Model Behavior: Rissa Mananquil-Trillo on Her Journey Through Motherhood, Entrepreneurship, and Self-Love
At a point where the beauty industry is finally addressing its issues with diversity, Rissa Mananquil-Trillo came just in the nick of time—providing Filipinas with cosmetics made and formulated for them with Happy Skin.
As a morena Filipina, model, and beauty columnist, Rissa lived and breathed beauty. She road-tested the newest products and has listened to countless beauty frustrations. Through all her experiences, however, there was one question that hung in the air: why was the industry so unkind to Filipinas?
Women from every walk of life and generation were constantly crammed into these tiny little boxes of what beauty is and should be; shoving down all sorts of “products you should use” even if it caused damage and ruined our skin for the sake of conforming to ever-changing beauty standards, but Rissa was having none of that anymore.
“In my fifteen years of doing this kind of work, even after trying every makeup brand you can imagine, it was at the peak of my modeling career that I found my skin at its worst— pimples, irritations, big pores, and patchy skin,” she shared. Rissa explained that while makeup makes you pretty in the moment, her biggest worry was going home with ruined skin.
So in true entrepreneurial fashion, Rissa took the pain and passion she had and transformed it into a solution. “I understood what it felt like to break out whenever I used makeup,” she continued. “And it became a vicious cycle of using makeup to cover the effects of using makeup.” Filipinas were scared to use makeup because they were afraid it would ruin their skin and Rissa didn’t want them to be scared anymore.
“Six years ago in an era where anything imported or foreign was celebrated, it was a risk. But with Happy Skin, I was able to create products I can swear my life on,” she shared.
Rissa was not only able to address the pain points of every Filipina’s beauty routine, she also put in an element of skincare to it—the first cosmetic brand to actively do so. By freeing Filipinas of their beauty fears and concerns, they are now more empowered to discover themselves through the transformative power of makeup. Beauty should never have to be scary, it’s liberating, powerful, and a way of expressing our femininity in any way we choose to.
Generation Happy Skin
When she took the charge to transform the local beauty industry, Rissa Mananquil-Trillo never had any second thoughts about being a female entrepreneur. More than her passion for her cause, it was her way of celebrating and honoring the women in her life, women in other industries who are also affecting change, and more importantly the younger generation of women who will be brought up in a world where female leaders are visibly leading the way; telling them that there is no limit to what they want to achieve.
It’s an important idea that she picked up from her parents, “I grew up watching my mom work hard and regardless of her gender, she worked like she knew she brought something valuable to the table,” Rissa shared. She knew that having that influence as a young girl made a great impact on her life, which is why she wanted to be the same for her daughters Audra and Celestia.
“I never want my daughters to lose their wonder, passion, and heart to pursue the things they love. By doing something you are passionate about, whether as a hobby or for a living, you become more connected to who you are and ultimately, become more beautiful.”
But while Rissa tries her best to be a positive force in her daughter’s lives, there are still plenty of unique challenges for a parent in the digital age—especially when it came to beauty. “The content you see online is meant to inspire, but it’s also often curated and double-edged—women also end up questioning themselves: Am I doing enough?”
Things are different for Rissa as a mom and entrepreneur, and it’s her specific perspective that she decided to use her social media for empowerment. “It can shape minds and alter self-worth. Get a bigger grasp of what it means to hold a space online—because each of us has a voice, you have to be responsible about what you post. Mindfulness is so important because you are influencing someone’s self-worth.” Rissa shared.
In real life, on the other hand, she shared that she and her husband, Paolo, make a conscious effort to compliment their kids not just on their appearance but through affirmations whenever they do good or show good values. In her book “Read My Lips” she writes: “Your Pappy and I made it a point to compliment you for the right traits and skills to encourage certain values. Naturally, people like to get complimented on their appearance, but I want you to feel confident not just about how you look but also about what you are capable of doing in the future.”
By parenting them this way, I hope they grow up to understand that what makes them special is not actually about how they dress or look. “Being in the business of beauty, it’s inevitable to touch on important beauty conversations such as beauty standards, self-worth, and the pressure of social media.” she continued.
“More than that, surviving in entrepreneurship requires not just business skills but also values you hold on to—a strong kind of beauty that embraces even the intangibles. In an era where personal and professional lines are blurred, principles will be tested, and the most important thing an entrepreneur can have is a strong sense of self.”
Outside of the family, the pressure still rains on as fellow moms turn to Rissa for advice. She goes on to explain how there’s this huge pressure on women to be great at work and home; ”to combine professional success and satisfaction with real commitment to family” as she puts it.
It’s a careful balancing act that many working moms face, but Rissa doesn’t let it get to her. “I tell them to remind themselves that it’s okay that you are a working mom,” she continued. “Doing well in your business or at work not only contributes to family income, it inspires others and sets the best example for your children. Always remember you are the best person to show them how to excel and define the value of hard work.”
A Mile in Her Shoes
“I never want women, moms especially, to feel like they need to seek my advice because I am a person who has my whole life together, because I don’t.”
It’s why she pledged to be more mindful on social media, more than for her daughters’ sake, she’s careful to consider that the things she posts shouldn’t make people feel worse about themselves.
In real life, things are different, and she admits to not having everything figured out. “Anyone who knows me very well knows I’m a workaholic. I sleep late, typically 3 a.m., because I do my work once the entire household is asleep. My mind works best when I know I’ve finished first all my duties as a mother.”
With so much on her plate, it’s amazing that she’s done so much, and it’s because Rissa has cracked the code to her success: an excellent support system.
“Whatever I have accomplished I was only able to do with a great support system, and I wish to be part of that support system for moms and women, so that they can do great things of their own, too.”
By her side is husband Paolo Trillo. “[Paolo] is my anchor. His goodness and leadership inspire me every single day. He always makes sure that I have time to accomplish whatever I need to do.” When it comes to Rissa trying to achieve a work-life balance to the best of her ability, it’s her husband that she owes everything to.
She’s inspired by the words of Sheryl Sandberg, who said: “The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is.”
Diving Head First Into “Read My Lips”
As a thriving entrepreneur and mom, writing a book was never in Rissa’s wildest dreams, even if it made perfect sense. It was when Xandra Ramos-Padilla, managing director of National Bookstore and the granddaughter of its founder, Socorro Ramos, suggested to Summit Books that they publish their first female business book with Rissa that she jumped at the opportunity.
She dove deep into her passion for reading and writing ever since she was a young girl. It allowed her to dream, travel, escape, and explore. She shared that, “It had the ability to touch my life in a way no other medium could.”
There was a strong understanding that her book had the power to make a lasting impact on others and that there was an audience for her journey through running her business and discovering the beauty of life through the lens of a wife, mother, daughter, and friend.
While people might assume that Rissa’s story is just pure ease and luck, the book takes a closer look at what really happens behind everything. “I had to learn, sacrifice, and endure a lot—and if this book can, in any way, help a budding entrepreneur learn from my mistakes to make their own journey even more fruitful, then I would consider it a huge privilege to have been able to help them out.”
When it came to writing the actual thing, it was harder than Rissa thought, “There were moments when I definitely thought that giving birth would have been easier!” she exclaimed, saying that it was the permanence of a book that weighed her down, because she wanted her words and how the book looked to stand the test of time.
She eventually found her groove after she discovered that it was easier for her to write after midnight when her kids were asleep and after she’d done everything she needed for Happy Skin and her executive MBA, which she was pursuing while she wrote the book. Towards the end, she raced towards her deadline, and even checked into boutique hotels on the weekends so she could finish writing without distractions.
“Readers always ask me what my favorite chapter is. This is always a difficult question to answer, because it feels like I’m choosing who among my children is my favorite.” For Rissa, every chapter carried its own unique story, but if she had to choose, it would be chapter 7. “The open letter to my children Enzo, Celestia, and Audra, is extra special to me and it’s also the chapter that my husband holds dear.”
For many women out there, it’s always been a question of whether or not they can have it all. Turns out, you can, and Rissa Mananquil-Trillo is leading by example in her own imperfectly perfect way.
Photos by Kieran Punay | Art by Danielle Banigoos