“Why do you have to mention Filipino and not just organic coconut skincare?” “That’s not popular to do for a reason, and I think you should learn from what works” “The craze of coconut has passed, you should focus on another hero ingredient.”
These are just some of the criticisms and “feedback” I’ve received through the years. I’m not going to lie, pre-launch, I was nervous if my vision was just a dream that made sense to me. But through the years of growing slowly & organically, I’m even more fueled to fight this colonial mindset I believe these comments are rooted in.
In pre-launch and starting Kaya Essentials, so many people didn’t believe in coconut oil as a hero ingredient. I was new to this world of marketing and strategy, hero ingredient? I studied what this meant methodically. I understand it’s the “secret sauce” for a product, what makes this particular balm stand out from the rest. I was confused, I for sure believed I had a hero ingredient. But after studying how the media markets Asian ingredients, I noticed there was a sole focus on the nutritional make-up of the particular ingredient. And don’t get me wrong, of course it’s super important - I want each and every ingredient in the formulas of all products I use to serve a purpose.
But, I couldn’t help but notice that the story-telling with these ingredients, at times, were rooted in a colonial mindset. It seems the only interest in Asian beauty ingredients was if it served as a “hero” ingredient for a product. Like, the power of turmeric for that golden glow, or the growth of the K-Beauty space. This is all good and deserves its own space — but what about spotlighting where these ingredients come from? For example, turmeric is rooted in ayurveda and is traditionally used as a face mask for a bride before an Indian wedding. After living in India for a couple of years, I knew the cultural significance this held. These ingredients have a very special and unique meaning for the different communities they originate from. And of course, there is overlap, and there is a beauty in that as well. For me, coconut oil was my first introduction to beauty as a young girl from my Mom, and I know this is the same for so many of my fellow WOC community out there.
I’d love to see more of what the food space has done with story-telling for beauty. There is a focus on the nutritional benefits of ingredients and the different recipes you can work this into, but we also have such a strong yearn to learn what these ingredients mean for the local culture of where it is sourced from. We focus on how is it traditionally prepared? Is this different between city-to-city? Has it changed over time? When it comes to consuming these local flavors, we yearn for authenticity and see the magic of mom & pop restaurants. A small-batch Filipino skincare business? Well, that’s your mom & pop local restaurant around the corner too.
Another piece of feedback I would get repeatedly and still to this day — is to use the connection of East meets West in my story-telling. I understood where this was coming from, our main ingredient is sourced from the Philippines, and handmade in LA. And I’m very proud to be a small business owner in LA. There is such a big entrepreneurial community and it’s a city that encourages you to dream big. My issue with this narrative is it also gives space to “western technology” being used to better the natural ingredients found in Asia. With coconut oil, this also couldn’t be further from the truth. The Philippines dominates the coconut oil being used in the beauty market and this is because of the way it is processed. Centrifuged is a spinning process that separates the coconut meat and oil using no heat. But, taking something from Asia and bettering it with western technology - how does that not echo colonial times?
As it relates to East meet West, I’ve also noticed there’s a strong exoticism being painted in this narrative. I’ve also been given the advice to tell this story with sourcing our ingredients. This is usually done in a way where a team has searched the ends of the earth, then discovered this potent magical ingredient. I love the excitement and adventure in building your brand and you definitely feel that part of it. But, what doesn’t sit well with me is when these ‘magical ingredients’ are branded to be exotic. To me, I’ve noticed they are exotic only to the market you plan on selling this product to, but these ingredients have usually been used for decades by the local communities you are sourcing from and serves as a traditional regimen.
I’ve realized there are so many life lessons that come in this entrepreneurial journey. Connecting with your network and taking feedback is important, but there is a balance. It needs to be constructive, and you also need to be aware of the source it is coming from. All the feedback I’ve mentioned above, I understand how they arrived at that perspective. We only know, what we know, you know?
The journey of learning is never ending and many times I realize, oh I never thought about it that way before. And then I dig deeper - how did I form this POV? Is this my own constructed opinion, or something that was just spoken as truth when I was younger? And all of this, takes an incredible amount of vulnerability as well. But, I choose to be in the journey of learning and not perfection. One of my favorite muses, Meghan Markle, shared on a panel: “women don’t need to find a voice, they have a voice, and they need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.” In my journey of decolonizing beauty — I am stepping into listening to my voice more, and creating space for the stories that have been marginalized.
Creating space to share these stories authentically is so important for BIPOC representation, and also as a space for education. With story-telling, we have the ability to bring community together for cultural change, social impact and drives action, that sometimes facts and statistics struggle to do. It is a medium that has been used for centuries to influence and move humanity. Plato recognized this and said “those who tell stories rule society.”
So going back to our hero ingredient — there is the centrifuged process that gives you coconut oil for beauty like no other, but there is also the cultural significance in what coconut oil represents for the Filipino community. And when it comes to consuming coconut skincare, we make sure not only is our ingredient organic, but that we source this ethically and care for the 60% of coconut farmers in the Philippines that live below the poverty line and source from fair trade family farms. We continue to grow our coconut skincare to bring the same belonging, authenticity & magic as your favorite local restaurant and give space to the stories, that aren’t forgotten, or don’t exist, but we just need to be empowered to share them and people need to be encouraged to listen.