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Anna Meloto-Wilk: Giving back is in her nature

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Illustration by glenzkie tolo

As a daughter of Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto, Anna Meloto-Wilk grew up with a heart of gold.

She was immersed in her father’s humanitarian works growing up, benefiting the less fortunate in our society through volunteer housing projects and the “Enchanted Garden,” which bred livelihood for many and the development of local products that have done well in the local market.

Anna Meloto-Wilk, co-founder and president of Human Nature, one of the country’s largest social enterprises of natural personal and home care products, recently graced Daily Tribune’s Pairfect show.

Here’s an excerpt of her interview.

HUMAN Nature co-founder and president Anna Meloto-Wilk. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF HUMANHEARTNATURE.COM

Daily Tribune (DT): How is Human Nature now compared to when the pandemic was announced in March of last year?
Anna Meloto-Wilk (AMW): It’s no secret that it’s been very challenging for the past 20 months. Everyone has had to face their own struggles but I’m happy to say that we’re still in fighting form.

Actually, there were so many lessons that we learned. Sometimes you need to undergo a lot of pain and challenges to really see the areas of your company. Or even just know your character that needs growth and development. Definitely, there are some big changes that we made, but I think it was all for the better. I look forward to actually coming out of this into the new normal as a stronger team, as a stronger brand and wiser after all the challenges that we were able to overcome.

TINTED lip balms.

DT: Human Nature has been among the enduring brands and pioneers in terms of introducing natural products. Can you tell us about the beginnings of the company?
AMW: We are turning 13 this month. I still remember 2008 like it was yesterday. The common thing among my co-founders and I is we were all volunteers of Gawad Kalinga (GK) so we were steeped in volunteerism. We all had love for the country. We all had hearts for the poor and we’ve been working at this development model of trying to figure out how to address poverty and build the new middle class amongst those considered poor in our country. We were also involved in the youth programs. But one of the biggest puzzles in this whole model was really the livelihood portion.

NATURAL shampoo bars and natural feminine wash bars.

My co-founder is my sister and we were always in GK. My husband also was one of the very active foreign volunteers for GK. When we started Human Nature, I had a toddler and a newborn. The biggest question in my mind as a young parent was how I could take care of my kids and make sure that I could protect them from environmental things that are starting to harm them.

I researched and I realized that a lot of common things that we use like shampoo, even baby powder, have harmful chemicals. Whether we like it or not, we’re exposed to it every day. I found out that natural products are simpler but just as effective and most importantly they don’t contain harmful chemicals that you would commonly see in synthetic products. Human Nature was founded on the values of being pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment. We wanted to source ingredients from farming communities that would be incorporated in our cosmetic products like virgin coconut oil, aloe vera, lemongrass essential oil, citronella essential oil and the like.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF HUMANHEARTNATURE.COM

DT: Would you say that you were raised that way in terms of having green consciousness as a mindset, in business and your way of life?
AMW: I believe so. One of my earliest memories was when my father brought me to Bagong Silang in Caloocan, one of the biggest relocation sites in Metro Manila. I was 16. I was a freshman in college and that was the first time I came to to realize that the teenagers in Bagong Silang were no different from me. If luck would have it, I would have been the one born in Bagong Silang and the teenagers that I was interacting with there would have taken my place as a freshman in college in Katipunan. It was a very humbling experience for me to realize that I’m not special and that I’m no different from our kababayans. It just so happened that I was lucky enough to be born to a good family. That gave me the motivation to build my career upon making sure that I don’t just think about my own success but I bring other people with me.

DT: You and your husband have been advocates of sustainable livelihood for the downtrodden in society. How did that influence you to conceptualize products that are natural and
eco-friendly? And who had the biggest influence, you or your husband?

AMW: There are three of us who co-founded Human Nature so I think all three of us, myself, my husband and my sister bring in a very different facet to the brand.

For me, it was really wanting to provide safe natural alternatives for every Filipino at accessible price points because Human Nature is not the first generally natural brand in the world. There were actually many more before us. I was inspired by some US brands when I was studying the market 13 years ago. What really pained me was that they were so expensive. I knew that the ordinary Filipino mom or dad wouldn’t be buying a P1,000 shampoo on a regular basis so we wanted natural products to be just as common, just as accessible as multinational brands that you can buy in supermarkets.

HUMAN Nature co-founders: Anna Meloto-Wilk, Camille Meloto and Dylan Wilk (standing).

For my sister, she was very committed to making sure that the products are of high quality because she is the beauty industry expert. She knows all the attributes of the best moisturizers, the best shampoos, the best conditioners so she brings in that kind of product expertise. And then for Dylan, it was really interesting, because he is the one with the most passionate love for Filipinos. His mind and his heart is Filipino. It’s only his stomach that remains English. He really loves the Philippines and wants Human Nature to benefit the poor.

DT: How did you grow the brand? What sort of marketing, logistics did you come up with?
AMW: I think it really starts with the brand value. If you have very strong brand values, if you’re able to communicate with your customers what you stand for and what your products are all about and they resonate with the consumer. To add to that, the story of sourcing locally and business policies that are ethical.

We don’t have a huge advertising budget but the people who started using us in the beginning became our walking ambassadors. Other than that, we made sure that we built this network of dealers from the beginning. Through the years, we’ve added retail because we also realized that in order to have that impact in terms of helping more people, we need to also increase our revenue. The more impact that you want, the more sustainable you need your company to be.

DT: Tell us more about the Bangon Awards.
AMW: Despite the struggles and challenges of the past 20 months, we’ve also seen heroic stories of people who are just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

It’s Human Nature’s way to salute to these ordinary people that have served us for the past 20 months.

DT: Can you give us more insight about the surge of demand for natural clean beauty products lately. Has there really been a surge?
AMW: Yes, definitely. I found it so interesting that in the midst of the pandemic that 2020 and 2021 was the year that the most number of natural products were launched in the Philippines. Perhaps it’s been happening earlier in more developed countries.

It’s great news that people now have more choices. I hope that they still remain, that people still consider Human Nature despite the choices of so many brands out there. I would just like to also encourage shoppers to continue to be discerning. It’s so easy to market a product as being natural even though only one percent of their formulation uses a natural ingredient. 99 percent is still synthetic so it’s important that we educate ourselves in terms of reading ingredients making sure that we know what are the harmful chemicals.

DT: You have children. You’re a co-founder and president of Human Nature. How do you keep it together?
AMW: There are a lot of things and days that are off balance, but the way I get back to the right frame of mind is always to maintain an attitude and gratitude when things are going wrong. When I’m starting to panic, I force myself to think of the things that I’m thankful for. That helps me focus and get my head on straight again.

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