While most people are stuck at home during the pandemic and wondering where 2020 is going, a young social entrepreneur from Laguna has been working on a project inspired by her childhood story of overcoming skin problems.
Maria Concepcion Macalintal, founder of organic soap company Diwatang Maria, returned to the Philippines after studying in Europe and working in Singapore, to create a Filipino brand and promote entrepreneurship.
After tremendous amounts of research in Manila, Milan, and Marseille, she is now head of a growing company. Despite the pandemic, she has been using her project management expertise to create jobs for Filipinos and, soon, will ship her brand to the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries, even the Bahamas.
Leap of faith
The 30-something innovator had enjoyed the posh lifestyle of Asia’s best cities and Europe’s fashion capital when she decided to leave everything behind, and start focusing on creating an internationally competitive beauty brand.
As a child, Macalintal used to have skin issues. Just like most teenagers, she was the object of ridicule of some unscrupulous teeners. First she had white spots on her face, then acne. “Sinabugan ng granada!” a boy would tell her, she said, remembering the painful words, but quickly brushing off the past. Her mother would diligently take her to specialists when she was growing up. When she started slaving away in the corporate world, she experimented on all types of soaps and splurged on popular beauty products.
Macalintal said: “We know that a lot of Filipino consumers prefer imported and popular brands. We can’t blame them since these imported products went through rigorous testing with the aid of technological advancements in the industry.”
She used to be one of those consumers whose buying behavior is influenced by popularity and fad, without considering so much about price or quality or safety. “Before putting up Diwatang Maria, I was one of those who will do everything just to address a skin issue,” she said.
And so, exactly two years ago Macalintal put up a company. She wanted to compete with the best in the market. She wanted to prove that Filipino products are of high standards, safe, sincere, reliable, and good as advertised.
Macalintal, a graduate of the University of the Philippines, used her knowledge and skills in her specialty industry, the global relocation business. She and her colleagues relocate expats around the world. “This is maybe the reason I landed on a job that involves people, in this case, efficient and effective moving of people from different parts of the world,” she shared.
After working in Singapore for five years, she became part of an Erasmus Mundus program by the European Union and received a triple master’s degree in strategic project management in Politenico di Milano in Italy, Heriot Watt University in Scotland, and Umea University in Sweden. It was during her stay in Milan that she figured out what she really wanted to pursue in life.
While studying there, she had a penchant for attending international expositions and events in Europe and noticed that the Philippines was usually not represented or recognized while neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore had their own contingents.
From then on, she made a vow to create something that would proudly represent Filipino craftsmanship and ingenuity. She wanted to venture into agricultural and organic products, but she was still looking for something that would serve Filipinos and Asians.
“In coming out with Diwatang Maria products, I wanted to make sure that it will address the needs of Pinoys when it comes to skincare. In doing so, the products should be giving solutions to skin problems that are unique to Asian skin, especially the Filipinos.
Diwatang Maria, the skincare innovator
With all the inspiration, knowledge, experience and resolve to awaken the “Diwatas” in every Filipino that will not only promote organic skincare and foster nationalism at the same time, Macalintal spent sleepless nights to perfect the products she’s been forming in her mind.
She immediately formed her team of researchers and craftsmen, then tapped the expertise of a respected chemist to help her formulate a product that would cater to the needs of the Filipinos as far as skincare is concerned. And to guarantee the efficiency and the realization of her long-term goals, she found a good partner in the person of Maria Daisyrie Almendras-Ward, a former colleague in Singapore who shares her passion and advocacies for quality and organic skin care and anything that is proudly Pinoy.
“It took us at least nine months in the planning, research, and testing before we came to perfection. We were determined to make our brand 100 percent pure, sincere, competitive, and reliable,” said Macalintal.
Having tried and tested other local and imported products, Macalintal and Ward put the brand in a different market positioning, which is less popular to the majority of the market they are trying to reach.
Organic soaps are gaining popularity not just in Asia but in different parts of the world, knowing and believing in the benefits of organic soaps, Macalintal and Ward decided to produce organic soaps.
“Up to this very moment, Filipinos will run to the shelves of whitening soaps – local or international brands and this is the greater slice of the market. To live by our mission to provide solutions to Pinoys’ skin issues, we came up with the three variants that answer the five major skin problems of Pinoys and majority of the Asians, and our products only use premium quality organic ingredients derived from plants,” Macalintal said.
And on September 10, 2018, Macalintal and Ward, together with other partners, launched Diwatang Maria variants – Diwatang Maria Sinukuan, Diwatang Maria Makiling, and Diwatang Maria Cacao in the market, distributing through online selling.
“Each variant is a declaration of Pinoy’s ingenuity. We want to promote the stories of diwatas, the stories that made our childhood memorable because of the stories of love, bravery, and compassion that embody the diwatas,” Macalintal added.
Every sale is an act of advocacy, empowerment and bayanihan
For many start-up businesses, the goal is to maximize everything and save money as much as possible. Diwatang Maria also designed their business to be cost-efficient but not to the point of harming the environment.
“Honestly, it is hard to be in a business that promotes eco-friendly products since it would mean more production cost. For Diwatang Maria, we shifted to no plastic packaging because we believe that our Diwatas are guardians of the environment. And to live up to our name, we promote plastic-free packaging, and we guaranteed that our products are only from plant-based ingredients.”
Diwatang Maria for the past two years has been a picture of empowerment since it has been assisting Filipinos to start even a small business through their reseller programs that start at as low as P1632.
Doing projects in the “new normal,” however, is a challenge for every person and business entity. To survive every day of uncertainty entails perseverance.
“The pandemic has changed everyone. It has changed personality, attitudes, views, principles, and beliefs. And it has remodeled how we do business, how we make a living. It has redesigned and reshaped the norms. With this fact, Diwatang Maria in its own little ways is guiding those who are interested to brave the challenges of this pandemic through small acts of generosity and bayanihan,” she said.
For the past two years, particularly the past eight months, Diwatang Maria has been making different efforts to help communities face safely the pandemic. Just recently to celebrate its 2nd anniversary, it launched its Bayanihan in the time of pandemic campaign through its social media platforms. Diwatang Maria is giving away resellers kits and some of its partners, existing resellers also sponsored individuals to become Diwata resellers.
“Diwatas are also heroes, and in every Diwata reseller is a hero since these people are fighting to live a decent life, to lift others. And for our 2nd anniversary, Diwatang Maria will rise above the challenges of this pandemic and we would like to invite everyone who feels that there is an inner Diwata in them, to be a part of our team and experience business that advocates for the environment, empowerment, bayanihan and of course Filipino beauty – inside and out,” Macalintal said.