Diego Buenaflor of Ellana Mineral Cosmetics, Delivering Confidence Digitally


By Camille Geguera

For an industry more than 7,000 years old, the beauty market is showing surprising growth. According to the NPD Group's 2018 market report, the U.S. prestige beauty industry showed a 6 percent sales increase over 2017, a trend reflected across the world. What’s causing this year-on-year growth? The prevailing theory is the rise of social media, specifically YouTube and Instagram.

In the Philippines, demand for local and international cosmetics is at an all time high. In 2019, BeautyMNL was the 2nd most visited local e-commerce site in the Philippines. Here’s how Ellana Mineral Cosmetics, an iconic Filipino beauty brand, is pushing for rapid growth through e-commerce.

A Confident Start

Theresa Buenaflor started Ellana Cosmetics to create makeup that built confidence. “There was a gap in the market for skin safe cosmetics that matched Southeast Asian skin tones and suited the tropical weather,” shares Diego, current CEO of Ellana Cosmetics and Theresa’s husband. Initially launching with only foundations, Ellana completed their lineup with face, eye, cheek, and lip products. 

Specializing in complexion products, Ellana’s cosmetics were formulated for individuals with sensitive and delicate skin using pure mineral and botanical ingredients. As mineral makeup wasn’t as prevalent when Ellana was founded, the company ensured customers were guided by beauty consultants, a service now extended to their digital presence.

The shift to digital 

“When my wife launched Ellana in 2007, she already had an e-commerce site. So digital reach was part of Ellana’s core,” Diego notes, going on to share why Ellana focused on retail operations instead digital sales. Simply, the market wasn’t ready yet and consumers didn’t seem comfortable purchasing cosmetics on the internet. “When we saw the trends changing in 2017, we decided it was time to go big on e-commerce and it paid off.” 

Now, Ellana’s website is the number one single brand color cosmetics website in terms of revenue. Their digital ambitions have supported and surpassed their 50-store strong retail operation. But it’s not just sales: the key to Ellana’s digital strategy is finding the right mix of marketing and sales across channels. Ellana maintains relationships with its customer base across its digital presence. As a start-up catering to a niche market, it seems a necessary strategy.

When Diego joined the Ellana team in 2013, customers learned about beauty through magazines. Three years later, social media reigned as consumers’ source of information. Seeing the seismic shift in market behavior, Diego saw the need to adapt. Supported by a strong background in digital marketing and entrepreneurship, Diego reintroduced Ellana’s brand across the digital landscape.

Built to evolve

With entrepreneur parents, it is no wonder Diego followed a similar path. Growing up, he picked up the nuances of decision-making and working well in an organization. His entrepreneurial instincts came early: from selling supplements in college to real estate ventures, to running an online film festival called 180cinema.net, and now Ellana.

In the early days of Ellana, Diego recognized a key problem with local color cosmetics: there were only a few brands, almost none with manufacturing capabilities. This took a toll on the company and Theresa began her own production. However, it became clear the company’s strength was research, branding, and innovative product development. As a result, Diego realigned the focus of the company from manufacturing to its current state.

The shift wasn’t without challenges, especially for a brand seeking to design products for the local market. “We’re not a mass-market,” Diego asserts, observing that most products present in the Philippines are by foreign brands localizing to cater to the mass market. “We have the challenge of finding talents for that because a lot of local brands here is mass market and it's a different game.” 

Passion-driven venture

Ellana’s 12-year-old business continues to thrive online and offline, expanding internationally across Southeast Asia and America. When asked for advice he could give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Diego says, “Do something that you are passionate about. Have fun. Make sure that it is worthy of your time because you need to be dedicated. Completely focused. As long as you have the drive, people and other resources will gravitate towards you.” True to their mission, Ellana provides high-quality makeup rooted in the passion to make individuals feel confident while evolving to meet the needs of an ever-changing market. 

Check out Ellana Mineral Cosmetics here.