In 2020, the whole world was caught unprepared with the onslaught of the killer virus, Covid-19. Who would ever think that amid all the anguish, something good and beautiful is about to happen to a Filipina that would change not only her life but also of those around her?
Monica Sandra Cariño Ronda, 30, sought to turn the tide and took her chances by putting up a business, focusing on unique halal beauty and personal care products.
Born in Dubai to a Jordanian father and a Filipino mother, she is married to journalist Rainier Allan Ronda, her business partner.
Before venturing into halal personal care, Ronda was a reseller of virgin coconut oil (VCO) from San Pablo, Laguna. The business was doing good since VCO is in demand for cosmetics, food and body massage, among others.
Their company, Affection8, was registered with the Department of Trade and Industry and soon ventured into importing cosmetics or make up products from the United States.
Online marketing was then booming, prompting her to start posting on social media in May 2020.
Besides VCO, Affection8 carried products like cooking oil, nasal spray and cosmetics.
While her imported cosmetics were doing well, Ronda thought of local products that are on a par in quality with imported ones.
To halal cosmetics via DOST-ITDI
It came timely when then-Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña announced that the Department of Science and Technology’s Industrial Technology Development Institute’s (DOST-ITDI) halal cosmetics and personal-care products were ready for adoption.
The development of DOST-ITDI’s halal cosmetics and personal care products was pioneered by then-Chief of Standards and Testing Division (STD) Dr. Rosalinda C. Torres, now retired. She was cited as one of the 2019 Asian Scientists 100.
The project was funded by DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Research and Development.
The couple inquired with DOST-ITDI, submitted their letter of intent to adopt the technologies, and later signed a memorandum of agreement on July 29, 2021.
“We thought it is better this way instead of developing the product on our own, which is costly. Besides, we don’t have technical people to do it,” Ronda said.
Technology fees cost them P300,000, or P100,000 each for three halal-compliant products—moisturizing lipstick, moisturizing and whitening soap, and hair growth-promoting shampoo—and training fee of P50,000 for the three products.
The couple’s initial investment for technology fees and halal certification amounted to about P1 million.
Carrying the brand name Shaheen, Affection8 started producing and selling the three halal-compliant products.
“From the very start of our journey DOST-ITDI was with us and never left us,” Ronda said. “Their assistance was not confined to the technology only. They even provided training and a list of suppliers to make sure that what we produce comply with halal standards.”
While the Philippines is not a Muslim country, it has a growing market for halal products, especially for cosmetics and personal care.
Affection8 sources other materials abroad—from Nepal, Korea and China—making sure that all their raw materials are halal-certified.
Amid the pandemic, they had to undergo a lot of processes with the Food and Drug Administration for halal certifications which are very costly.
Affection8 started producing in November 2021 with the help of DOST-ITDI’s Rachel Parcon, technology generator, then OIC, now chief of STD.
The company was then eyeing to join the Dubai Expo the following month, but it did not materialize.
They produced 500 pieces each of soap, lipstick and shampoo. But the lipstick and shampoo would be expiring in 12 months, with no knowledge of how to dispose of them.
Failing to join the Dubai expo did not discourage them. But with a twist of faith, they were able to have their own small plant, where they stored their products.
Another positive development: They were invited to join TikTok shop in June 2022.
An online shopper herself, she created her account and received the first order for 40 pieces of soap on July 29, 2022, exactly a year after signing the MOA with DOST-ITDI.
While the soaps were sold out, however, the shampoo was not moving. It took a nine-year-old girl, a TikTok user, to jumpstart the shampoo’s sale.
The girl asked if the shampoo helps the hair grow longer. Ronda answered and promoted the benefits of the hair growth-promoting shampoo.
In no time, the shampoo flew off the shelves!
“It is now our bread and butter,” Ronda beamed.
Affection8 has improved its production efficiency with upgraded equipment through a loan from the DOST’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (Setup).
As a result, all Shaheen products are Prime United Arab Emirates-certified. The company now produces 3,000 to 4,000 bottles (250ml) of shampoo in five hours, and 100 to 150 pieces of lipstick by hand per day.
For the soap, 20,000 pieces are produced a day for Affection8 by a bigger halal-certified and also DOST-assisted company based in Batangas. They are packed with the Shaheen brand.
Affection8 added more new halal items—Lippy puff lip tint, collagen supplement (Klasik Tita), which is on market test, and keratin conditioner (Keracondi), a match to Shaheen shampoo.
While Shaheen products initially found their way in Shopee in January 2022, it was TikTok that paved the way for hot sales.
Ronda’s vlogging capitalized on “what makes the products distinct from the rest, what sets them apart.”
Halal products are fast gaining their niche in the market, especially among the millennials and Gen Zs, who are critical in their choices of skin/personal care/cosmetics.
“Being halal is an added value to our products,” she pointed out. When consumers learn that halal products conform to the highest level of purity, cleanliness and quality, even non-Muslims seek them out.
Affection8 currently has 17,000 affiliates. To help increase their income, Ronda offered them commissions when they get buyers through TikTok.
Looking back, they started with a monthly sale of around P100,000, she shared: “Our sales spiked. This May 2023, we had our highest sale at P2.4 million and last June at P2 million. Take note po. We are on Top 5 on TikTok with the sale of our shampoo.”
Shaheen products are ranked among the top-selling products on TikTok and Shopee.
Affection8 now have regional distributors and resellers. While focusing on e-commerce, they are open to having physical stores in the future.
Regional distributorship is picking up with one in Region XI putting up displays in salons.
Distributors are given 40-percent to 50-percent discount from retail price. An entry fee of P60,000 worth of products of their choice is the only requirement for regional distributors. There is no membership fee.
Distinct from the rest
Affection8 had its share of bashers, recounted Ronda, which they countered by focusing on the products’ attributes—being halal-certified and developed by DOST-ITDI, thus, they have undergone rigorous scientific process.
Noteworthy to mention was Shaheen’s entry in international exhibitions. The soap met the EU standard and qualified for the “European Standard Natural Cosmetics,” enabling the company to join the “Biofach-Vivaness 2023” exhibition in Europe from February 11 to 17.
Beaming with pride, Ronda said: “Our products were the only cosmetics at the Philippine Pavillion. We were very proud of that.”
In 2024 Shaheen shampoo will also be exhibited having passed the Natural products standards with its surfactant less than 20 percent as per Cosmos, one of the leading certifiers for naturals.
Ronda said one of her significant learnings is realizing that time is of the essence. One needs to be up and about early and start the day right.
Being innovative, especially in marketing the products, is very critical, too.
For those wishing to have their own business, her advise: “Do what makes you happy and start early, as in now.”
She added: “I found joy in this endeavor because I’m doing something I love and that makes me happy on my own time, on my own terms.”
How would she define success? “It is being able to create jobs and hire people to help them fend for themselves and their families; and being able to inspire them to be better persons,” she beamed.
Affection8 has 11 regular employees, who, with the company’s positive outlook, were able to overcome the pandemic jitters.
“There’s no turning back,” Ronda quipped. In the next five to 10 years, Affection8 envisions to expand its reach by collaborating with business owners abroad, perhaps with Asean countries that do halal like Malaysia.
She hopes to put up a company in Malaysia, where electricity is cheaper.
As for funds, after paying the initial loan from DOST-Setup that required no interest, Affection8 is applying for another loan to purchase bigger-capacity equipment for expansion.
Hearing Ronda described her womenpreneuship journey and experience was truly heartwarming.
“DOST is different from the other government agencies we have encountered. It has a different culture, and you could get your tax’s worth from the service they provide. They are a big help, not only to us entrepreneurs, but also to others they reach,” she pointed out.
Image credits: DOST-ITDI