparent,” Walmsley said. “Now, those values are pretty common. How else can I give back and what more can I do? Even within the green beauty and natural, organic world, it can start to feel like any other business, especially when these really big companies are getting into the game. For Prim, we give back all year long and I feel really good about that.”
The story: Sara Meredith was a college student at University College London when she heard Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto delivering a talk about alleviating poverty in the Philippines and building social enterprises toward that goal. She soon took on a three-year internship with the Filipino organization’s Europe chapter and spent time on GK’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan.
“That was my first introduction into a social business, the idea that the business model did good, rather than it being an afterthought,” the half-Filipina, half-British entrepreneur said in a recent interview. “What I originally thought of as a business doing good or charity was giving a percentage of the profit. It made me think how your sourcing and business model have a true impact.”
DIY: Her experience with Gawad Kalinga — coupled with her childhood of making products with her mom and noticing how there were hardly any Filipino-owned coconut brands in the market — led her to founding Kaya Essentials in 2017, an organic skincare line using cold-centrifuged coconut oil from a fair trade farm in Davao.
“My mom is a super DIY-er. She would make her own beauty, skincare and a lot of cleaning products at home so I always grew up making organic products. One thing we always did was use coconut oil as a hair mask where we would put the coconut oil all around ourselves from root to tip and we’d leave it for three hours. She would make the coconut oil from scratch, from coconut meat and make it into an oil,” Meredith recalled.
Kaya spirit: Her first products were the calamansi and lemongrass lip balms, using essential oils from a Filipino family-owned business called Casa de Lorenzo. As a part-time commercial model, Meredith would sell the lip balms to people she met on sets.
“I started with the lip balms because those were something everybody could use. My focus was not so narrow. I was looking at it more like, what is something is for every age group, male or female, and is a small way that could do good?” Meredith said. “Starting with calamansi came from wanting to introduce a product that was proudly Filipino so I wanted it to capture the Filipino culture and essence. I always knew the [brand’s] name would have a Filipino affirmation in it. That’s where Kaya comes from.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Meredith makes each product by hand and in small batches. The brand is sold online, at select retailers and special farmer’s markets and pop-ups in LA. Prices range from $5 for balms in seven flavors, $16 for a 2 oz jar of extra virgin coconut oil, and $26 for body balms ranging from calamansi to tea tree flavors. The products don’t contain fragrances nor long, unidentifiable ingredients.
“I wanted it to be minimalist so there are only seven flavors. We don’t do different blends. You know exactly what you’re getting so that puts you more in control of your skincare,” she added.
In the coming months, Kaya Essentials is expanding its line to include clay masks, candles, and limited edition jewelry, which will be made by Filipina artisans through Gawad Kalinga.
One for one: Kaya Essentials uses the ‘one for one’ model, meaning that for every product sold, one school meal is provided to an elementary school student through Gawad Kalinga’s feeding program. This model, Meredith argues, allows more transparency for customers to know the direct recipient of their purchases. To date, the company has fed over 5,000 students.
“People innately want to give back… but there’s a distrust in how much is going and what it’s really helping. With one for one, it’s tangible and transparent because you can imagine what a lunch school meal looks like and everyone knows the importance of education. It’s a small way to give back, but I would argue that it’s big because you’re helping nourish a child who can then continue going to school,” she said.
Meredith will be launching a partnership with No Kid Hungry to bring the giveback model to local LA schools, a way to reflect the “Filipino American experience” of sourcing from the Philippines, yet producing and selling the products here in the U.S. “I felt like it was time the give back really reflected the making of our balms,” she added.
Until Dec. 13, Kaya Essentials is running a promotion that for each body balm purchased, customers can get a free lip balm too. In turn, the brand will donate two school meals for each purchase.
“Purchasing with a purpose, voting with your dollars, and our new tagline in 2020 is ‘small acts of kindness together have a big impact.’ Sometimes when you talk about making a difference or contributing, it can feel overwhelming so I really love the message of even kindness to one another and any little act can make a difference. Just because you’re not some huge corporation making a huge donation doesn’t mean your impact isn’t there. In fact, I would argue that it’s even stronger,” Meredith said.