To be a beauty junkie these days automatically means being a makeup lover. A real beauty girl, however, knows skincare is the name of the game. For Liz Lanuzo, primarily known as beauty blog turned online magazine Project Vanity’s founder and editor in chief, and now, the woman behind the recently launched skincare brand In Her Element, creating high quality skincare comparable to high-end brands on an everyday woman’s budget was the goal. I interview Liz on her busy year, what you can expect from In Her Element, and what she’s learned from being a millennial beauty entrepreneur.
Ronna Capili Bonifacio (RCB): Project Vanity started nine years ago–when you were a college student looking for budget beauty buys–and now you have expanded to an online magazine. Was this something you always had planned for your beauty blog? Why expand your blog into an online magazine, and what does Project Vanity want to provide?
Liz Lanuzo (LL): I was studying a pre-law course at the time, so I did not in any way imagine that blogging would be at the core of my career. I thought I would be doing something else entirely! But even when Project Vanity became bigger through the years, I hadn’t really seriously thought that it could be a beauty magazine. I didn’t know how to make that happen. Then I met my partner, James, who walked me through the basics of starting a business and raising funding from investors.
But why do all this? Around that time, I was also working with different brands as a PR consultant and social media manager. My consultancy was my main source of income even though I met most of my clients through my blog. There came a point, however, when I had to scale up. Do I open an agency to continue my PR and digital media work? Or do I transform Project Vanity into a beauty company with new types of content, products, and services?
The answer was a no-brainer. So I ran the numbers with James and started approaching investors. My vision was simple: to create the country’s first beauty portal that allowed brands and readers to engage with one another. We do this by providing relevant content, hosting events for our community, and creating a curated kikay kit that allows our readers to explore new looks and try out products for less.
RCB: In Her Element Nourish & Cleanse Balm is your first skincare release, how did you come up with the balm?
LL: For our first product, we hoped to make something that’s universal, something that all women need and can be used a lot of different ways. I wanted to find that sweet spot in the vanity, office desk, or even the bedside table. Something you pick up without thinking and enjoy using every time! Hence, the Nourish & Cleanse Balm.
It can be used on any dry patches, lips, elbows, heels, cuticles. Someone even said she loves it for her thighs to prevent them from chafing against each other! It can also be used to remove waterproof eye and lip makeup as the balm liquefies almost upon contact with the skin to dissolve tough formulas.
This has literally six ingredients that are botanically-derived, cruelty-free, and highly effective. Personally, I love using it to remove waterproof mascara, lip balm, and my favorite, to keep my shoes from scraping up my feet! I have weird feet that doesn’t fit the mold of most shoes so they get pretty wounded sometimes. Not anymore with the balm!
RCB: Tell me about In Her Element as a brand–what’s the story behind the name? How do you hope to compete with the skincare brands that are already in the market, both foreign and local?
LL: I get to try so much skincare because of my job and over the years, I’ve become quite the snob. I find that high-end skincare delivers what it promises to a certain degree. It’s seriously expensive, though! So I resolved to make alternatives that won’t cost so much. I also wanted the solutions to be easy and simple to understand, with a short ingredients list that does not contain unnecessary fillers. I wanted it to have safe, botanically-derived ingredients as well.
In Her Element is all about simple skincare for busy women. I understand that most of us don’t have time to use too many products before we leave for work and right after we sleep; at the same time, it’s also important to have a core routine to take care of our skin! In Her Element aims to simplify and streamline your beauty routine so you get the most benefits from only a few products.
The skincare market is tough to compete in, but with my experience as a beauty editor, amazing formulations from our manufacturers, and gorgeous packaging, I think we have something special to offer to women who trust us!
As for the name—I’m actually super bad at names. So I had one of my business partners think up a few options for us. I specified that the skincare line had to capture the image of a strong woman who knows what she wants and wastes no time to get it. And we loved In Her Element among his suggestions! (Shoutout to Mike!)
RCB: Why did you choose to produce your products from ingredients, material, and labor here? Surely it would have been more cost-effective on your part to have outsourced from China or perhaps Taiwan.
LL: While I was researching for manufacturers, I learned that the Philippines actually makes amazing skincare. Do you know there’s even a company here that makes ingredients for high-end brands you’ll find in Rustan’s? I was so shocked. We import so much skincare abroad! (As opposed to cosmetics, as there are only a few good cosmetics factories here and most of them produce exclusively for their brands.) So I thought, why look far when we’ve got the talent here?
Aside from that, I want to be able to personally coordinate, visit, and transact with our suppliers regularly. In Her Element is a new brand, and a skincare one at that, so I prefer to be very careful about how our products are made. It can make or break our brand at this point, so trust is important all around.
RCB: What’s next for In Her Element?
LL: We’re currently working on a lot of new products! Many exciting things are currently in development and I can’t wait to share them. The recent launch is a cleansing oil that emulsifies and rinses off cleanly; am also working on a lightweight collection for summer that’s perfect for oily skin.
RCB: 2016 looked like a big year for Liz–releasing a lipstick line for Project Vanity x Pink Sugar, expanding your blog, launching In Her Element, and setting up a PR companyWhat inspired you to go after all these things and what have you learned from all your ventures? What’s your advice, particularly to the millenial who is often told they are too entitled, impatient, and idealistic?
LL: I just recently learned that I’m a millennial, haha! My family wasn’t rich when I was growing up. I also grew up thinking I was ugly—I was a real-life Betty La Fea, with thick curly hair, dark skin, and thick braces that I wore for seven years! My original set of teeth was a nut job, I kid you not, I had five of them taken out when I was 13. But I had one thing going for me: I was smart. I read so much, which made me aware of what was possible when you had a mind you’re not afraid to use and improve.
I started from zero. In the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a rich family to bankroll me. I moved out of my parents’ house as soon as I graduated and started to work in online marketing. I became a freelancer eight months after, working with different media agencies on a per project basis. Eventually I was able to get my own long-term clients who trusted my work. All the while, I was working on Project Vanity—I would still blog everyday and I suppose my content was a good enough for sponsors to support my little corner of the Internet.
I don’t stop. I am driven because I feel like I don’t have enough time to become who I want to be, to make things that were only just ideas in my head. I want so, so many things. Every day is an opportunity to get better and to win more, and I make sure not to waste it.
That’s not to say that I am infallible. In the first year of running my own company, I’ve failed in small ways. I failed in big ways. I like to joke that I used to run on the beauty of my dreams, but now my fuel is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being good enough for the job.
What I’ve learned, however, is that fear is healthy if you understand that it’s just as real as it is not. Fear is real because you feel it—but it’s only as permanent or temporary as you wish it to be. Smart people allow it to pass through them, like a wave, and then proceed with their plans and their timeline anyway. The only sure way to know if something will work – if something will be successful – is to go for it despite your fear that it might not.
You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take, I like to quote.
RCB: When do you feel you are most in your element?
LL: Since becoming an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that I can’t do everything after all. Some people are better at certain tasks than I am, so it’s more efficient if certain jobs are assigned to those who can excel at them. I am most in my element when I am doing what I’m best at, and my associates are doing likewise.