Pandemic turns homemaker into ‘clean beauty’ entrepreneur
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on Maria Pia Paz Francisco-Sy.
Not only did the global health crisis make her more conscious about her health and the value of leading a more environment-friendly lifestyle, but it also made her take the leap from her familiar world as a dedicated homemaker for some 25 years into the unknown life of an entrepreneur.
The 57-year-old Sy ventured into the world of business in July 2020 when she put up For Keeps Clean Beauty with Ana Kamila Niguidula of Body Food All Natural.
She was inspired to establish the brand at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 after reading about the Clean Beauty Movement, a philosophy born in the United States and Europe that espoused, among others, the use of natural and safe ingredients in personal care products.
It was a response to scientific studies showing that many commercially made personal care and beauty products contained ingredients that build up inside the body over time, causing allergies and illnesses and heightening risks of certain cancers.
The realization that Filipinos were likewise at risk from these potentially harmful ingredients in the products that they regularly consume galvanized Sy into action, driven by the desire to introduce to the Philippine market a line of “readily accessible, authentic and reliable” products that are true to the “clean beauty” philosophy, which means that the products only contain safe and non-toxic ingredients but nevertheless still do the job.
The birth of a partnership
Sy then reached out to Niguidula since she has had more than 20 years of experience creating personal care and skincare products. Over a number of online meetings, they discovered a lot of similarities in terms of values, mission and vision. Thus they did not hesitate to join forces and establish Pura Beauty Inc., producer of the growing For Keeps beauty and personal care line.
Their first challenge was to look for a toll manufacturer accredited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would accept their specific method of manufacturing products that required more time and manpower.
The soap bases, for example, are produced using the cold process method and then needed to be cured for at least 40 days before they are blended and packaged. The tedious, lengthy process did not appeal to most toll manufacturers they approached. Indeed, it took them a year and a half to find the right FDA toll manufacturer that embraced their process and respected their method.
Then Sy also had to go through her own transition from being a full-time homemaker to an entrepreneur running her own company.
But she was buoyed by the fact that her three children are now adults aged 22 to 28 and leading their own lives, thus freeing her to explore other fields.
Plus, she has all the support she needs from her husband, Jun, who is a respected entrepreneur as well, with interests in several fields including the food and beverage sector through the popular Pardon My French and One World Deli, among others.
“I would get so physically and mentally exhausted as I had to wear several hats to achieve certain goals and I get involved to the smallest detail, just like what I would do as a mother raising her child,” shares Sy.
Niguidula, meanwhile, had to learn to handle pre-production on a much bigger scale as her personal brand Body Food All Natural’s output was much smaller compared to the For Keeps line.
This includes hand sanitizers and hand and body bar soaps and washes made with premium cold-pressed virgin coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil with a blend of pure essential oils, water and pili kernel oil.
Their continuing challenge today is to find packaging for their products that are truly environment-friendly in keeping with their philosophy.
“We have identified fully biodegradable bioplastics, but the cost at this stage would make our final product beyond the price reach of the Filipino consumer. So as an interim solution, we are promoting our sustainability program where our customers can reuse our sturdy PET bottles and buy our one-liter size refills,” she says.
Also, For Keeps partnered with key retailers to collect the used soap boxes and PET bottles that are, in turn, donated to sustainability partners such as The Plastic Flamingo, My Basurero and Green Antz for conversion into construction and household materials.
Another challenge is to continue developing products that are “100-percent clean” as they have committed. Doing so, however, has been a slow process as it is difficult to find the right ingredients with too many preservatives that they need failing to meet their clean beauty standards.
The partners, however, are not about to compromise and this commitment to their philosophy has resonated with retailers such as Kultura, which has become a platform for sustainable products, according to Kultura president Ivy Yap.
“By educating customers about the importance of sustainability and providing easy access to mindfully-crafted merchandise, we aim to promote behavior changes in our customers and move them to lead more eco-conscious lifestyles. We hope our efforts inspire other businesses and lead to the adoption of more eco-friendly practices in the retail industry and ultimately contribute to a more sustainable future for the country,” says Yap.
For Keeps also made it to the SM Store’s Green Finds, a line of products deemed environment-friendly and given a special space inside the SM Stores.
“Due to the wide reach of SM Stores, being part of this prestigious list allows us to be accessible to a growing number of consumers all over the Philippines who are starting to appreciate and embrace clean products,” Sy says.
Sy adds that the acceptance and the growing loyalty among customers have made all their efforts worthwhile and likewise encouraged them to dream bigger dreams, including expanding to shampoo and lotion lines, exporting their products and also organizing an annual sustainability event centering on the philosophies of clean living and an environment-conscious lifestyle.
For them, the COVID-19 pandemic may have waned, but the focus on health and wellness is here to stay and For Keeps will be there to help others get on the same journey toward kinder and better living.