Chemist turned entrepreneur has the right stuff for girls

(The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Can a chemist be kikay? Janina Gutierrez Tan is proof it’s possible. With her brown-and-blonde-streaked hair cut to a bob a la Victoria Beckam and her gold-flecked red nail polish matching her equally fiery pair of patent heels, the chemistry graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University with a PhD from the University of Florida is a combination of geek and chic, the science equivalent of Reese Witherspoon’s lovable law student character in the hit movie Legally Blonde.

Though she sported heart-shaped glasses back in school, Tan (whose mother was a chemist for a pharmaceutical company, and whose grandfather, Anacleto del Rosario, is the Philippines’ first chemist) was also a self-described nerd. “I wanted to be secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” she says. Often immersed in lab work, she envied her carefree classmates to the point that she nearly shifted courses. Thankfully, her department chair talked her out of it, saying that she could do anything she wanted after she completed her degree.

And so, after training mechanics to use ozone layer-friendly coolants when she was an officer for the DENR, then analyzing nuclear waste to ensure its safety in her job as research assistant at the University of Florida, Tan finds a fun yet purposeful use for her valuable knowledge. As founder of Girlstuff Health and Beauty Products, she provides her market—girls aged 8 to 12—with cosmetics that are both age-appropriate and safe.

“The frequent comment I get from moms is that ‘ginagawa mo naman kikay ang anak ko,’” says Tan. “I tell them, well, they’re going to start getting interested in beauty products anyway. Would you want them to use your makeup? With Girlstuff, the products are not only safe and age appropriate, they also teach girls about personal grooming and hygiene.”

Born in 2006 after her young nieces searched the market for make-up they could use but came home empty-handed, Girlstuff began making its mark with vitamin E-infused lip glosses and lipsticks, light colognes and powders containing shimmer, and released the first-ever water-based peel-off nail polish in Manila. When Tan noticed the high demand for polish (which she touts as “the new lipstick”), she supplied the market with products free from formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phtalate.

“Toluene is like the thinner used in paint. Formaldehyde helps the polish dry quickly but is a preservative. And dibutyl phtalate is a plasticizer used for easy application,” explains Tan. Formulated in France, which strictly observes laws on the manufacture of kid-friendly cosmetics, Girlstuff nail polish offers alternative ingredients to toxic and carcinogenic substances, without compromising quality or wear.

Available in a range of cute colors and at an affordable P100 to P140, the polish is perfect for its targeted tweens. So why are grownups going for Girlstuff, too? Besides being budget-friendly, the trend in nail art has changed considerably from the days when only certain shades were acceptable on long, well-filed nails. While various shades of pink predictably do well in Girlstuff’s three branches (Girlstuff Kiosk Mall of Asia, Girlstuff Nail Polish Bar Megamall, and Girlstuff Nail Polish Bar SM North Edsa) and in the children’s accessories departments of SM Department Stores and Rustan’s Department Stores, Tan also notes a clamor for colors not often associated with polish.

“I thought I would never do black,” offers the Girlstuff founder who wears polish even with short nails. “Now I even wear blues and greens.” Even Tan’s own mother has taken to experimenting with unusual shades; just the other day, the matriarch caught her daughter’s eye with her polish, a funky combination of fuchsia and green. 

Indeed, it’s this anything-goes attitude to nails that has inspired some of the most exciting and adventurous collections from Girlstuff yet. Subdued shades named after iconic ladies Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly are lined up for the holiday season, while early 2014 sees the release of a “candylicious” collection of polishes in happy, vibrant shades, as well as a polish in Pantone’s color of the year—Dazzling Blue.

Tan is also coming up with polishes boasting a textured, sandy finish, and top coats (like the glittery gold she wore) created to add oomph to even the simplest colors. And in keeping with Girlstuff’s advocacy for safe products, Tan is working on a non-acetone polish remover.

For Tan, who was touched when she watched a customer sacrificing her commute money for a bottle of her favorite Girlstuff nail polish, giving consumers other options to beauty products isn’t just the best part of work. “It’s fun!” says the lady who has learned to love dressing up. “Whenever I look at my nails, it just lifts my day.”

Now married to a lawyer and a mother to boys aged eight and seven, Tan wonders what her life and career might have been like had she stayed on in her environmental jobs, or in her last post as assistant professor and lecturer at the Ateneo. She explains that she has no regrets because now she gets to spend more time with her family. In addition, she gets to apply her expertise in a “fun” way.

“It’s really not what I studied, but who I am from my experiences,” says Tan.

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