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Beauty & Fashion

Zen Zest: A Zest for Scents

It is in feeding vanity that Zen Zest thrives – in the observation that, “no matter how tough the economy gets, Filipinos still find the time and budget to hunt for and buy products that will make them look good and feel good.”

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Practical business sense.

That, says Michelle Dula Asence, was the impetus of the start of Zen Zest, a Filipino-owned body and bath company.

“When I began the business, the population of the Philippines was about 80 million. Now, if just one million Filipinos who take a bath and use scents, buy my products, then I’ll be rich. Lahat naman naliligo, ‘di ba? (Everybody takes a bath, right?)” Asence was earlier quoted as saying to Enterprise Magazine.

And it is in feeding vanity that Zen Zest thrives – in the observation that, “no matter how tough the economy gets, Filipinos still find the time and budget to hunt for and buy products that will make them look good and feel good.”

No wonder that just five years after the company opened, it already had 33 outlets in the country, plus outlets in Bahrain and Japan.

Good business sense can only go so far, though, as Asence proves – she, herself, has fondness for beauty products, particularly perfumes, something she attributes to have inherited from her late uncle, journalist Rod Dula, who had “all the perfumes that came out,” and who had about 300 bottles of perfumes when he passed away. Dula’s encouragement – and approximately P300,000 in capital loaned from her parents – helped bring Zen Zest into being.

That was in 2001.

After conducting a feasibility study, Asence discovered that there was no local brand of complete body and bath care products available in the market. “The imported brands were very expensive,” she recalled. “I’d buy an imported body scrub, but since it was so expensive, titipirin ko ‘yung gamit, hindi ko magagamit araw-araw. Ayaw ko ‘yun. Gusto ko ‘yung laging magagamit (I would use it sparingly. I couldn’t use it every day. I didn’t like that. I wanted a product that I could afford to use each time).”

Asence was not even discouraged by the fact that when she started Zen Zest, the Philippines was just recovering from the Asian financial crisis.

“Everything for me is an opportunity. There is no setback for me,” she said. “The Asian financial crisis was something good that happened to me. Ang mga tao, nagsimulang magtipid (People started to be more frugal), even in their beauty and body products’ expenditures. They could no longer afford the usual imported products so they shifted to local items. Like me, they looked for cheaper but good-quality alternatives.”

Perhaps a little-known fact is that Asence, herself, did almost everything when Zest Zest just started – e.g. after training for about three months under a chemist, she learned how to formulate and prepare concoctions that resulted in her initial products of cologne, hand sanitizer, lotion, perfume, and soap; and she, too, personally packaged the products, delivered them, and arranged them for display in her first outlet in SM Megamall.

Asence proudly claimed that she was able to grow the business from its initial investment alone, and, to date, she has not made any bank loan to support or expand the business.

After its opening in May 2001, Zen Zest already grew into five outlets by December of the same year. And to date, fragrances — body sprays, colognes, and eau de toilettes — account for about 50% of Zen Zest’s total sales. Female patrons, from seven-year-olds to grandmothers, make up the majority of its clients, though men are also a growing market.

Zen Zest has undergone numerous changes since its inception – mainly obvious in the reengineered labeling and packaging that puts it at par with imported brands [“Ang produkto, parang tao ‘yan (A product is like a person). Like a plain Jane, after undergoing treatment by a cosmetic surgeon, looks so much better. Ganoon din ang produkto — simpleng produkto lang (A product is the same—it begins as a simple item), but with an improved appearance and package, iba na rin ang dating (its quality goes up),” Asence said].

It is the re-imagined Zen Zest that broke the international market for the company, as it braved the markets of neighboring Asian countries, including Japan, where the cocktail collection of “night life” scents that are named after drinks such as Cosmopolitan, Margherita, and White Russia are big hits.

Yet another way for Zen Zest to grow that Asence realized is through franchising. “Franchising is also better because we’re like one big happy family, for my franchisees are my friends. Also through franchising, it would be easier for the company to focus on R&D, and other aspects of the business,” she said.

Franchising Zen Zest costs P150,000 (inclusive of a cart and P50,000 worth of items, offered at 50% discount to franchisees).

To keep Zen Zest on top, Asence believes in keeping its products affordable.

“I’d rather have lower profits than no sales at all. Last Christmas, we offered gift packs for only P99. Mahirap gawin ‘yun, ang ganda pa (That was hard to do, and the pack were so nice to look at). We had to sacrifice our profits; at least, the Christmas shoppers bought from us and not from the more expensive competition. In this business and in this country, the businesses can’t demand from the customers. Dapat kung ano ‘yung kaya nila, ‘yun dapat ang bibigay namin (What the customers can afford, that’s what you should give them),” Asence ended.

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." This one writes about... anything and everything.

Beauty & Fashion

Everyone can help create a world of more sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is not just a concern for high end designers – we can all make a difference by the choices we make.

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Photo by Zeny Rosalina from Unsplash.com

Repairing clothes, buying second hand, purchasing direct from the maker, reading labels, lobbying for change via social media platforms and not being a slave to trends are all actions individuals can take to encourage a new, more ethical order of fashion says a QUT researcher.

Around 100 million tonnes of fibre is produced each year and some 92 million tonnes of textile waste are discarded in the same period, an unsustainable situation in which everyone participates whether dressed in PPEs, tracksuit pants, uniforms, skinny jeans, designer dresses, or smart suits.

Associate Professor Alice Payne says even small changes from individuals, paired with larger scale industry and policy measures could help make the current system ‘less bad’ for the environment and workers within it.

Some of the inspiring examples of changes she cites include:

  • ‘Taming waste’ using advanced remanufacturing and other measures to recycle fast fashion fibres
  • Innovation in biotextiles and other renewable materials to move away from the heavy reliance on non-renewable polyester
  • Approaches to better connect everyone in the system, from fibre manufacturers, retailers, wearers to charities and recyclers
  • Growing consumer behavioural change: how people are sharing, swapping, and finding alternative ways to engage in fashion beyond industry dictates, including inventive approaches to repair
  • Initiatives around the world fighting to improve worker welfare
  • Manufacturers’ innovation in better management of chemical inputs and wastewater, and
  • The opportunities presented through traceability technologies that can powerfully connect everyone throughout fashion’s complex supply chains

“‘Sustainable fashion’ may be defined as systems of clothing production and use that are environmentally responsible, contribute to the social wellbeing of workers and the wider community, and are based on values of cultural respect,” said Associate Professor Payne who has a new book on the subject – Designing Fashion’s Future: Present Practice and Tactics for Sustainable Change (Bloomsbury).

“What is considered design in fashion is trivialised, feminised or brought into the rarefied world of art and serves to disguise how design in fashion actually functions. Exalted high end designers such as Chanel or McQueen represent only the tiniest portion of design practice in fashion.

“My book is not about them. Instead, I have sought to understand the design processes and practices of those who create everyday items like socks and t-shirts, as well as the many other decision-makers who help bring into being these humble objects. These people and their design processes clothe the world from cradle to grave, and their practices design fashion’s future.”

Associate Professor Payne sees the dominant form of fashion system as composed of four networks of production, promotion, wearing and destruction, all of which are out of sync with one another.

“In the dominant system, fashion’s industry and culture are bound up with an unsustainable pace of change, provoking the continual creation and destruction of new garments and the continual piquing of desire without satiation,” she said.

“A ‘better’ fashion system is certainly possible, but everyone needs to take some responsibility – if you wear clothes, you are part of it. In the past decade fashion sustainability ‘awareness’ has risen exponentially but so has pollution, waste, and overconsumption.”

By digging into the root causes of fashion’s unsustainability, Associate Professor Payne proposes the imperfect but essential actions to take for change, and how these can be defined for an individual – whether designer, brand owner or everyday wearer – as their own ‘ethical action space’.

“The book is not ‘optimistic’. Nor does it claim ‘sustainability’ is ever possible. Amid climate crisis and growing inequality, we may see few reasons to be optimistic. Rather, a way through the doom is to reject vague optimism and embrace hope, which can be expressed through actions,” she said.

“Think about the issues that matter to you – whether biodiversity, justice for workers, tackling climate change, poverty, and that can become your ethical action space.

“In the short-term, it’s about seeking to make things better in the immediate and near future, within the scope of one’s own ethical action space. For me that includes working with colleagues, community, and industry partners in finding the new processes and technologies to re-evaluate waste, here in Australia.

“A long-term agenda for fashion’s designers is to prepare our organisations, firms, communities in which we work for a resource-constrained future, one that is cleaner and lower-carbon through necessity, yet one in which economies and communities may be struggling to adapt. Fashion as culture, expressive of community and identity, will find new ways to flourish within these limits.”

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Beauty & Fashion

How do you wear Sperry boat shoes? With or without socks?

Very few style statements evoke such a polarized response. John Legend, Sperry’s Global Brand Ambassador, threw down the style gauntlet recently, stepping out in his cropped trousers and boat shoes asserting his bare ankles. “It depends on the cut and fit of your pants, and how cool you are,” he says of his sockless style.

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When sailor and inventor Paul Sperry created the first non-slip boat shoe in 1935, he inadvertently launched one of the most enduring debates about personal style in the history of fashion: Do you wear boat shoes with or without socks?

Very few style statements evoke such a polarized response.  John Legend, Sperry’s Global Brand Ambassador, threw down the style gauntlet recently, stepping out in his cropped trousers and boat shoes asserting his bare ankles.  “It depends on the cut and fit of your pants, and how cool you are,” he says of his sockless style.

Retailer J. Crew’s men’s style team shows Sperry boat shoes worn with their playfully patterned socks, while author of the New York Times bestseller Men and Style, David Coggins, prefers the sockless look.  “We can’t have our feet shackled with grotesque tube socks, corseted and constrained,” he says. “Go forth with a liberated ankle!” 

For those who want to wear socks with boat shoes, Brian Davis, owner of Wooden Sleepers, a New York based vintage American menswear brand, online store, and showroom sets some guidelines. “First things first – no ‘fun socks.’ This is not a time for stripes, argyles, or novelties. Grab a crisp pair of white cotton socks and wear with your favorite chino shorts (cut above the knee!) and pair with a worn-in polo, rumpled oxford cloth shirt, or breezy patch madras.  For a cooler day, substitute the shorts with a pair of chinos (not too slim, not too baggy) or a lighter wash denim like a broken in 501, and a vintage military shirt, cotton sweater, or chore coat,” he instructs.

Others, like menswear editor and owner of the sock brand Bombas, Randy Goldberg, find a happy compromise in the no-show sock, cut low especially to be worn with boat shoes, without being seen. “Once the no-show sock is inside your Sperrys, it will disappear completely, giving you the advantage of stealth comfort. Sockless looks, sock feels. Best of both worlds,” he says.

Elizabeth Drori, Sperry Chief Marketing Officer, strikes a happy medium. “The Sperry Authentic Original boat shoe is a timeless classic. Socks or no socks, with cuffed jeans or a skirt, wear them in a way that expresses your personal style.”

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Beauty & Fashion

Why crocodile bags are good for the planet (and the crocodiles)

The report was published in response to the accusations of hypocrisy against Boarini Milanesi following the launch of the most expensive bag in the world, worth 6 million euros, made of precious stones and alligator leather and created to raise awareness on the pollution of the seas.

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Photo by Dennys Dugarte from Unsplash.com

Luxury bag brand Boarini Milanesi released a report claiming that crocodile leather is actually good for the planet and… yes, the crocodiles.

The report drawn up by the luxury bag brand Boarini Milanesi begins with a quote from Dr Daniel Natusch, biologist and member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: “Buy a crocodile bag and you save five more”. The report uses three scientific reasons to demonstrate that alligator and crocodile bags are good for the planet, communities and the animals themselves.

The report was published in response to the accusations of hypocrisy against Boarini Milanesi following the launch of the most expensive bag in the world, worth 6 million euros, made of precious stones and alligator leather and created to raise awareness on the pollution of the seas.

The report was compiled using the research of numerous scientists and species conservation experts belonging to the IUCN, an organisation which includes over 17,000 scientists and more than 1,400 member organisations, including the WWF, Global Nature Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and CNR.

The report reached the following conclusions:

1. The use of alligator and crocodile leathers contributes to the preservation of the species

Crocodiles and alligators are seen by the communities living in close contact with them as dangerous for their personal safety and that of their farms. The sustainable use of these animals allows people to tolerate them, because they are useful for their economic sustenance. Based on these considerations, programs for the sustainable use of crocodiles and alligators have been implemented which have led to an increase in current population numbers. 

From 1960 to date in Louisiana in the US, the alligator population has gone from being in danger of extinction to reaching numbers around 3-4 million in the wild. In countries such as Sri Lanka, where no plans are in place for the sustainable use of the species, the Porosus crocodile is considered severely depleted, with known destruction of its eggs and habitat.

2. The use of alligator and crocodile leathers contributes to the health of the planet

Wetlands – the natural habitat of crocodiles and alligators – are the ecosystem with the best capacity to store carbon (in some cases capable of storing twice as much as forests) and can reduce the damage caused by tsunamis and floods.

However, they are destroyed every day to create agricultural land or tourist settlements (some studies calculate that 87% of them have been lost since 1700). Sustainable crocodile use programs incentivise populations to keep their wetlands intact and recreate them where they have been destroyed.

3. The use of alligator and crocodile leathers helps local communities

Programs for the sustainable use of crocodiles and alligators generate revenues that improve the quality of life of the poorest communities (from the schooling of children to the construction of drinking water plants and hospitals) and also bring money into the public coffers of more developed countries.

In Louisiana, for instance, taxes on the unique wild alligator tracking tag (one of the required taxes for “croc industry” operators) brought 1.9 million dollars into the state’s coffers in 2018 alone.

Carolina Boarini, co-founder and CEO of Boarini Milanesi, said, “For Boarini Milanesi, these three points are the start of an information campaign aimed at breaking down the fake news that influences public opinion, putting this delicate safeguarding work at risk”.

“We do not agree with the choice of some luxury brands to abandon the use of exotic leathers”, declared Matteo Rodolfo Milanesi, co-founder and CEO of Boarini Milanesi.

He continued, “For us, stopping their use would simply be a marketing move to capture an audience that ignores reality. A serious mistake that would jeopardize the conservation of these species and the well-being of entire communities”.

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