Socially responsible sisters Camille (left) and Anna (right) Meloto
Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto aren’t your average sisters—and it isn’t just because their father is Gawad Kalinga creator Tony Meloto. Beyond their famously philanthropic bloodline, Anna, 30, and Camille, 23, are making a name for themselves in both local and international trade with their all-natural personal care brand, Human Nature. The brand’s claim to fame? It’s 100 percent organic, 100 percent chemical-free, and 100 percent Philippine-grown—not to mention incredibly affordable.
In an age when going organic has developed into a sustainable lifestyle, rather than an idealistic trend, Anna and Camille’s vision to make the country as eco-friendly and socially-responsible as possible is fast taking shape. As Human Nature expands its reach from the Philippine shores to several states in the US—and hopefully, to other great nations in the Orient—what was once a casual idea has now turned into a thriving social enterprise, more concerned with pro-human practices than it is with profit.
In this exclusive interview with Female Network, the marvelous Meloto sisters discuss the urgency of going green (even if that means doing everything “old school”) and demonstrate the winning dynamic between two siblings that can make a business prosper. Read on!
FN: What made you decide to go into business together?
Anna: It wasn’t a very difficult decision; it just evolved very naturally. We were thrown together with no one else to turn to in the US when my husband (Dylan Wilk, once the 9th richest man in England and now a leading advocate for Gawad Kalinga) was assigned there for a year. One thing that we’re both very interested in is cosmetics and beauty products, and [Camille] has actually been into makeup since she was a kid. She was applying lip balm and lip gloss as early as second grade!
Being in the US [exposed us to] a cosmetic haven, because there are so many new things that you can try out... especially natural products. [Here in the Philippines], what was frustrating and disappointing was that the natural products were all so expensive, and even if you had [enough] income it just didn’t feel right to keep buying overpriced products, [since it] didn’t seem sustainable. So my sister and I were really surprised when in the US we saw firsthand all the natural products available in drug stores and in groceries—with price points that were similar to commercially available, affordable, synthetic products.
At that time I had been out of the corporate world for maybe two years already and I was really itching to start working again but not in a corporate setting. My sister, on the other hand, was a fresh grad. So [when we got the idea of making our own natural product line], it was really a coming-together of different but shared interests, a bonding experience for me and my sister.
When we got back to the Philippines, we didn’t let go of that idea, and we [eventually] launched Human Nature in November of 2008. It’s barely been two years and right now we already have over a hundred SKUs, 7000 dealers, 12 branches, [including outlets] in the US—and just last month we sold our millionth product!
FN: Tell us about Human Nature. What sets it apart from other green brands?
Anna: Our biggest selling point when we were brainstorming about [the brand] is that we wanted it to be pro-Philippines. We were deliberate in the sense that we wanted to use ingredients and raw materials that can be grown in the Philippines, because our vision is to eventually source everything from the Philippines. When we started looking at the ingredients [of all the natural products in the States], we noticed that there was always a lot of coconut oil—and the Philippines is one of the top exporters of coconut oil in the world, so what’s preventing us from coming up with these products ourselves?
Currently we source a lot of [ingredients] locally but we also have to import some raw materials because they’re not available here. From abroad we source natural preservatives like sunflower oil—but we also make it a point to come up with products that contain virgin coconut oil, citronella, and lemongrass because those are all available in the Philippines. We also use guava, eucalyptus, rose berry, [and other] herbs that are grown here.
We want to educate communities to grow [these materials as a] business… to provide themselves with a sustainable lifestyle. In fact, on May 8, [we did] our soft launch with the first Human Nature demo farm in Bulacan.
FN: Would you say that Human Nature is a beauty brand or a personal care brand?
Anna: It’s more of a personal care brand—to put it more accurately, [Human Nature] is a social enterprise, a social business whose products have to do with personal care.
The products that we first came up with were really necessities, like shampoo, conditioner, bug spray—it was really stuff that you would buy anyway, so instead of buying the synthetic brand, why not buy a natural product? We were providing a real alternative to a commodity, to a product that people would buy regardless. The difference is, when you are buying natural products, they feel good on your skin [while also feeling good] in your mind and in your heart.
FN: What is a social enterprise?
Anna: A social enterprise is a concept that’s been around for a while but is really gaining momentum right now. The best way to define it is to compare it to a traditional business, which is really meant for profit. Basically, people put money in a business and the end goal of the business is to provide the most profit for the [investors]. A social enterprise works in a very similar way [in the sense that] everything has to be cost-effective—but your end goal is not really to rake in the most profit for the stockholders (so that they, in turn, will remain stockholders), but rather, to use that profit to affect social changes. Majority of [the profit of a social enterprise] goes back to expanding the business, funding [good causes], and so on.
For example, in our case, we buy our citronella at a higher price than other buyers. That eats into our profits, but [we believe] it’s still of equal value since we are essentially providing quality of life for the citronella farmers.
Camille: It’s a choice that we make between something [synthetic] that’s cheap and harmful and something [more expensive] but is natural and beneficial [to both the producer and the consumer].
FN: What are the most innovative products that Human Nature has to offer? What are its bestsellers?
Anna: So many! I think our top seller is the bug spray. There are already a lot of bug repellents in the market but what really made ours a top seller is a simple change in the way the product is dispensed—the convenience of it being in a spray bottle or having a built-in dispenser really made a difference for people. Sometimes simple changes like that are really lifesavers in a country like ours, where it’s not easy to find a clean bathroom. [For] our hand soap, we made it in a small size so it became a “pocket soap,” and it’s one of the most practical and saleable items that we have—moms just snap it up and put in their bags. We really try to make our natural products as portable as possible.
What else? Our conditioners have gugo and calamansi. Our grandmothers have been using gugo since way back, but if you package it, market it, and make it accessible in all the right ways, even [the youth] will buy it and even give it out as gifts.
Camille: I think it’s also the honesty that we put into making the product that’s really such an innovation in this industry. When you look at the label [behind Human Nature products], you recognize everything that you see there. What you see is what you get. We don’t hide anything in the ingredient list—it’s really one hundred percent natural.
FN: What are your personal favorites?
Anna: I really like our Moringa toner—I use it every morning. Also the sun flower oil—it’s an all-purpose oil that can be a moisturizer and cleanser. It was a lifesaver when I was pregnant—I used it on my belly to prevent stretch marks. Now that I have my son, I use it to clean his ears. I also use it to remove makeup—it even removes waterproof mascara! The bug spray and lip balm [are also] always in my bag for me and my kids.
Camille: I love the toner—before, I had really bad acne, [and it improved] after I used the toner. I also like the hair mask—it invigorates the scalp. It’s super fresh because it has rosemary and mint and activists like gugo and avocado so it’s really nourishing for damaged hair. And our aloe vera shampoo [doubles as a] body wash, so you can use it in your hair, and after that, sponge it all over your body.
FN: One of the principles of Human Nature is that it is made in the Philippines. What are the benefits of local production?
Anna: One foundation of our business is that it is pro-Philippines, so if you manufacture the products abroad it kind of cancels out that foundation. There’s a patriot in every Filipino—sometimes it’s just waiting for an opportunity to be expressed. Although it would probably be much cheaper to source our materials and labor from, say, China, we found really good partners in local manufacturers and suppliers [who] shared our vision of the company.
[Local production] is also easier because you know exactly what’s going on during the whole process. You can oversee [whenever] something goes wrong—you can check on the progress [of a product] every day. It’s really more efficient this way.
FN: Another principle of Human Nature is that it is 100% organic. What exactly does “organic” mean?
Camille: The whole natural industry is relatively new, so not everything [including the definition of “organic”] is standardized yet. But for our own purposes, organic ingredients are the raw materials derived from naturally-occurring resources in plants.
Anna: We don’t use anything chemical—our products do not contain any materials that are synthetic/manmade or oil-derived. Plus, the containers we use are recyclable!
Camille: Also, for certain raw materials, there’s a sort of “scale of toxicity,” one being the lowest and ten being the highest. We only use materials that come up to a three at most.
FN: Why is it so important to “go organic,” especially now?
Anna: Going organic is the way of the world already—it’s been going on for a few years [and is now considered] mainstream. Many people are beginning to see the effects that the products they use have on the climate. You have all this freakish weather… and then you have the garbage problem, which is not going away. People experienced this firsthand with Ondoy. [Our bad choices] are coming back to bite us now, and there is only hope if we catch ourselves and really change our ways.
[Going organic] is really going be the way of the future, and Human Nature is one of the early adaptors [of the green lifestyle] in the Philippines. [On one hand], we have an advantage, because we are “ahead” of everybody else—but [we also have] the responsibility to get more people to join [the green lifestyle]. If other [people] start their own social businesses that are environmentally and socially responsible, the whole country benefits—the whole world benefits.
FN: How do you practice an organic lifestyle in your own homes?
Anna: Ever since I had my first child in 2005, [my husband and I] have tried to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It started with the kids’ diapers—instead of using disposable diapers, which take about 500 years to biodegrade, we made the decision to use reusable (or washable) diapers. Apart from the diapers, we try to really limit the processed foods that we feed our kids. Even when they started eating solids, we made [their meals] at home—instead of [buying] readily available baby cereals, we bought brown rice from the palengke and made it into lugaw. And then, that [mentality] also naturally progressed to what [our kids] use on their body. We did away with [products like talcum powder and lotion] and just [went with] the basics like a simple top-to-toe wash.
Camille: Aside from [using Humane Nature products], I don’t eat meat. It was just a decision that I made one day. So, instead of chicken nuggets, I eat gabi nuggets; instead of pork tonkatsu, I make kamote tonkatsu [and so on].
FN: How was it having Tony Meloto as a father? Did his activeness in charity influence your own social consciousness?
Anna: Actually, he wasn’t super hardcore [with regards to philanthropy]. He would much rather talk about people’s love lives! (laughs) I think my dad’s biggest talent is that he draws people, which is what makes him so good at what he does.
Camille: He’s relational. He didn’t interfere in our career choices, but he built the foundation. I’ll never forget what he told me after I finished college: “Okay, Camille, now you’ve graduated—get out and find yourself!”
Anna: I will admit, at some point, I felt like my pursuits were so trivial compared to [what my dad was doing]. After four years of corporate life, I felt empty. [I realized] that at the end of the day, I would only feel better if I was doing something based on my own convictions.
Camille: I guess you can’t erase what comes with your DNA. And honestly, at the end of the day, what you want to happen most is to make your parents proud.
FN: Growing up, were you involved with any GK activities? How did that affect your outlook on society?
Anna: Yes. The first site Dad brought me to was Bagong Silang—a community for gang members, prostitutes, and the like. For my dad, [bringing me to this place] was a peace offering to the people there—a symbol of trust, so that they, in turn, would trust him.
Camille: For my sister, I guess the experience was an eye-opener—but for me, being very young at the time, I thought that going [to the GK sites] was just “family stuff,” and the people there were my kuyas and ates.
Anna: The most personal thing [that happened in relation to GK] was when my parents adopted our now six-year-old sister who had been abandoned at a hospital. Some GK contacts phoned my mom and dad, and they decided to bring the baby into our family. She’s a blessing to us more than we are a blessing to her—she’s amazing.
Camille: How we see and do things—it’s just the way we were brought up. It was never about having a big house or the latest cars. We never had those luxuries—but it was still great!
FN: What’s next for Human Nature? Should we look forward to more green trade?
Anna: New products!
Camille: We’re very excited—we’re introducing all-natural deodorant, organic feminine wash, new flavours for our lip balms, and a face wash with bamboo scrubs. We’re also formulating [products for] a baby line and a men’s line. Also, we’re planning for more GK farms and farming communities.
Anna: We really take into consideration that all the stuff we release will comply with global standards. Eventually, our vision is to become a global brand and to make the Philippines a leading exporter in natural products and raw materials. Now we’re exporting to the US, and we hope that will give our homegrown materials good exposure. Who knows? Maybe in the near future, gugo will be the next tea-tree, the next dragon fruit, the next asai.
(Photos used with permission of Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto)