Every business must answer a need. Otherwise, it would soon meet its demise and fade out in a sea of start-ups, trampled over by the next big thing. Fifteen years ago, Michelle Asence-Fontelera noticed how expensive imported bath and body products were and how no local brands provided the same good quality at affordable prices. Hence in 2001, Zen Zest was born. It was Michelle’s answer to the need of every Filipina to elevate her beauty, style, and home without breaking the bank.

As a beauty junkie and fragrance lover herself, Michelle believes in investing in your passions. For three months, she trained under a chemist and learned how to formulate her own products. Her initial colognes, hand sanitizers, lotions, perfumes, and soaps were all concocted and personally packaged in her home. With a P350,000 capital borrowed from her family, she opened Zen Zest’s first humble stall in SM Megamall and earned exactly P4,178 on her first day of business.

From that one small kiosk, the proudly Filipino-owned company grew into a successful enterprise. Banking on the observation that, “no matter how tough the economy gets, Filipinos still find the time and budget to hunt for and buy products that will make them look good and feel good,” Michelle was able to grow Zen Zest with over 100 outlets nationwide and abroad, and registering 100,000 bottles of Zen Zest fragrances sold monthly. Today, they have expanded their product line to include body scrubs, home fragrances, and baby colognes – their latest venture.

“The key is to keep the products affordable, but that doesn’t mean that they have to look like it,” Michelle reveals. Despite offering their products at a very low price point, Zen Zest maintains its promise of quality and beauty inside and out. Think under P200 gift packs that look, smell, and feel like the fancy toiletries imported from other countries. She shares, “Our holiday sets are especially competitive because we want to give our customers the option to give affordable presents that the recipient would truly appreciate.”

The core strength of Zen Zest will always be the formulation of its products. Michelle’s vision for the company has always been to compete on an international scale, using big imported brands as the benchmark for all of their merchandise. For body fragrances, the mild and citrusy scents like orange honeysuckle and white musk are customer favorites. Relaxing lavender scents mixed with vanilla or rose are their top sellers for room fragrances. Michelle explains, “We pride ourselves in keeping up to date with the trends with our extensive market research. If the market needs or wants it, we’ll have it.”

Zen Zest has already broken through the Asian market and their stalls have reached Japan, Bahrain, and Brunei where their cocktail collection of scents with clever names such as Cosmopolitan, Margherita, and White Russia are big hits. “The goal now is to penetrate the US market and go main stream in the West,” shares the entrepreneur. And it doesn’t seem like a farfetched target at all. As they celebrate their 15th year in business, Zen Zest promises that the brand has more exciting products and news up its sleeves. Not one to rest on her laurels, Michelle says, “Fifteen years may seem like a long time to be in business, but it’s just the beginning for Zen Zest.” Indeed, the future of Zen Zest is looking bright and smelling sweet.