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Female Founders: Martine Ho of Sunnies Face On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Your mind is the most important asset, so invest in it. — Invest time into learning new skills and expanding your knowledge and never stop learning. I have currently thrown myself into furniture design as it excites me.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martine Ho, Creative Director & Co-Founder of Sunnies Face.

Sunnies Face was founded in 2013 by Bea Soriano-Dee, Eric Dee, Georgina Wilson, Jess Wilson and Martine Cajucom-Ho in the Philippines. Back in 2011, Eric Dee & Bea Soriano-Dee started Charlie, a retail brand that carried a line of shoes, bags and clothes. In 2013, Georgina Wilson joined the team as Marketing Director along with Martine Cajucom-Ho as Creative Director. Together, they dominated the industry under the brand Sunnies by Charlie, Inc. In February 2014, the directors decided to change the company name to Sunnies Studios & dropped Charlie, from the increased popularity of the sunglasses line. 2016, saw the launching of Sunnies Specs Optical, a new line of prescription eyewear under Sunnies Studios, & branching out to F&B with Sunnies Café. In 2018, Sunnies launched a new line of cosmetics under the Sunnies Face brand.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I remember during career day in high school when people asked what I wanted to do with my life, my answer was always to have my own makeup brand. It normally doesn’t end up that your professional dreams as a teenager come true and I still pinch myself that this what I get to do every day. I ended up studying journalism, media design and photography, which led me to start a blog as a hobby and a way to document my work and life and ramblings a young adult. This blog led me to my first job out of college at American Apparel as a creative assistant at 21. I worked there for 5 years working on shoots, campaigns, marketing, ads and product development.

Years down the road, my cousin Georgina visited me in LA and asked if I could create branding for a new eyewear business, she was doing back in Manila with our two friends Bea and Eric. The work we did together was so seamless and felt natural that they ended up offering me to become a partner in the business and I quit my job and moved to the Philippines. Eight years later, that eyewear brand is known today known as Sunnies Studios with over 150 retail locations where we offer stylish, well-made sunglasses and prescription eyewear without the luxury markup.

Throughout all this, I was still obsessive over makeup, most especially lipstick colors in our campaigns. We constantly struggled finding the right shades to suit the range of our Filipino skin tone. Sunnies Face became a natural progression over our desire to create things that didn’t exist locally in the Philippines. We could have never predicted how much our products would have resonated with people globally.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Sunnies Face is turning four this year and it’s been quite the journey getting here but I will say I always look back at the memories of our 2018 launch with so much pride and fondness. We launched Sunnies Face with just one product, the Fluffmatte lipstick, and there was no way we could have predicted the response and demand for it. Our initial inventory that was meant an entire year ran out in just four weeks (and this was with limiting each customer to only three pieces per day to limit the reseller market, who were making a killing selling it for five times as much). Our website crashed with 2.7 million visitors trying to access it and we had lines that wrapped around the mall for hours. It was a wild and exhilarating time to launch a product that really resonated with the people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’d say this is an ongoing humorous thing, but as the creative director, the numbers side of the business and general business terminology just doesn’t process in my brain the way a Pantone book does. I am constantly sending my cousin and co-founder Georgina private messages asking her to clarify what certain acronyms are and to decode graphs for me. She is constantly demystifying the otherwise very foreign financial aspect of the business to me.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have the most utmost respect and admiration for my business partners, who are first and foremost close friends above business. We all jokingly refer to Eric, the only guy in our partnership, as our collective husband and us as his wives. I’d say I work closest and am most especially grateful for my relationship with Georgina. She has always been entrepreneurial even while we were kids growing up and was integral to me being part of the business as she somehow convinced me to leave my steady job in America and move to different continent to join this roller coaster of a business with her.

According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Let me answer this with as much honesty as possible. Women, unfortunately, have a disproportionate opportunity for professional growth as the prime time to make strides in our careers overlap with what society deems as our limited years of fertility. When you’re given the difficult choice of caring for your newborn at home or pursuing a business, business is more likely to take a backseat. Starting a business was extremely challenging but being a working mom has added a whole new slew of challenges to that list. I feel that all of us working mothers, be it a founder or not, are part of a not-so-secret club of superheroes.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Better subsidies for childcare and supporting women in the workplace. I can’t emphasize this more. It’s been proven how subsidized care increases the chance for mothers to continue and thrive professionally. I also think big picture wise society can be less critical and more empathetic to women. It seems women are constantly put at an impossible standard compared to their male counterparts.

Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women in leadership often offer a different perspective from their own life experiences and having more businesses with female founders will provide more balance and empathy in this world and workplace.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I’d like to dispel the glorification myth that being a founder is a sexy, glamorous role. Being a founder (and a mother on top of that) means sleepless nights where your brain has difficulty shutting off. Beneath the eyewear and concealer are eyebags on many days.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

An unrelenting vision with a mind that is obsessive over envisioning and working towards the future and problem solving.

Mental resilience because running a business will test you mentally, physically and emotionally and can break you if you let it.

Lastly, the humility and self-awareness to know your weak points and a keen sense for spotting talent and honing it in the right way.

Being a founder and essentially “the boss” can sometimes be an isolating and even lonely position. For those that value that very special work-life balance, being an employee is a wonderful position to be in. The movement of “work to live” (where you work only enough to allow yourself to enjoy life beyond your job) is one where most will find happiness and I fully support that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Having a business is not for those who prioritize long sleeps and sleeping in. — Like having a child, sleep will be challenging many nights when running a business.

Your mind is the most important asset, so invest in it. — Invest time into learning new skills and expanding your knowledge and never stop learning. I have currently thrown myself into furniture design as it excites me.

Making hiring a slow science rather than a quick win. — Don’t hire people while you’re desperate for a certain position. You’ll never make the right choice. I made this mistake a few times during the first few years of management.

Make the team to mentor your team and be mentored yourself. — We all have valuable life and professional experiences we can share with each other. Nurture those relationships and your mind will only be enriched from it.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. — When I gave birth back in May 2020, it was at the peak of the pandemic, and I was stuck in a lockdown in Melbourne without any help or family. It was a very difficult time, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to perform in my role to the best of my capabilities. I was vocal with my needs and was able to get the support I needed from my partners and team.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

With Sunnies Inc. we’ve partnered with organization Waves for Water to provide clean water access to local communities in the Philippines, providing clean water to thousands of households and counting. We also work with 1% for the Planet where we commit 1% of all our sales company wide to actively help the state of our planet.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?

Giving a voice and representation for the Filipino community is what we’re most proud of and excited to see grow.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

My maternal grandfather. He passed away when I was too young to understand what an incredible man he was. He started from nothing and was self-made with several successful businesses, had impeccable taste, intuition and integrity and had the wittiest sense of humor and warmth. I would give anything for the chance to pick his brain and hear his wisdom.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.