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Look and feel good: How two US-based Pinay beauty brands give back to the Philippines

We are very proud of Sara Meredith, a founder of Kaya Essentials, for her work in bringing awareness and support to the Philippine poor. This story was excerpted from an article written by Christina M. Oriel on the Asian Journal website, published December 11, 2019. You can read the original article here:

Kaya Essentials

The story: Sara Meredith was a college student at University College London when she heard Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto delivering a talk about alleviating poverty in the Philippines and building social enterprises toward that goal. She soon took on a three-year internship with the Filipino organization’s Europe chapter and spent time on GK’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan.

“That was my first introduction into a social business, the idea that the business model did good, rather than it being an afterthought,” the half-Filipina, half-British entrepreneur said in a recent interview. “What I originally thought of as a business doing good or charity was giving a percentage of the profit. It made me think how your sourcing and business model have a true impact.”

DIY: Her experience with Gawad Kalinga — coupled with her childhood of making products with her mom and noticing how there were hardly any Filipino-owned coconut brands in the market — led her to founding Kaya Essentials in 2017, an organic skincare line using cold-centrifuged coconut oil from a fair trade farm in Davao.

“My mom is a super DIY-er. She would make her own beauty, skincare and a lot of cleaning products at home so I always grew up making organic products. One thing we always did was use coconut oil as a hair mask where we would put the coconut oil all around ourselves from root to tip and we’d leave it for three hours. She would make the coconut oil from scratch, from coconut meat and make it into an oil,” Meredith recalled.

Kaya spirit: Her first products were the calamansi and lemongrass lip balms, using essential oils from a Filipino family-owned business called Casa de Lorenzo. As a part-time commercial model, Meredith would sell the lip balms to people she met on sets.

“I started with the lip balms because those were something everybody could use. My focus was not so narrow. I was looking at it more like, what is something is for every age group, male or female, and is a small way that could do good?” Meredith said. “Starting with calamansi came from wanting to introduce a product that was proudly Filipino so I wanted it to capture the Filipino culture and essence. I always knew the [brand’s] name would have a Filipino affirmation in it. That’s where Kaya comes from.”

Now based in Los Angeles, Meredith makes each product by hand and in small batches. The brand is sold online, at select retailers and special farmer’s markets and pop-ups in LA. Prices range from $5 for balms in seven flavors, $16 for a 2 oz jar of extra virgin coconut oil, and $26 for body balms ranging from calamansi to tea tree flavors. The products don’t contain fragrances nor long, unidentifiable ingredients.

“I wanted it to be minimalist so there are only seven flavors. We don’t do different blends. You know exactly what you’re getting so that puts you more in control of your skincare,” she added.

In the coming months, Kaya Essentials is expanding its line to include clay masks, candles, and limited edition jewelry, which will be made by Filipina artisans through Gawad Kalinga. 

One for one: Kaya Essentials uses the ‘one for one’ model, meaning that for every product sold, one school meal is provided to an elementary school student through Gawad Kalinga’s feeding program. This model, Meredith argues, allows more transparency for customers to know the direct recipient of their purchases. To date, the company has fed over 5,000 students.

“People innately want to give back… but there’s a distrust in how much is going and what it’s really helping. With one for one, it’s tangible and transparent because you can imagine what a lunch school meal looks like and everyone knows the importance of education. It’s a small way to give back, but I would argue that it’s big because you’re helping nourish a child who can then continue going to school,” she said.

Meredith will be launching a partnership with No Kid Hungry to bring the giveback model to local LA schools, a way to reflect the “Filipino American experience” of sourcing from the Philippines, yet producing and selling the products here in the U.S. “I felt like it was time the give back really reflected the making of our balms,” she added.

“Purchasing with a purpose, voting with your dollars, and our new tagline in 2020 is ‘small acts of kindness together have a big impact.’ Sometimes when you talk about making a difference or contributing, it can feel overwhelming so I really love the message of even kindness to one another and any little act can make a difference. Just because you’re not some huge corporation making a huge donation doesn’t mean your impact isn’t there. In fact, I would argue that it’s even stronger,” Meredith said.

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