Since Faith Marie Rodriguez had been an undergraduate student, long before she had the idea to start her own business, she had been making handcrafted soaps as a hobby. It all started as a chemistry lesson, a demonstration of the saponification process, during her studies.
“During my undergraduate years, there was a time when we created a few soaps as one of our laboratory activities. That one moment led to me discovering lots of different ways of concocting and designing handcrafted soaps; learning resources were mostly found online,” she said in an interview.
When the pandemic came, Ms. Rodriguez had found herself without a stable source of income. Like many other Filipinos amid the pandemic, she naturally found the idea to start her own business quickly becoming an attractive one.
Now, Ms. Rodriguez is hard at work establishing Serah Naturelle, taken from a name of Hebrew origin which means “star” and also alternatively means “lady of scent”. As a business that provides products with aromatic and gentle scents, it was fitting.
Serah Naturelle, she envisions, will be a brand that offers Filipinos different variations of organic and locally-made handcrafted soaps, made from all-natural ingredients and locally-sourced to boot.
“We are really pushing for sustainability in terms of our production and distribution,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
“I wanted to do it as making soaps is a fun and relaxing activity for me, and at the same time, I love the fact that I could provide people with soaps that do not have the harmful ingredients often found in commercially-made soaps.”
For the present, Ms. Rodriguez said that she will be starting slow, with the main focus on establishing her brand in Metro Manila and in her hometown of General Santos City. However, she does eventually plan to create Facebook and Instagram pages for the brand, moving on to sell on platforms like FB Marketplace, Shopee, and Lazada.
The business of self-care
Ms. Rodriguez is far from alone in her venture, of course. In the first eight months of 2020, the total number of businesses registered with the Department of Trade and Industry went up by 12%. Data from its Business Name Registration Division showed the total number of business names registered with the agency reached 712,657, compared to the 637,690 recorded for full-year 2019.
Online business registrations skyrocketed to 75,876 as of September, from a meager 1,753 for the January to March 15 period.
But Serah Naturelle has an edge that her peers might not realize. Ms. Rodriguez has found herself in a unique position to seize a growing opportunity.
Almost 500,000 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the country this January, with nearly 10,000 dead. At the height of the pandemic, as many as 7.3 million Filipinos have lost their jobs.
With many Filipinos feeling the impact of the pandemic this keenly, there has undoubtedly been a change in the public’s mindset and behavior. Priorities are shifting, rapidly, and so long as the virus has not been completely eradicated, the air of uncertainty and unease may persist for some time to come.
Indeed, concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic runs deeper in the Philippines than in most of Asia, prompting many Filipinos to adopt new habits around a healthier lifestyle and greater use of digital technology, according to a survey by insurance firm Manulife.
The Manulife Asia Care Survey, conducted in late May, targeted 2,400 insurance owners in eight Asian markets, including China, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. Most respondents in the Philippines expressed concern about the pandemic’s long-term impact on the local economy and their day-to-day living, with many being pessimistic about the next six months’ prospects. More than half (58%) of the Filipino respondents said they thought COVID-19 would get more serious during the second half of 2020, above the regional average of 41%.
According to the survey, nearly all of the Philippines-based respondents have adopted new lifestyle habits under the COVID-19 pandemic (98%), with the majority of these new habits geared towards healthier living and increased reliance on e-commerce, and online and digital services.
Nearly two-thirds or 64% of the Filipino respondents found ways to be more physically healthy than before COVID-19, the highest percentage than all of the other markets surveyed. In terms of tracking their mental health status, 27% had adopted this new habit.
The survey results show that health consciousness is on the rise and lifestyle habits are undoubtedly becoming healthier in both body and mind. Of the respondents, 33% said they have already started to monitor their health KPIs closely. During the next 18 months, this is expected to further grow, with 52% looking to find ways to be more physically healthy, 20% tracking their mental health, and 25% watching their health indicators, such as blood pressure and blood sugar level, more closely.
Given the rising cost of healthcare and the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, this newfound appetite for a healthier and more active lifestyle is unsurprising. Both in the Philippines and across Asia, healthcare costs have increased significantly over the past 20 years, rising nearly 500% during that period, according to the World Bank. In 2017, the annual healthcare cost per capita in the Philippines was USD133, or 4.45% of GDP.
It is only natural, then, that Filipinos are more concerned about taking care of themselves. Yet the topic of self-care has been a rising trend in recent years. Self-care, or what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, is a broad concept encompassing areas such as hygiene, nutrition, and lifestyle.
Global market research firm Mintel found that younger consumers are spending more time on self-care routines such as long baths and skincare routines, including more than one-third of Gen Z, according to Mintel research on personal care.
“In the ongoing pandemic, consumers seek out rewarding bodycare events in home confinement to refresh, revive and renew. Brands should rev up the self-care ritual with bodycare products that amplify physical and emotive stimulation to improve mood and relieve anxiety,” David Tyrrell, analyst at Mintel, wrote on the firm’s website.
“People look for personal moments to distance themselves from the daily hyper-stressful situations of the pandemic. They want to feel good, but they also want sensory pleasantries,” he continued.
Carol-Ann Stewart, head of consumer healthcare for Latin America at pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, wrote on the company website that there has been a global trend towards wellness for some time now, only to be accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Defensive wellness is growing exponentially with people trying to protect their own health and that of their families, so there has been a shift in attitudes in how people are practicing self-care, especially as face-to-face consultations with doctors are now more difficult,” she said, adding that with the pandemic, new habits have been adopted worldwide in an effort to combat the virus — such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and quarantining.
“I hope that this could be a positive outcome from the coronavirus crisis, that self-care is seen as part of an integrated end-to-end healthcare approach for societies worldwide, a goal that the World Health Organization is already advocating,” she said.
As for Ms. Rodriguez, she said that Serah Naturelle will definitely be looking into expanding its product line to include more self-care products like shampoos, conditioners, and even bath bombs.
“Health and hygiene have and will always be of value to people. Honestly right now it’s even given more emphasis due to the pandemic. There’s really no so-called ‘peak season’ for such products,” she said.