This is part of a series of profiles on a new generation of leaders, thinkers, creators, innovators, and trailblazers across many fields in the country. The list is drawn under the theme “What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next” in celebration of Manila Bulletin’s 121st anniversary as an exponent of Philippine progress.
Bryan Lim: Officially in charge of the future
Along with his sisters Christine and Suyen, Bryan Lim is the successor to what his parents Virgilio and Nenita Lim and his uncle Ben Chan set up as a small shirt shop in 1987, the now iconic Bench, under Suyen Corporation, which has since become a diversified empire of food, fashion, furniture, grooming, and lifestyle brands, both homegrown and flown in from across the world.
Bryan started in product development for Bench’s underwear section. As we know, Bench is not an overnight success, catapulted to the top, as it has been, reaching as far as the US, the Middle East, and China, by a series of small leaps, during which Suyen pioneered many breakthroughs, including high-concept activation events and celebrity endorsements. As vice president for business development, Bryan is officially tasked to manage its future.
But the future is no abstract, esoteric concept at Suyen, whose track record is not merely shaped by it. The family, with Bryan directly in charge of development and the future, has helped shape the future as well.
Even now, when most people would describe the future as unrecognizable, hard to predict, the family is drawing from the same “adaptable, multi-faced, and enterprising spirit that put up Suyen in 1987,” with the full faith that the same spirit will keep it going well into the future.
And yet, the self-effacing Bryan is clear that there is no future without the past. “The setbacks due to the pandemic have challenged us in ways we would not have known how to face if not for our learnings in 2020,” he says. “The pandemic definitely accelerated the shift to online. While we were already present online even before Covid-19, 2020 was the year we focused on enhancing our customer experience, digital purchasing, and fulfillment. It was also the year of strategic partnerships and recognizing the relationships we have built throughout the years.”
So how has 2020, now relegated to history, changed the future according to Bryan. “The shift toward safe and local, I think, will stay in the post-pandemic era. Increasing focus on safety and buying local will become long-term habits,” he says. “Driving unique in-store experiences has become even more critical. Safety and having an adaptive workplace, as well as having an effective e-commerce site, is crucial. With regards to consumer behavior, safety, value for money, and love local will be the new normal post-pandemic.” (AA Patawaran)
Dina Arroyo-Tantoco: The future of luxury
The fashion retail sector has weathered the devastating economic effects of the ongoing crisis by offering its customers a much varied shopping experience. At the core of the high-end experience is the personal and attention-to-detail touch, which extends to the very definition of the business of luxury. Rustan’s Department Store has shown what it’s like to pivot to providing an advanced personalized online retail environment to its ever discerning clientele.
“We started off the year with gratitude. We are thankful that our customers shopped with us, and thankful that, at Rustan’s, we all worked together to find ways to reach our customers,” says Dina Arroyo-Tantoco, marketing and communications head of Rustan’s Department Store. “We learned a lot in 2020, and we plan on taking those learnings into this year and turning them into opportunities to be a source of happiness, hope, and joy to our customers. Whether it is through the new experiences we will create with our customers, the items we have to offer, or the service we provide, we want our customers to know that they can shop with confidence when shopping at Rustan’s.”
During the Christmas season, Rustan’s showcased its many timely innovations, including a Personal Shop on Call Service, an online catalog available via its website, a gift registry service, free of charge doorstep delivery, and its signature gift-wrapping service. As much as people enjoyed the ease of e-commerce, the luxury retailer has remained steadfast in providing the most prized experience for any shopper: shopping with confidence.
“Shopping with confidence for us is about safety and security while shopping. It is about confidence in the service you will receive. It is about confidence in the quality and authenticity of the brands and products you bring home,” she says to Manila Bulletin. “On a personal note, I am also looking forward to what 2021 will bring. I am cautiously courageous. I am looking forward to new experiences in local adventures, culinary adventures, and shopping adventures.”
Indeed, the future of luxury looks bright with retailers focusing on providing more experiences to its consumers—an opportunity boosted during this pandemic. (Rey R. Ilagan)
Jacques Christophe Branellec: Toward a sustainable future
Heir apparent to French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec who, out of the South Sea pearl endemic to Palawan, co-founded the Jewelmer brand with Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco in 1979, Jacques Christophe Branellec is now, along with his sister Marion Branellec de Guzman, fully a custodian of this rare Philippine treasure.
As executive vice president and CEO at Jewelmer, he has it on his back to power through the pandemic, even as, besides the pearl business, whose presence now spans over 15 countries, Jacques is into many other things. He is especially devoted to his work in environmental conservation, for which he has been bestowed with the title captain of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary 402nd Squadron. He is also a pilot, a saxophonist, husband to designer Mia Arcenas-Branellec, and father to one.
The pandemic is no joke to Jacques—“I feel like in the span of one year I have emotionally and psychologically learned and grown more than I could have in 10 years,” he jokes—but if nothing else it has taught him to be grateful. “Every day presents an opportunity,” he says. “The recent events have served as an accelerator for trends on how and what people purchase, how we spend our free time, how we work, how we interact. There are pros and cons to this acceleration and changes.”
For Jacques, the past year has been a practice of gratitude. “Life’s biggest blessings are really in the simplest of things,” he says. “We have come to realize that every action or inaction is a conscious decision with consequences or reward. The year 2020 has given us a rare moment in history where, as humans, we have been given time to pause, reflect, and evolve.”
Of all the changes, Jacques is most happy about witnessing the world become more environmentally and socially aware. “People see more importance in sustainability and social and environmental responsibility, which have always been part of Jewelmer’s core principles since we began to pioneer the creation of the golden South Sea pearl,” he explains, adding that the brand has built a name for itself synonymous with quality, sustainability, creativity, rarity, and design. “As more seek to make a difference, we are excited to see a future where more people will pledge their support for a sustainable world.” (AA Patawaran)
Amina Aranaz Alunan: Uniting the local fashion industry
Fashion has been branded a non-essential in times of a global pandemic or any other natural disaster. But given the response of the local industry in uplifting the many facets of society either by helping produce protective gear for frontliners, such as personal protective equipment and reusable face masks, or launching multiple donation drives to provide fresh clothes for displaced residents of flooded areas in the country, fashion has proven itself of essence. Given the state the world is in at the moment, many designers are taking it upon themselves to find the silver lining to tailor fit into a new future for fashion.
One such move was to call for unity in these perilous times. This, in turn, further helped the industry reevaluate its whole design process for the new normal. “We have a responsibility to everyone in the industry,” says Fashion and Design Council of the Philippines (FDCP) president Amina Aranaz Alunan. “That is why we cannot allow the industry to die. We need to work together and unite to rebuild. That is why I am part of a group that has started the Philippine Fashion Coalition, an alliance of all sectors of fashion professionals.”
With the coalition in place, the goal is to create a roadmap for growth and recovery in support of all of its member associations, including designers, manufactures, artisans, freelancers, retailers, fashion event companies, makeup artists, and many more. Philippine fashion consists mainly of SMEs and freelancers, making the need for an umbrella organization to advocate for its welfare even more pressing. Under Amina’s leadership in driving support for local artisans and communities, the local fashion industry aids nation-building with culture and heritage through craftsmanship. (Rey R. Ilagan)
Denice Sy-Munez: ‘Don’t give up and have faith.’
Denice Sy-Munez flew back home to Manila to work for the family business, Ever Bilena Cosmetics Inc. (EBCI), within the same year that she graduated from Haas School of Business in UC Berkeley in May 2014. She started out as a key accounts supervisor. “I handled a chain of convenience stores. My workload and breadth of responsibility gradually increased as my immediate superiors saw my potential,” says Denice who has grown into her current role as chief sales and marketing officer.
The year 2020 was supposedly an exciting year for EBCI with three new brand launches, Hello Glow, Ever Organics, and Spotlight Cosmetics. Denice just came back from a nationwide roadshow for Hello Glow when the lockdown was announced. The team stayed home and worked around the limitations. Denice recalls, “When we realized that the pandemic wasn’t
going to go away anytime soon, we decided to mobilize management to prepare for the worst.”
There was much to be done when they went back to work in May. Denice personally delivered stocks to the stores. “I wanted to be an example to our sales and logistics team that it was time to get back on track,” she explains.
But this was just the start of the many hurdles they had to face. “Let’s be honest, makeup is the least of everyone’s priorities when everyone’s face is covered in mask and shield. Unfortunately, it’s our core business,” says Denice. To compensate for the loss of sales, EBCI has been expanding its skincare product lines. They have also been working on their distribution channels.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t be seeing makeup products from EBCI. “We are still releasing a lot of new color cosmetics products this year, as well as offering generous promotions, to excite our customers and remind them to take care of themselves,” beams Denice. “Because looking better can really boost our internal morale at a time when anxiety can easily creep in.”
Leading the company through a pandemic can take a toll on anyone, and Denice is grateful that her dad Dioceldo Sy has been guiding her throughout this crisis. “He has been extremely involved in brainstorming and implementing strategies. We consult him about our executions, and constantly align with Dad regarding our ever-changing plans and programs,” Denice says. “Don’t give up and have faith.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Cristalle Belo-Pitt: ‘We were ready.’
Soon after college, Cristalle Belo-Pitt worked as a preschool teacher in Malay Malay, Bukidnon for one year, under the Jesuit Volunteers Program. Earning P3,500 a month, she had to budget her salary well. “If I wanted to eat at Jollibee, that would be my whole meal for the day,” she muses.
She came home to Manila and enrolled in a pre-med course so that she could move up to med school, but she realized that this was not for her. “I’m not interested in medicine, so I told my mom I would build her dream—a soap that would be available to the mass consumers,” says Cristalle, sharing an anecdote about the cashiers and the waitresses wishing they had affordable products they could try. “My mom’s vision was to make the Philippines the most beautiful country in the world, one person at a time. And that’s when I put up Intelligent Skin Care Incorporated (ISCI) in 2007.”
Cristalle’s team, in hindsight, had prepared for the pandemic. “We felt we were ready,” says the managing director. Before the quarantine, Wednesday was their work-from-home day. Also, they set up their e-commerce business three years ago.
The challenges they faced were more inventory-related with factories closing temporarily due to infections or even permanently. “The demand for our products was there, but in terms of keeping up with the demand, that’s where we kind of had a hard time. We had three months to adjust and eventually got to a service level of almost 100 percent starting in July or August.”
But they also suffered losses. Their Belo Sun Expert line was one of their bestsellers, but summer didn’t happen. “Some were overstocked, while some were understocked. But overall, the ones in demand made up for those that weren’t in demand in 2020,” intimates Cristalle.
She also credits her staff for guiding the company through this crisis. “I have a very strong management team that’s able to inspire and organize everyone to thrive in the pandemic. Our human resource department also made sure our team stayed motivated and connected.”
“In fact, we are making WFH a core strength of the company. We are saving costs. We are moving offices and making it smaller. Only those who are needed in the office will report,” beams Cristalle. (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Christine Tiu: Making gold
When new grads Christine Tiu and her partner Danielle Tan started Amami three years ago, all they wanted was to give new life to a traditional jewelry making process that’s been relegated to the cobwebs of Filipino history.
The very few artisans who practiced the creation of gold filigree tambourine jewelry have all but set down their tools, discouraged by the lack of interest on this pre-colonial art, which started even before the Spaniards conquered the Philippines.
The plateros of the islands have been making this intricate art for centuries, but in modern-day Philippines, those who spent laborious hours perfecting this exacting technique, which involves melting blocks of gold or silver and repeatedly hammering them until they become fine and delicate, and then shaping them by hand to form delicate lace-like patterns, were met with remarks like “baduy” and “pang-lola.”
Serendipity led Christine and Danielle to one of the last plateros, who was about to leave the country, just in the nick of time. They begged him to stay, finish a few pieces to prove that they could sell the gold filigree (which they did initially among friends and family), and then used their business degrees to shine the spotlight on their jewelry. Three years later, the duo has successfully grown Amami—the artisan stayed, and is now joined by 20 others.
Aside from reintroducing filigree to Filipinos, and encouraging the artisans about the economic viability of this art form, Christine says her greatest joy is to see the plateros earning money from the business.
“One artisan was able to pay for his child’s tuition for the first time on his own,” she says. “A female artisan we support shares she no longer has to wait for her husband to send money from abroad.” The duo is proudest, however, of the year-long project of a worker who realized his dream to finish his home this year, a goal they’d had since day one. “Through our work, we hope to continue to create opportunities for social and economic empowerment, especially in rural areas, while at the same time preserving our country’s cultural heritage,” Christine adds. “On a broader scale, we also hope to change the narrative imposed on us in the past by colonial powers by honoring our ancestors and providing an avenue to reconnect with our roots and identity through jewelry.” (Krizette Chu)
Chris Nick: The future is bright
Old Hollywood glamour, Parisian, romantic silhouettes, and a jet-black palette. These are the trademark aesthetics of Chris Nick delos Reyes, a budding fashion designer and creative director of studio Chris Nick. While fairly new to the industry, Chris is already a resounding name in the Philippine fashion world. His style exudes simple elegance, power, and confidence, inspired by iconic muses Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe. Chris’ collections have been featured in Style Fest, Manila Fashion Fest, and MEGA Fashion Week, among others. The School and Fashion and Arts (SoFa) graduate is concerned over fashion being muted amid the quarantine, but the optimist in him looks forward to seeing glamour again.
“A great deal of uncertainty flooded my thoughts earlier in 2020 but I have a positive outlook on the future of fashion and my brand,” he explains before expounding that he has four new collections coming up in 2021, to be released digitally. “Sure, having a live show is a totally different experience but with everything happening, going digital is a great alternative as it can reach a wider market.”
His studio Chris Nick has always had online store options for the convenience of the client, even before the pandemic. This time around, Chris has decided to add personal shopping and online consultations, which he and his team have done for most of their international clients. “Our challenge is to improve the online experience for our clients,” he says, “to make it as seamless as if they were at my studio.”
His works in the near future will involve “glamour in classic silhouettes, a fresher, more modern take on the glamour we know that’s more in line with the times. Something to excite us again and something to look forward to,” he reveals. Chris Nick took up export management at College of Saint Benilde before deciding to pursue a life in fashion design, but beyond fashion he hopes for a more solid nation. For Chris, the previous year brought so much into light, giving him ample time to reflect on himself about what’s important in life. (Jules Vivas)
Joyce Mäkitalo: ‘The new world will be the same, still beautiful’
Jewelry, judging from her works, is to Joyce Mäkitalo a storytelling device. Hers are always pieces that glimmer with myths, legends, folklore, philosophy. The jeweler’s first for 2021, a collection she calls “Memento,” meaning souvenir, has been inspired by the crippling challenges of last year, yet it beams with hope representing what she considers “the true essentials in life—courage, faith in and surrender to God, and belief in divine magic and luck.”
Enamored of mysticism, Joyce has great respect for the unseen forces of the universe. A Dragon Scorpio, she is stimulated by mystery, empowered not so much by dreams but by dreaming, and inspired by transcendental objects. Her work is a wearable reminder of the interlocking of many forces that govern our impulses and behavior.
“It’s easy to make grim predictions and it takes more effort to hope, but it’s hope that pushes us to positive action,” says Joyce when asked about what’s next. “I’d like to think that we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel with recent developments—medical breakthroughs and news of countries and cities like Shanghai, Sweden, and New Zealand overcoming this tribulation. Our lack of freedom has given many of us a new sense of appreciation for each other and the world. The soul’s natural state is happiness, and the pandemic has taught us to sift through the mud of fear to find what truly makes us happy.”
Even this positive state of mind is a tale told in “Memento,” which she pieced together late last year while looking forward to the beginning of a whole new year that, through the lens of her many self-realizations having undergone 10 months of anxiety and isolation, stretches out with the possibility of better things.
“In the field of design, things can only get better,” Joyce beams. “Many brands learned to contract during the toughest times of last year and are starting to expand again. Some creatives behind brands that folded had the courage to explore new passions, opening new doors for themselves. We are now armed with various lessons on resiliency—on what works and what doesn’t, and on what matters most to our consumers and to us as creatives. The new world will be the same, still turning, still beautiful.” (AA Patawaran)
Jacqe Y. Gutierrez: ‘It’s time to synergize’
Having worked at Unilever Philippines and Southeast Asia, Jacqe Y. Gutierrez had a lot to say about the beauty industry. In early 2010s, she realized that there was no “masstige” (combination of words “mass” and “prestige”) local makeup brand that could offer premium, covetable
products at a budget-friendly price.
Years of research and successful but tedious product development have convinced this entrepreneur that it was time. In October 2013, Jacqe launched Happy Skin with Rissa Mananquil Trillo, her co-founder. After a few years, she launched BLK with partner Anne Curtis and K-beauty skincare line, Seoul White Korea.
In less than eight years, this mom-of-two has brought the three brands to great heights. Jacqe also received awards including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Injap Sia Young Entrepreneur Award 2020 and Asia CEO Awards Circle of Excellence Young Leader of the Year
But the pandemic has forced this CEO to take a step back. All three brands are sharing resources now. “Our Happy Skin operations director took on the role of the warehouse supervisor this ECQ since her team can’t manage it from home. This kind of openness and willingness to work are instrumental to us small companies to thrive in this crisis. I think this period also helped us realize we need to synergize so we can save our resources,” says Jacqe.
The employees are also like family. They’ve found ways to think outside the box and help their staff keep their jobs. “We launched ‘Happy Skin Curated’ where we ask our beauty advisors to do one-on-one consultation with potential buyers. This has given us a very surprisingly high conversion rate. For BLK, we launched our resellers program for both local and international, we have received thousands of inquiries, and we are gearing up to jumpstart this program. We’ve also pursued our launch for Seoul White Korea Whip Soap during this quarantine.”
Their employees also feel how much they are valued and want to give back. Jacqe adds, “At the heart of everything we’re doing, it’s important to give credit to all our employees who are still very passionate about their jobs. We are only thriving because they continue to give their 110 percent despite the work from home setup. They don’t really ask for any recognition but continue to do their jobs amid this crisis.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Len Cabili: Self Power
To forecast what’s next, a glimpse of the past is a must for cultural workers. It is all about embedding the ancient stories into new vessels for them. After all, the prime purpose of looking back is to make sure that those stories will be passed on in the future, never to be forgotten. For Len Cabili, it is through the brand Filip + Inna that she ensures that modern Filipinos don’t just know these tales, but wear them with pride, even during a pandemic.
“It is important to look back and find the stories that define us,” she says. “Integrating culture in our work creates authenticity. In the world of fashion where globalization has given birth to accessibility, we somehow tend to look monotonous. We need something from way deep inside us to come out to produce something true to ourselves.”
Working during the pandemic brought a fair share of peace and challenges in Cabili’s life. While she and her family had gone through health battles in the past year, it also offered them a time for healing. During those moments at home, she also rediscovered how much she loved the creative process of designing, something she missed when she was focused on the rat race.
“When there are too many things happening at the same time, there is a tendency to not appreciate the whole process you go through when you design or create,” Cabili says. “It made me think of how to change for the better. Moving forward, it is very crucial to maintain that habit of having enough time for work, rest, and other things.”
As for the future, Cabili aims to further champion Filipino fashion and artisans, whether through adapting to digitalization or her personal initiatives for the betterment of her partners, such as the Artisan and the Bahay Kubo programs.
As memorialized in a favorite quote by Martin Scorsese, “The most personal is the most creative,” Cabili and Filip + Inna promise to continue designing the most personal items Filipinos will wear with the help of the country’s indigenous groups. “I’ve been very fascinated with self power, how culture is a self power for countries,” she says. “I think the Philippines should fully utilize culture as its self power. It is something that needs to be part of our lives.” (John Roland Legaspi)
Sabina Gonzalez: Beau idéal
Sabina Gonzalez first made a splash in the fashion scene at the age of 19, when she walked down the runway with an oomph reminiscent of Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, her mother, a leading figure in the age of the supermodels.
The eldest and only girl of Tweetie and her husband Ramon Gonzalez’s brood of four, Sabina intimates having inherited professionalism, hard work, kindness, respect, attention to detail, and strength of character from her mom, whom she looks up to as a model figure, adding that “while there’s always room for learning, the most basic of lessons remain… I always carry with me the significance of respect for myself, for others, and for the work.” And while she has made a name for herself in fashion, the young headturner makes it a point to help her mother with trunk shows for Tweetie’s eponymous accessory brand TDLG.
“There’s so much that’s changed,” says the Architecture graduate of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (CSB), referring to the local fashion scene, and to life in general. “What’s clear to everyone is the change of format, and how we now produce and consume work. There’s certainly another layer to the job due to social media, which is a given, but the implications of such are endless,” she explains.
Sabina reveals that there is more variety in terms of the kinds of models there are now, making representations for the diversity of personality, sexuality, and gender preferences that in this modern world are now duly acknowledged—a major breakthrough for the industry and the culture.
“There’s much to be said about how those in the [fashion] industry can flex their creative muscles at a time like this. Extending beyond what was initially expected of us, models are now quite often tasked to ‘shoot’ themselves at home, do their own makeup, create content,” says Sabina, who also mentions that there are more crossover projects and collaborations. “It’s interesting to see how designers and brands adjust to the current climate, and how models fit into all of these as well,” she beams. “Moving forward, everyone will continue to explore new, creative, unconventional ways to showcase work, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.” (Jules Vivas)
Dominique Castelano: Transpinay Power
Dominique Castelano is having her moment. In August last year, the transgender Filipina model, who is now based in New York, was launched as the face of Marc Jacobs’ campaign for his gender-free collection, her beautiful face plastered on giant billboards in the US.
She’s also appeared in campaigns for Thom Browne, Milly, and recently became the first openly Transpinay to appear in an advertisement for Maybelline. She tells Manila Bulletin, “It has been an incredible honor, a major step in the right direction for the LGBTQIA+ youth who, like me, have been able to explore their gender identity through the medium of makeup.” Dominique has also done commercial work with Bare Minerals, Nars, Clairol, Glossier, Girlfriend, Nike, R&Co, and Oribe.
Now that she has a bigger platform to use, Dominique is using her voice to champion the rights of transgenders and minorities. “Representation helps LGBTQIA+ youth in not just accepting but also truly loving their identity,” she says. “So, to be able to be that representation is an honor and a privilege.” Dominique looks up to #transcestor Geena Rocero, whom she has had an opportunity to travel with to Washington DC in 2019 for the very first National Transgender Visibility March. “I’m striving to continue the work of the folks who came before me,” she says.
As for most transwomen, and most minorities, it had not been very easy for Dominique to break into New York’s modeling scene. “We are still not seeing enough trans and Asian models represented in the industry—I am more than likely always the only Asian person on set and definitely the only trans-Southeast Asian person,” she says.
She wants to assure young Filipina transwomen that they are normal. “It is ok to reject and question the gender assigned to you at birth. Your interests and social life may not fit with society’s expectation of you. This is ok! Your strong sense of identity is valid and perfectly normal,” she says. “You may not have any personal connections with any trans and non-binary folks in your life, or have not even seen us on TV or media, but we are here, and we are making our voices heard. Step into the light and follow your gut. It will lead you where you need to be. Always remember you are bound for greater things.” (Krizette Chu)