MANILA, Philippines -- In a gasping economy where even big companies have resorted to mass layoffs to revive their flat-line state, it would be the height of folly to quit a stable job and plunge into a new business venture.
But 29-year-old Frances Lacuesta, former customer service representative of a US-based remittance company, did just that.
An avid fan of organic products, Frances discovered Human Nature and decided to turn her interests into, well, bigger interests.
Vendor with a cause
?I believe in the products and their cause,? said Frances, who will fly back to her hometown in Iloilo to become a full-time distributor of Human Nature. ?I felt it?s worth losing my job and starting from scratch.?
Human Nature is a branch of the award-winning Gawad Kalinga that produces a wide range of affordable organic body care products made in the Philippines.
It was launched by Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto, daughters of Gawad Kalinga founder and former Inquirer Filipino of the Year winner Tony Meloto, on Nov. 26, 2008.
?For over a year before starting Human Nature, my sister, Anna, and I were trying to find quality organic products,? Camille said. ?It was just a huge disappointment that they were all very expensive. It was almost a sin to buy them.?
Anna shared that her passion for the environment blossomed with her first baby in 2005. She and her husband Dylan, who was once among the top 10 richest men in London, chose to use cloth diapers after reading that it takes 500 years for disposable diapers to biodegrade, and that many of the chemicals in them are toxic.
Frances knew the benefits of using organics even before Human Nature.
?In late 2007, I tried using organic products during my few months in the United States because commercial ones didn?t work for me,? Frances said. ?But the price was very expensive.?
Fruits and vegetables that are used as ingredients for organics are 100-percent natural and are grown without using chemicals and pesticides. That is why organic products may need to be milled or processed separately, thus becoming more expensive.
To cut the costs of their organic products, Anna and Camille made a decision to greatly reduce profit margins. That way, people could get into distributorship without needing big start-up capitals. Also, the fact that the Melotos dealt directly with farmers, cutting out the middleman, further reduced costs.
?Right now, our ingredients come only from Filipino organic farmers,? Anna said, describing their produce to be at par with international standards. ?Through our partnership with Gawad Kalinga, we hope that soon there will be hundreds of world-class community organic farms in the Philippines, providing livelihood for thousands of our poorest people.?
And this was what Dan Bercasio, 33, a full-time Gawad Kalinga coordinator, admired about Human Nature. Being a distributor in Bicol, he believed that Human Nature would dramatically change the business environment of this country.
?It is a business that looks at the poor not just as beneficiaries of charity but as business partners,? Dan said. ?With Human Nature, you could be an environmentalist without being elitist. You could be patriotic and remain ordinary. Human Nature is more than an organic products company because it will challenge a lot of hardened mainstream mind-sets.?
Dan isn?t the only one who is creating a ripple in the provinces. In Southern Mindanao, Richard Villanueva, 42, is also distributing Human Nature products.
?I was impressed by the packaging and the sweet scent of fruits,? Richard said. ?When I found out that the products are 100-percent organic, I was really floored.?
Now, two months after he started selling, Richard is amazed by customers? feedback.
?Our hands were full even before the Davao City launch last March 7. Our customers were surprised by the affordability and quality of the products,? he said.
Online, the products are starting to make waves, too.
Kira Mae Ramirez, 27, started selling Human Nature on her Multiply account. Business has started to look up that she now plans to put up a distribution center.
And it seems that everyone is joining the bandwagon, hoping to hang on to something that can tide them through the tough times while helping local farmers and the environment at the same time.
Catherine Lopez, 34, is one of Kira?s customers?who later became a distributor.
?I am six months pregnant now and I don?t have any stretch marks because I regularly use the body butter,? she said. ?And when I asked my doctor, she said the product is safe for me because all the ingredients are natural.?
Julia Cristina de Borja, 26, is also distributing Human Nature while working full-time in a landscape architectural firm as job captain.
Julia has always been an advocate of green lifestyle.
?There are so many new things and new options [for] a green lifestyle,? she said. ?With Human Nature, Filipinos are given the opportunity to take a step to going green.?
And as Frances has declared: ?You can earn and support a cause at the same time. Who said you can?t hit two birds with one stone??