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EXCLUSIVE: US-Based Entrepreneur Stefanie Walmsley Talks About Her Philippine-Born Beauty Brand, Prim Botanicals

In celebration of Beauty Month here on Metro.Style, we caught up with the gorgeous entrepreneur, to talk about the beginnings of and the future plan for her "plant-based beauty brand born in the Philippines and raised in New York"

Creation—not everyone has the knack for it. But when you do, beautiful things happen. 

Transforming daydreams into physical blueprints, processing images on the drawing board to become prototypes, seeing first drafts materialize into solid business plans—these are just some of beauty brand owner Stefanie Walmsley's favorite things, a true blue creator whose entrepreneurial spirit that's tough to match. 

"I was always working to create something. I love the idea of having something come to life because of the work you put in... I need work that involves creating something, otherwise I get really bored," she begins. 

And work she has indeed since the days when first tasted the joys of independence. 

The Manila-born business owner was a fresh 18-year-old when she moved to New York City to pursue an acting career ("[I] still can't believe my parents let me do that!" she laughs). She has the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (and living alone for the first time) to thank for equipping her with experience and knowledge of the art of acting, but there was something much more meaningful that she picked up from her fledgling days of emerging adulthood: resilience.

There's nothing quite like having The Big Apple itself as your teacher—not in an academic sense but in terms of learning the ins and outs of living, with its no-nonsense mentoring style meant to impart the street smarts and cleverness needed to make it big in the world to its inhabitants like Stefanie.

After all, as they say, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. 

"I know what it's like to be out clubbing all night, followed by Chinatown eats at 4 a.m. It's incredibly easy to lose your balance in New York and, like everyone that moved here, I had to fall on my ass a few times to learn how to get back up. The city tests you, but it also rewards you immensely," she recalls. 

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But New York isn't all tough love; it's also energizing, deeply motivating, and is an endless well of inspiration.

It was so inspiring for Stefanie, in fact, that it was exactly the fuel she needed to achieve her first big creation—2011's Oscar-winning live action short God is Love that she co-produced for film director Luke Matheny.

The award officially made her the first Filipina to win an Oscar—nothing could stop her! Her career in film was taking off, albeit behind instead of in front of the camera, and there was nothing allowed to get in her way—except for an endless string of bad skin days, that is. 

"My skin had started to freak out," Stefanie puts bluntly. 

It's easy to imagine the days that followed her big win; climbing up the movie industry naturally meant constant nights out, dolled up days, and sacrificing sleep and wholesome eating for an on-the-go lifestyle—a glowing complexion's arch enemies.

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A trip to the drugstore's skincare section didn't cut it.

Items from luxury stores promising five-, seven-, or 10-in-one healing effects proved to be wasteful, too. 

What's a girl to do when badly needed skin rejuvenation feels out of reach and it's self-confidence that pays the price for the fruitless search for a solution?

But Stefanie was never any other girl, in case you've forgotten. When she couldn't find what she was looking for, the next course of action was clear: she would create it. She thought long and hard about what she could use to experiment and right under her nose was her answer: her childhood.

"I grew up in Manila but spent almost every holiday in Cebu with both family and friends that felt like family," Stefanie recalls.

She adds, "One day I was there, after having been away for a while, in the span of a day I was given aloe vera for my sunburn, ginger for my sore throat, coconut oil for my hair, and had malunggay (moringa) in my soup. I was like 'Hey, wait a minute...'"

She connected the dots. An opportunity of a lifetime was coming, and Stefanie knew exactly what she needed to do. 

"I decided to study how to blend different aromatics and worked with a friend and esthetician, Victoria Toda, to create the initial formulas," she shares.

The School for Aromatic Studies would become her second alma mater that would arm her with the know-how behind her life's second biggest creation: the one and only Prim Botanicals, her Philippine-born skincare brand established in 2015 and built on the promise of clean, natural beauty.

"We've actually been thinking a lot about 'cruelty-free' and how we want that to extend beyond simply not testing on animals. We want to make sure we are being kind to the planet, as well. So on the topic of natural, or clean beauty, the hope is that all brands strive to be more sustainable and kind to both their customers and the environment," she tells Metro.Style

"Pretty soon after launching, it became clear that Prim was really filling a need and it very quickly turned into a real business!" Stefanie beams. 

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Stefanie quite literally used her very own hands to create Prim Botanicals from the ground up.

Day by day, she figured out which ingredients (most of which were and still are from the Philippines) went together and didn't, ensuring that each and every bottle, jar, and tub that went onto shelves were all products she would use herself. 

Success has come to Stefanie in the arena of entrepreneurship, that's for sure; Prim Botanicals has been featured numerous times in international publications, is a lauded independent skincare brand, and has a powerful online following. 

But even then, there were days when Stefanie and her team had hit roadblocks, with one especially hilarious one that she remembers as if it was just yesterday. 

"Friends and family were, and continue to be, the only animals we test on. The feedback has always been super helpful, like the time when I made a batch of the body oil that ended up smelling like weed when it was supposed to smell like roses!" she laughs. 

And throughout the trial and error process that she likened to culinary school—where you learn techniques and methods but are given the freedom to do as you please with them—she had that signature NYC hardiness to keep her going. 

Now speaking more of fragrances, they're Prima Botanicals' next step.The brand has so far focused on curating a lean collection of multi-use oils, spritzes, scrubs, balms, and even CBDs (cannabidiol), hand sanitizers, leave-on masks, and even deodorants, but Stefanie says that a re-branding is in the works. 

"I will forever love our face products but we have decided to move towards being more scent focused," she says. 

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But despite making a name for herself in America and acquiring a mostly Western market, Stefanie has continued to wear her Filipino pride on her sleeve. In fact, she fought for the right to be able to do so. 

"I had initially been advised to not talk about being from the Philippines. I was told it might be better to appear vague about my roots... I had been told that since the Philippines wasn't synonymous with beauty products it might hurt the brand," she reveals. 

It was impossible to acquiesce to this however, because, how could she? Prim Botanicals was born out of her experiences on the beaches of Cebu; denying the brand its chance to tell its Philippine origin story would be erasing its history that birthed in into existence in the first place. 

Stefanie pushed back. And now, Prim Botanicals' Instagram page proudly label it as "Philippine-born." Considering the brand's status today, revealing its Southeast Asian roots was hardly a deterrent to its popularity.

View this post on Instagram

We couldn't be more thrilled to share this slideshow with all of you! Thanks to your support and generosity... we did it! 💃We built a Prim Botanicals Yellow School Boat of Hope to bring kids in flood affected areas of the Philippines to school- kids who would've had to wade through waist-high water otherwise. As you may know, we source as many ingredients as possible from the Philippines and depend upon small farming communities, like this one. It means the world that we were able to help the kids from the Luuk Tongkil Elementary School in Sulu. We look forward to having you on board for our next outreach program. Here's to the kids, and a brighter future for all! Thank you so much!💛💛💛 . . . . . . . #thephilippines #yellowboatofhope #giveback #hope #forthekids

A post shared by PRIM 🌴 (@primbotanicals) on

"Well, I'm a Filipina. And I started a beauty and wellness brand and I have experienced firsthand that beauty editors and store buyers love the fact that our brand is so connected to the Philippines," she declares.

Her brand's connection to home doesn't start and end with an Instagram bio, either. Prim Botanicals has partnered with and will continue to support in-need groups in the Philippines.

Stefanie says, "We have helped build a boat to help kids get to school. We've sponsored pregnant women in need who live in Cebu. And we are currently partnered with Tiny Blessings to help improve the lives of homeless children in Manila. We just joined 1% for the Planet and will, of course, be focused on supporting Filipino organizations."

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Looking back at her life's detours, Stefanie isn't all that surprised that she ended up where she is today despite the businesses of film and skincare being worlds away from each other. 

"To me, a producer's mind and an entrepreneur's is really similar. You're the one behind the scenes making sure everything comes together," she describes.

But that's not to say that she's completely given up on film and acting entirely. She's simply waiting for COVID-19-caused restrictions to ease to ease up, then it's straight back to acting classes for her. Not to mention the fact that she also has her toddler son Oliver right by her side during this time—yet another of her life's biggest creations. 

Life might be on hold for Stefanie in the meantime as the world continues to find ways to live through a health crisis, but she's positive that she and her brand will get through.

"I will work on Prim for as long as it has me. And as usual, I always have a bunch of ideas going on at once. Stay tuned!" she ends. 

Photos from @primbotanicals @stefwdb