The market is rife with entrepreneurial start-ups, green household and body care brand Messy Bessy is one of the rare few that are in it for the betterment of others.
Neatly tucked in a non-descript low-rise in Makati, the Messy Bessy headquarters is, in a word, bustling. Box upon box of products are stacked around the floor area. Sales figures and targets are scrawled all over the whiteboards lining the walls. Teams of staff huddle closely to discuss assignments. Every few minutes, there is a sudden eruption of applause as another batch of products from Messy Bessy’s extensive line is readied for sale. Everything is pretty par for course for a fast-growing start-up brand.
Nine years since it launched in 2007, Messy Bessy has grown quite impressively. Their earth-friendly products, which have gone beyond home cleaning supplies to include bath and body, men’s care, and baby care offerings, are now available in nine kiosks and just about every major grocery and supermarket. But founder Kristine Reyes-Lopez reveals that the real measure of the brand’s success isn’t found in their bottom line.
Krie started her career far from the entrepreneurial path. “I was in corporate my entire pre-Messy Bessy life,” she shares. She became Starbucks’ 22nd employee in the Philippines shortly after graduating from college. “I grew with the company,” Krie says of her experience ushering the coffee giant into local shores. Starting off as a financial analyst helping to put together their business plan, she jumped from position to position in the fields of marketing, supply chain, financial planning, and others. Finally, a post as the company’s first head of CSR (corporate social responsibility) seemed like the perfect fit.
And yet it was not. The self-described “bleeding heart” left the company in search of something more. This led her to the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. There, Krie witnessed ex-convicts and rehabilitated drug addicts manage multi-million dollar businesses. The experience introduced her to the concept of social entrepreneurship, and the desire to pursue something similar back home took shape.
“I said, let’s put up a business that would also help,” she says. It wasn’t easy, but after a few false starts, Krie found her stride with Messy Bessy. The idea of creating a line of green household cleaning agents came at a time when the market wasn’t yet as saturated. But the company’s real goal was to take in at-risk youth from depressed communities into a controlled environment where they can be trained and empowered to rise above their trauma and poverty. Today, Messy Bessy’s team is largely comprised of young individuals, slowly but surely leaving behind their lives as street children, drug abusers, and rape and trafficking victims.
“We provide them with work,” says Krie. “And it’s important work. The company is moved forward through the work they do. So this isn’t just charity.” But more than that, the entire staff is monitored and graded daily as a means of instilling a sense of accountability and efficiency. Depending on what they are taking up in school, the students are immersed in accounting, HR, sales, and other fields as part of Messy Bessy’s work skill training.
Apart from employment, the staff also earn an education. “If you really are sincere in wanting to lift people out of poverty, then you have to help them earn a college diploma,” says Krie. An in-house program administers a basic high school curriculum, while partner colleges provide partial tuition subsidies. The company pays for their tuition fees upfront and they pay it off through the salary they earn.
Even more remarkable is Messy Bessy’s holistic approach to aiding their young staff. “There’s no other way to do it,” says Krie. “I used to think work was enough. Then I thought work and education should be enough. But turns out, the only way to do it is to go all the way.” The Messy Bessy staff also receive values education, guidance counseling, and financial literacy advice. For many of them, Messy Bessy is their only venue to discuss values, work through trauma, and learn practical life skills such as saving and budgeting.
It is through this careful, hands-on, and rounded approach that Messy Bessy was able to produce their first college graduate. Sixteen more are set to earn their degree in the coming school year. But with millions of at-risk youth all over the country, there’s no way one company can do it alone. In response to that, Krie and her team established HOUSE (Helping Ourselves Through Sustainable Enterprise) this year. Through HOUSE, other companies can adapt Messy Bessy’s system in giving at-risk individuals opportunities and resources to move their lives forward. Starbucks, Happy Skin, and Lay Bare are just some of the brands getting onboard.
Now at the helm of both Messy Bessy and HOUSE, Krie is living out her passion for helping other rise above poverty, and laying the path where other businesses can follow.