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Growing up in a family business may provide a blanket of security but some would prefer to pursue their passions, turn it into a business, and set a whole new direction for their lives. The families of Stephanie Coyiuto, Erica Therese Dee, and Alex Roque all have companies that have been successful for years. Yet they chose to emerge from it and set their own path. Through Casa Bella Home and Living, Bondi Studios, and M&Co. Cosmetics, these empowered and passionate women show how setting their own direction in life can be challenging but certainly worth it.

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Alex Roque. (Photo by Miguel Abesamis)

Playing with colors

Though her family owns a well-known local fashion brand, Alex Roque pursued to build her own—M&Co. Cosmetics. The lush lipsticks come in a variety of shades, much like Alex’s love for colors. “I’ve always loved bold colors and crazy prints. Art and makeup became an avenue for me to express myself,” she says. Growing up in the fashion industry helped her to learn a few things, especially with how it is always linked with makeup. She gained insights from observing the clients of their family business. She explains, “I realized that these beautiful people radiate inner confidence because they wear beautiful makeup. They feel good about themselves.” This is when she thought of coming up with M&Co. Cosmetics. 

“‘Inspiration finds you working,’ is a quote from Picasso I live by, especially when I’m having a creative block. I keep on creating, even if it’s not exactly what I envisioned just yet,” she continues, “Because for me, after a while, something perfect always comes along.” She acts on a similar attitude with painting on designer bags like Dolce and Gabanna. The idea sprang when the bag earned an accidental scratch. Alex turned it into an opportunity to paint on it as a cover-up and the result is surprisingly beautiful. At present, it became a staple of Alex’s work that she now has five other luxury bags in the lineup. However, she admits to never having her paintings look exactly like her initial sketch, as people would generally expect. She admits, “I’m such a spontaneous artist—I just let my imagination go. It’s like I’m showing my clients the sketches for their bags and I tell them, ‘but I mean, it will probably end up totally different, but this is a general idea.’”

Alex with one of her paintings. (Photo from Alex Roque)

Upholding the brand

While M&Co. Cosmetics is at its early stage, Alex knows how to manage it well, taking things she learned from witnessing her family business grow. As a young entrepreneur, she believes in rooting her work in certain values. “Positivity, creativity and a lot of hard work. I really encourage my team to be creative and uphold our brand’s values in everything they do. Never lose your brand’s identity,” she firmly says. When asked for advice to someone who would want to start their own line, Alex exclaims, “Just go for it!” continuing, “When you get to watch your dream bloom from an idea into something more, it really is so fulfilling.” It certainly reflects her present life which she treasures with her family and friends. “I’m being productive and doing something I believe is meaningful,” she shares. As a young professional, she explains what a meaningful life is for her. “I want to contribute to society and make it a better place, in my own small way. I also have my dreams, too—to have my own art show, to have my own family, especially since I really love kids!… everything I do is working towards all of that.”

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Stephanie Coyiuto. (Photo by Miguel Abesamis)

On taking risks

Growing up, Stephanie Coyiuto or Stenie to family and friends, has been exposed to two seemingly contrasting fields: finance and the creatives. Though it seemed she would take after her father, she fell in love with arts like her mother. Stephanie dabbled into painting, fine art, and photography. Her passion developed into an idea to start Casa Bella Home and Living. When the company was still starting, she recognized how the market for good design and furniture was only emerging. “Younger people also were focused on or more passionate about expressing creativity,” she says. Yet people at that time were unfamiliar with iconic, modern, or even Scandinavian pieces. “So we were nervous [for people to think], ‘oh what’s this?’ ‘why is it so simple?’ [But] we wanted good quality furniture that lasts… [and] not necessarily ornate-type pieces,” she continues.

From building the brand’s identity of carrying high-class design brands, Casa Bella is quickly climbing on top of the home furniture and design industry. “We always seek to be ahead of the design curve. Even if for example, [it’s not yet the trend], we try [to make it so],” she explains. She and her husband Joseph also started Design Story, a furniture company for the younger market, and Contract World for office furniture. Looking back at people’s preferences, Stephanie explains, “Before, it’s either you get a house that’s full of this brand or a certain look. Now, people are more daring,” she says. “They like mixing local and foreign. Even the art pieces they use, we encourage people to get from local designers. Going forward, it’ll be interesting because there are a lot of good players on the market,” continuing, “We try to encourage people getting from different looks. We don’t push that they get everything from us.”

LEFT: Stephanie with flowers from her Fig & Vine Floral Studio. RIGHT: Stephanie and Joseph at the Cassina showroom. (Photos from Stenie Coyiuto’s Instagram)

Developing passion

Through managing her businesses, Stephanie learned how to remain on top of your game. “Be very open-minded and creative and dynamic and you have to move fast,” she advises. “You have to be on your toes and be alert as to what are the changes in the market.” As for first-time homeowners, she tells them to “Do your research. When you decorate your own home… it’s always better to know what you want. If not, you’ll face a lot of unnecessary expenses if you go into it not knowing what you want.”

The passionate entrepreneur also gets a different kind of help from her children, particularly Seji who dabbles into his mom’s recently-opened flower shop. “He likes talking about flowers, like ‘oh, I wanna help give mommy flowers,’ but [he’ll accidentally destroy them]. He’s trying to do his own stuff with it,” Stephanie recounts, chuckling. Workdays are never dull as she spends time with her children, especially at dinner. “At least during dinner time, we eat together, no work,” she says. After all, this is what a meaningful life is for Stephanie: “a life full of love that’s spent with family and friends [and] making an impact in your industry, in what you do.”

Erica Dee. (Photo by Miguel Abesamis)

Stringing elements together

Erica Therese Dee may come from the family who started FOODEE Global Concepts yet she remains down-to-earth and sets her own path in life. She established Bondi Studios with good friends Sam Tangco and Robyn See as a small side during their college days. The brand is still at its early stages and thus, Erica admits to having hesitations about its direction. “How do we stay relevant? Will the new product launches be accepted? How do we grow the business? Things like those are what we always ask.” Yet Erica thinks, “We just believe in the brand so much that we’re willing to go beyond those doubts.”

As many expect, Bondi Studios did come from the founders’ love for fashion but the idea also grew from the realization of the creativity and potential of Filipinos. Erica shares how the women they work with are housewives who prefer to share their knowledge in beadwork through the brand. The design process starts with the vision of Erica and her business partners Sam and Robyn. “Personally, I love playing around with colors and creating fresh and new combinations,” Erica says. She mainly gets inspiration from their family trips. “Each place I go to always has their own specialty and character: whether it’s their lifestyle, art, food or people,” she explains. Yet as a team, they have to work together and finalize the design in spite of varying tastes. “We narrow down looks we like and decide as a team what works and what doesn’t,” she continues.

LEFT: At the Bondi Studios party. RIGHT: Dressed in vibrant style ensemble that reflects her personal taste. (Photos from Erica Dee’s Instagram)

Elevating the business

Erica is proud of the direction Bondi Studios is taking. “[It] is a reflection of who I am. I wear Bondi Studios constantly because I’m confident and proud of the brand,” she says. Although its social media marketing is certainly rising with over 7.4K Instagram followers as of writing, Erica shares it is not enough to be complacent. “Since we’re a start-up, we’ve also come to realize that a successful business isn’t just about the sales and profit,” she says. “It’s about giving credit to our local artisans, inspiring others and conveying the message of our brand.” Thus, Erica could not help but constantly think of their business in aspects of marketing strategies, expansion plans, and similar. Though it may seem like she is investing too much on work, Erica knows how to meaningfully live. “[Live] a life of balance: to invest in family, friends, leisure, work, and health.”

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