Dressed in a red jersey dress, Michelle Asence Fontelera greeted me with a big smile, beso and a hug, “Paulyne, you’re looking fab! Glad you could make it.” It was the 15th anniversary of local fragrance brand Zen Zest and its beautiful CEO was busy receiving guests to the by invitation only afternoon affair at Le Petit Souffle, Century Mall. The romantic french country setting with crawling vines , lush faux trees and delicate white furniture was the perfect setting for the event. Pastel colored flowers adorned the long table where the full line of products were displayed for everyone to smell and choose from. Yes, the first order of the day was to pick out your favorite scents from the wonderful spread of Zen Zest fragrances. I, however, decided to leave the bevy of eager girls who were sniffing and smelling the bottled delights and sat with my friend for a short tête-á-tête.
A Passion for Potions
Michelle always loved fragrances. As a child she would raid her uncle’s closet and get her hands on his collection of perfumes. She played with them like toys—mixing the different scents and creating new ones. When she grew up she decided to take her interest seriously and with P350,000 as her initial capital, started her very own fragrance business. “I knew NOTHING about how to start, run or manage a business. What I knew for sure was that there was a market for organic products because prior to launching Zen Zest I sold home made soaps (which were consigned to me) at bazaara. Every last piece sold out even before the bazaar was finished. I thought to myself, there’s a potential for locally made body products. Why don’t I make my own brand? With the encouragement and support of my mom, I hired a part time chemist, learned how to concoct scents and the rest is history. You can say that Zen Zest was born in our kitchen. It really was!” shared Michelle excitedly.
Innovation is Key
Over the years, Michelle has learned the in’s and out’s of the business both by making mistakes and achieving successes. She prides herself in being a self-taught entrepreneur who is not afraid to ask the advice of other businesspeople. On the contrary, she says it’s a must to learn from others. To keep her brand relevant, she keeps abreast with the latest trends on all social media platforms, travels to different parts of the world to learn the latest technology in perfume making and seeks advice from her fashion maven friends. All these contribute to keeping Zen Zest a competitive brand.
“There are always new competitors and daily challenges. What make us different from the other brands is that we are the pioneer in the mass premium market. The key to our success, however, is constant innovation. We started out with just a handful of body sprays. Now we carry an extensive line of eau de toilette, eau de parfume, body wash, and body scrub. We also have aromatherapy products which consists of our room fragrance, linen fragrance, home fragrance oils, rolls and massage oils, and home diffusers. Recently we also introduced our baby line with the Kramer family as our endorsers.” The products have also been given a make-over via new packaging designs and soon Zen Zest will relaunch their virgin coco oil line.
After 15 years what are you thankful for, I asked her. “To this day, I can’t believe how far I’ve taken Zen Zest. But I’m not alone in this journey. Truly, it’s by His will that I am able to do all these. I’m also thankful to my mom who pushed me to always do my best, to my team who helps me execute the vision for the label and to my husband and two kids who keep me grounded and inspired. ”
I had finished my bowl of fresh greens and half of my pasta dish and it was also time for Michelle to play her part as gracious host to the rest of the party. So off I went to the buffet of captivating scents and did my share of sniffing and smelling and filled my goodie bag to the brim.
Happy 15th Year Anniversary Zen Zest! Cheers!
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With a pocketful of glitter,