Pili Ani is a skin-care brand from the Philippines that centers around the power of two skin-loving oils: Pili oil and Elemi oil (both of which come from the Pili tree that is indigenous to the Philippines). While many people are familiar with the skin-care benefits of other plant-derived oils, such as argan oil, tea tree oil, and marula oil, the magic of the Pili is not yet as widely known. What makes Pili incredibly special are its unique, two-part benefits. Pili oil, which comes from the actual nut, is antioxidant-rich, and filled with vitamin E and fatty acids, allowing it to protect the skin from aging, pollution, and free radicals. Then there’s Elemi oil, which comes from the sap of the tree. This oil has firming properties, and is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
When I was first introduced to Pili Ani, I felt a special connection to the brand. Not only because I’m Filipino and it was the first Philippine beauty brand that I had learned about at the time, but because Pili is from the Bicol region of the Philippines, where my mom is from. I also loved that the brand was founded by Rosalina Tan and her daughter, Mary Jane Tan-Ong. When I told my mom about Pili oil, she was surprised—she didn’t know that it had so many skin-care benefits. In fact, my mom only knew it as an edible snack!
I decided that it was only natural to have my mom, Epifania, aka Fannie, hop on her first-ever Zoom call so we could have a little mother-daughter convo with Rosalina and Mary Jane about the Philippines, what makes Filipino beauty so special, and the wonderful Pili tree.
Marie: Mom, can you first tell us what it was like growing up in Bicol, and your own relationship with the Pili Tree?
Mom: When I was growing up, we had this big tree in the back. That's how I know what Pili is. The fruit starts as green and when it ripens, it gets black. We would boil some water, put it in, and then eat it. It’s so good.
Mary Jane: So with us, we were never really from Bicol. It started off more than 20 years back for me, I was in a different business, distributing Ginebra San Miguel gin. So it was really more of the hard liquor business that I was in, and then we really got into the Pili business because [my mom] met the farmer who sold her that bottle of Pili. My fondest memory of the Pili Tree is when I saw a very, very big tree that probably took five people to hug it. And it was a centennial old tree.
Rosalina: We are not from Bicol, but I consider it my second home because when I was in the organic fertilizer production I often went there. I joined the Department of Agriculture, so I used to go there and I noticed that the people there are very kind, you know, they are very respectful. Up to now they have this mano-mano [a gesture that is made when greeting elders as a sign of respect]. I love the people from Bicol. I had said that whenever I would move, I would make it my second home. So I moved to Bicol, and there, I discovered more about the Pili.
Mom: Well, I left Bicol when I was young, at 18 years old, to live in Manila.
Rosalina: How long have you been away from the Philippines?
Mom : Oh, I've been in the States 51 years. Where are you from the Philippines?
Rosalina: Our base is in Manila but my second home is in Bicol, in Pili. What a coincidence. I say it was destiny. I never thought we were going to have a Pili business and then I would move to [the town of] Pili.
Marie: What was everyone’s beauty routine like when you were younger?
Mom: I didn't have a mother who raised me, and my aunt was very strict. You could not even put on lipstick.
Mary Jane: Let me add on to that. That's basically what Filipina beauty is like, very plain, more natural. We kind of like to embrace everything natural. So like the coconut in the backyard. And probably a little color. Probably you can use this much with it as your coloring but it's basically in general, I think the Filipinos are very happy. So it kind of exudes that happy feeling and it shows on your face with that glow. The Filipinos are very resilient. So it kind of exudes if you're happy. From inside, you glow naturally. So I didn't have any beauty routine just like your mom and her. How was your beauty routine? What about before?
Rosalina: What did I do? Just my eyebrows and wash my face. That's it! Only now I'm using lipstick because it’s my own product.
Mom: When I was a teenager and away from my aunt I started wearing lipstick. Now I don't go out without lipstick and I always want a red, red one, too. I don't know how many different kinds of lipstick I have, Marie keeps bringing me some.
Mary Jane: The lip butters are going to be perfect for your mom.
Marie: So that kind of goes with my next question, what kind of beauty advice did you get from your mom? Like with my mom, it was red lipstick, I always wear red lipstick like her. It brightens up my face and makes me feel happy and more confident. And also to always moisturize.
Mom: A friend asked me, why do you always like to wear red lipstick? I said because it's easy for me to show you my lips. [laughs]
Mary Jane: You know, it’s the basic essentials, which are the eyebrows, the tattooed [brows], and lipstick. And we're good. I think basically, if you're happy with yourself, it shows confidence. And then moisturizer is basically the most basic thing that you need.
Marie: It’s really great to see that there are even more Filipino beauty brands coming out. It just felt like, finally!
Mary Jane: Also, we have had so many Miss Universe winners. So we have had that talent and that [impact on] beauty out there.
Marie: It feels great to celebrate what makes Philippine beauty unique. I'm so excited that you and other Filipino brands are launching more in the US and that people are learning more about it.
Mom: Me too, I'm proud that you're doing this with Pili from Bicol. I never could have thought you would be able to do something like this with it.
Mary Jane: Yes, many Filipinos don't even know that Pili can be used on the skin. And this is something that we are working on—getting the knowledge out, to tell the story and tell people what we are and how amazing these two kinds of oils are.
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