Starting a beauty business in the middle of a pandemic was not something that Mae Romero Do-Thanh could have predicted for herself. But the Filipina entrepreneur and owner of The Branding Room in Jumeirah Village Circle, Dubai, tells Gulf News that her life has always come with its own unique challenges — whether it’s switching careers or coming up against stereotypes about her nationality.
Do-Thanh’s keen interest in beauty and skincare, and a family background in entrepreneurship, inspired her to set up The Branding Room, a spa that offers facials, body treatments and other aesthetic services.
“I grew up with a father who is a successful businessman and hence he always encouraged me to become an entrepreneur and did not encourage me to join the family business as he believed I had it in me to do something on my own, which I was very grateful for,” says the 38-year-old.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a beauty business owner?
Working and owning a beauty business happened organically but not really deliberately for me. I initially hold a degree in Development Education but beauty is always something that I have had a passion for. I love getting treatments done on myself. I love knowing how they work — the theory and science of it. I love trying out skincare products. Hence it came very natural for me to gravitate toward setting up a business that has something to do with beauty.
Starting my venture, I did not want to be a mere investor. I truly wanted to be immersed in the industry. I did and still do love the idea of doing the treatments on clients myself. As a result, I devoted more than a year of my time to have a Diploma in Beauty Therapy and consequently acquire a DHA license.
You say you’ve faced stereotypes because you are a Filipina. Could you tell us more about that?
This is true. I do think living as an expat in a place where there is a big community of people who come from the same country, a certain type of generalisation is unavoidable. I’m sure that this doesn’t only relate to people coming from the Philippines and somehow we are all guilty of stereotyping in one way or another.
In my case, I am commonly mistaken to be from another country. When I do express that I am from the Philippines (born and raised) I usually get a surprised reaction — a good mix of positive ones and negative ones.
In relation to that, I get questioned a lot why I do not “sound” Filipino, why I do not “act” too Filipino and why I do not “look” very Filipino and this really points to the way that other people, including my own kabayans, have boxed UAE-based Filipinos in a certain perception and expectation.
It makes some people question my abilities as a professional in the realm of beauty particularly in the field of aesthetics and that can really be a tough pill to swallow.
How have these opinions influenced your life and way of doing business?
It makes me want to assert myself a little more. My desire to keep changing the narrative for us Filipinos grows more and more each passing day. I do want everyone to realise that I, and other Filipinos for that matter, can be as knowledgeable, skilled and competent as our counterparts from another country. Apart from that, I also want to exhibit that Filipinos are capable of putting up businesses of great calibre that can surely compete with others.
What did you want to achieve with The Branding Room?
With The Branding Room, I wanted a place where women can avail of results-driven plus highly professional face and body treatments in a luxe but approachable vibe. I also want to present ourselves as an alternative to our community [JVC] and the surrounding ones [since spas] located in other areas may be a hassle to get to.
Opening a beauty business during a pandemic might have been tricky. What was it like for you?
I do have to admit that it has been tough. There have been so many uncertainties hanging in the air for us. First, the [movement restrictions] delayed the finishing of our fitout. As a consequence, we were incurring expenses because we still had to pay for rent and other bills but no money was coming in.
Aside from that, when we were about to open as well as the first few weeks of operations there always was this looming question in our head — “would people come?” — because around that time (July 2020) a lot of people were still a bit scared of going out. So it was also tough mentally. I had a lot of sleepless nights.
In the world today, the concept of beauty is more inclusive and free. What does beauty mean to you?
For me, I would not associate beauty with the concept of ‘perfection’. I would rather link it to the idea of comfort. What I like telling clients is that our goal should be working our way to achieving the appearance that they would be comfortable to have.
If we would be comfortable with the skin and the body that we have then we would regard ourselves as beautiful. That will make us exude confidence with will actually add more to our allure.
2) Have at least the bare minimum skincare products to use at home — a cleanser, a moisturiser (both should be chosen according to your skin type) and SPF. Yes, people with oily skin still need a moisturiser.
3) If you do not exfoliate, kindly do. At least once a week. Twice at most. And yes, even people with sensitive skin will benefit from gentle exfoliation (avoid the grainy types for you guys). Now, for those who do it everyday or almost daily, please don’t.
4) Double cleanse at the end of the day. This would ensure that make-up, SPF and surface impurities would be removed from the skin and your face will be better prepared to take on the application of your skincare products. I would always suggest using a water soluble cleansing balm or a cleansing oil followed by your facial cleanser.
5) Saving one of my current favourite tip to tell people for last — stock up on two types of pimple patches. One that would be salicylic acid based and the other would be the hydrocolloid dots. Put on the salicylic acid dot at the onset of a spot. Keep putting one for 2-3 days until it either resolves itself or it would be ready for extraction. After getting it extracted, put the hydrocolloid patches for another 2-3 days.
Are there any skincare or make-up products you can’t live without?
I would ALWAYS have the following at home:
1) Cleansing balm (my favourite is The Green Clean by Farmacy)
2) Facial Gel Cleanser (my current favourite is Hydropeptide’s Cleansing Gel)
3) Hydrating Mist (what I use currently is Hydration Accelerator by Josh Rosebrook)
4) Facial Serums (I am currently loving the Resurfacing Compound of U Beauty for night-time use and Summer Friday’s CC Me Vitamin C serum for the AM )
5) Moisturiser (As of the moment, for AM I use Tatcha’s Water Cream and in the PM I would either use Fresh’s Rose Hydrating Cream or Josh Rosebrook’s Vital Cream depending on the state my skin is in)
6) Concealer (My favourite would be the one by Jouer Cosmetics)
7) Blush (current favourite would be the ones from Zoeva or Becca)
8) Mascara (Two Faced and Lancome)