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Model And Entrepreneur Rissa Mananquil-Trillo’s Inspiring Journey To Being Enough

At the annual She Talks Asia conference, multi-hyphenate Rissa Mananquil-Trillo opened the day-long session with her own conversation on accomplishment and doubt. The hall was full, and abuzz with feminine energy, but the minute Rissa came into view, everyone was rapt with attention.

At the She Talks Asia Summit

Rissa shares her inspiring journey to a roomful of women at the She Talks Asia summit


Model, mom, entrepreneur, writer. Rissa is recognizable, inspiring, aspirational. In her personal journey, she begins with a strong sense of self-worth at five years old. At that age, she marched up to a neighbor’s house to say that his son called her negra when it was inappropriate to do so. “I looked up to my father. He had the brown skin of an Ilocano, he was hardworking, and a devoted family man. I grew up with no notion of color discrimination.”

When a life story begins powerfully in that manner, we are cowed into expecting only a path of golden opportunities laden with mirth and success. Rissa takes us through her journey to be being enough, shows us the importance of self-worth, and personifies the truth that our high heels may trudge unique paths, but they do take us through similar personal struggles.


An open letter to all the amazing women out there. . I’m sure this Women’s Month, you’ll always be told “You can do it!” But don’t forget to tell yourself, “Yes, you can take care of yourself, too.” There’s a huge pressure to be great at both work and home. But making a living shouldn’t make us forget to make a life. Yes, celebrate your successes but remember to celebrate YOU, too. . Self-care isn’t expensive—neglect is. I have been starting to put value on my time, because the longer I work, the more I realize that I want to measure my wealth not in money, but in how much time I have and how much freedom I have to spend that time. Time is my new measure of wealth. . Resting doesn’t mean you are quitting. You deserve to recharge yourself for all the hard work you’ve done so you can do more for what’s next. When you devote time for yourself, you can be better at what you do. If you don’t take the time, no one will give it to you. Be kind on yourself. Be on your side, woman. . Always remember—it’s beautiful to take care of yourself.??? . #UltimatelyBeautifulHair @creamsilkph #WomensMonth

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When you are young, that’s the best time to be unafraid and just go for what you want. Be fearless and never let fear decide your future.

Rissa’s upbringing and strong sense of self-worth gave her the gumption to walk up to the neighbor’s house and call out the discrimination. She set her moral compass from a place of love and respect for her father. By taking a stance against diminishing her qualities, Rissa gained the power to direct her dreams. As a model, she was sought after for her hard work, professionalism, and excellence. The fact that she was one of the first morena models in her batch to make a mark was a milestone in an industry that was used to mestiza standards. At the young age of 23, Rissa became the president of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP). As daunting as the task appeared, with the more senior industry players as members, she professionalized the industry on matters such as establishing standardized fees or guidelines on working conditions. She stayed five years as president, and nine years as a board member.


One of my favourite photos by @markednicdao. A reminder to always look up and keep on being passionate about what you believe in.?? . Transforming passion into business always needs more than just heart. But it’s heart that separates those who persevere to make it from those who give up. As Ben Horowitz said, "In my experience as CEO, I found that the most important decisions tested my courage far more than my intelligence."  I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by so many amazing women growing up, so I never thought that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish something because I was “just a woman.” There is so much women can do. We can really be more than what is expected of us, and our roles definitely go beyond the home. If anything, what being a woman in business has taught me is that we need to be supportive of fellow women leaders and entrepreneurs, because women can be very harsh on themselves. We can be our own biggest critics. But it’s important to keep pressing on. The more women leaders there are in different industries, the more the younger generation of women can see that there is no limit to what they can do. . It’s March, #womensmonth. Salute all the passionate and courageous women in and out of the home.?? . #PassionForward #SSILife @ssilifeph @visions_pr

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It will never be easy to say no to things everyone else is saying yes to. Compromising what you believe in is, ultimately, shortchanging yourself.

When the gold standard of modeling is a TV commercial project, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of whitening beauty products, Rissa was clear and uncompromising on her stance about celebrating diversity. She was proud of her skin color, and would decline many offers that was not in line with her personal values. By the early 2000s, she finally received the dream project that tapped her as a beauty expert, celebrated her skin color, and appeared on TV. It was around this time that she also appeared in a global campaign for a retail brand that championed inclusivity. At the right time, and with the right fit, Rissa came to realize her dream without compromising.

Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.

With an undergraduate degree in management, Rissa quickly realized that as a model, her enterprise was her individuality. She created a personal brand and packaged herself in an industry driven by the basic principles of supply vs. demand to rise above the clutter. Her career was established based on her reputation for being professional: Punctuality, having the right attitude and being better prepared, and always delivering. When you are the model who packs 10 pairs of shoes, brings a full option on the wardrobe, can do your own make-up, and willing to stand atop an A-ladder on a roof deck of a building on EDSA so the photographer could achieve his vision of a headshot against the blurred lights of a row of billboards, surely, your business management degree must be hard at work selling your brand successfully.

What you do with education determines its value.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Rissa completed a master degree in entrepreneurship. By this time, she was slowly building a local make-up brand. Borne of her struggles to find one that agreed with her skin type and tone, Rissa decided to create her own line of cosmetics made for the Filipina skin tone and the humid weather. She shared, “Today, I would like to think Happy Skin paved the way for other homegrown cosmetics brands to enter the market and contributed to this change in culture from prizing what’s imported to loving what’s local.”


The mind is a powerful weapon. Keep it loaded.

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The most powerful weapon is the human soul on fire. Pain is important, too. Pain makes you grow.

While it may appear as though everything has been rosy for Rissa, finding out she was pregnant on her senior year in high school was a turning point. She doubted herself but never once doubted that she would make it to and through university. “My life was unlike my classmates’. While they went out and had fun, I stayed in the library between classes. After class, I went straight home because I had a baby to take care of,” she stated. Despite the grueling task of balancing her duties, Rissa turned her pain into a fire that fueled the desire to do even better. She adds, “Just like a bag of tea, you’ll never know how strong you are until dipped in hot water.”


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If you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection.

During this time of personal struggle, Rissa felt the disappointment wash over her. The good child of her parents, the excellent student, the well-behaved daughter was a pregnant teen attending university. The silence in a home that used to be filled with warmth was painful. “It was the loneliest time of my life,” she shared. But, her own self-worth pushed her to study harder and take back her narrative.


Each day I’m here for my MBA is a humbling reminder that there’s really no substitute for hard work.

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Always remember, the same fire that melts butter Is the same fire that hardens steel and purifies gold.

From a self-possessed five-year-old to the scared teen and then a successful adult, Rissa personifies how easily she could have let her life fall apart so many times. But she didn’t because each situation is an exercise of choice.

Call it moral compass, personal values, pain, or a soul on fire. So easily we can turn into butter, and just as easily, choose to turn into the fire and become gold. Cease the steam of conscious self-doubt. One thousand one hundred thirty-one words. We are enough.