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She’s the boss: Filipinas who are making waves abroad

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Mar 08, 2021 9:39 pm

The Filipina stands out on the global stage because of her unquestionable talent. What also makes her stand out is her spirit—propelled by the desire to succeed not only for her to break barriers and shatter glass ceilings, but also to help her community and her advocacy.

A successful woman revels in whatever she wants to be. She is no girl boss or lady boss. She is THE boss.

Here are accomplished Filipinas making waves abroad in their respective fields.

Melanie Perkins

Canva CEO and founder Melanie Perkins. Photo from @canva on Twitter

Melanie Perkins, CEO and founder of graphic design platform Canva, made waves last year as she was named Australia's youngest billionaire at 32 years old and the third richest woman in Australia.

But before getting there, Fil-Aussie Perkins had to pitch to over 100 investors to fund the design startup, all of whom rejected Canva.

She has said in the past that the rejection motivated her to work hard and drive the startup to success, even if it meant she had to go extreme lengths, like learning how to kite surf, to talk to potential investors. Her hard work bore fruit, as little by little, investors started to trickle in, starting with Hollywood actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.

Today, Canva is considered as one of Australia’s tech unicorns, with over 30 million users monthly.

Before starting Canva, Perkins and her fiancé, Cliff Obrecht, founded Fusion Books, an online design system for schools to create their yearbooks. It is still in operation today and has become the largest yearbook publisher in Australia. It recently expanded to France and New Zealand.

Monique Lhuillier

Fashion designer Monique Lhuillier. Photo from

Monique Lhuillier creations are red carpet favorites, and brides dream of walking down the aisle in a Monique Lhuillier on their special day.

She has dressed Hollywood stars, and former first ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. She also dressed US Vice President Kamala Harris on her wedding day.

Celebrities who sought Lhuillier’s expertise for their wedding gowns include Britney Spears (2004 wedding to Kevin Federline), Reese Witherspoon, P!nk and Carrie Underwood.

Lhuillier, who grew up in Cebu City, launched her eponymous label in 1996 with her husband Tom Bugbee, whom she met while studying at the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.

She put up her first store in 2001 in Los Angeles and has since opened stores in Costa Mesa in California and New York City.

Lhuillier, who is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, also has line of accessories that includes footwear and bags. Most recently, she released her Monique Lhuillier fragrance.

In recent years, her company transformed into a luxury lifestyle brand after releasing product lines including fine jewelry, lingerie, wedding invitations and home fragrance that are available in premium department stores and specialty stores worldwide.

Raissa Gerona

Revolve chief brand officer and Alliance Apparel co-founder Raissa Gerona. Photo from 

Raissa Gerona is the chief brand officer of fashion empire Revolve and co-founder of fashion design and production house Alliance Apparel.

Gerona is known for nailing a successful influencer marketing strategy (which she first implemented in her company Alliance Apparel), where she taps social media influencers to beef up the company’s audience reach, and eventually translate it to sales.

This strategy was later adapted on a larger scale by Revolve, an online clothing company, which acquired Alliance Apparel in 2015.

A large part of Revolve’s success in the past few years has been credited to Gerona, whose influencer-fueled strategy was able to connect with millennials and Gen Z customers that led the company to breach its $600 million sales in 2019.

Gerona, whose family moved to the US from the Philippines when she was seven years old, is based in Los Angeles and has a Politcal Science degree from the University of California Irvine.

Stefanie Walmsley

Prim Botanicals founder Stefanie Walmsley. Photo from

Stefanie Walmsley, who was born and raised in the Philippines, founded beauty brand Prim Botanicals in 2015 as a passion project.

Walmsley was inspired to start an all-natural line when she went for a vacation in Cebu in 2013. After an afternoon on the beach, she used fresh aloe vera on her skin and was reminded of the natural beauty remedies that are abundant in the country.

When she returned to the US, with $3,000 of her own money, Walmsley started Prim Botanicals from her New York City apartment. With her products, Walmsley also aims to share with the rest of the world that many natural, fresh and organic ingredients are found in the Philippines.

Today, Walmsley’s botanical blends are available at several retail and online stores across the US.

The brand gives back to communities in the Philippines by partnering with different non-profit organizations. According to its website, it gives back every month whether or not it receives money for donations.

Before moving to the US in 2000 to pursue an acting career and study film, Walmsley dabbled in show business in the Philippines and was even a member of ABS-CBN’s Star Circle. She co-produced a film called God of Love, which won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2011.

Leah Cohen

Pig & Kao chef and owner Leah Cohen. Photo from

Leah Cohen is the chef and owner of Pig & Kao restaurant in New York City, which serves mostly Thai and Filipino dishes.

Cohen, a Top Chef alum, opened Pig & Kao with her husband Ben Byruch in 2012 after a traveling and working in Southeast Asia, where she found inspiration from the region’s dishes and cooking techniques.

She was raised with the traditions of her parents’ ethnic background—her mother is Filipino and her father’s Romanian-Jewish.

Early on, she decided to pursue a culinary career and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America and graduated at the top of her class. She continued studying at CIA, where she also got her bachelor’s degree in restaurant management.

She has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants with renowned chefs like David Burke, Anne Burrell and Daniel Humm.

She also penned her first cookbook Lemongrass & Lime, which features Southeast Asian cuisine inspired by her frequent travels to the region.

Sara Ku

Kaya Essentials founder Sara Ku. Photo from

Los Angeles-based Sara Ku founded organic skincare line Kaya Essentials in 2017.

Born in Hong Kong to a Filipino mother and a British father, Ku interned for Gawad Kalinga while she was studying at the University of London. The non-profit introduced her to the concept of social business.

Ku’s coconut skincare line uses cold-centrifuged organic virgin coconut oil from a fair trade farm in Davao. Her products are handmade in small batches and only uses four ingredients or less.

Ku also supports female artisans in the Philippines by giving them a platform to sell their one-of-a-kind pieces on her site.

And as part of giving back, Ku partners with Gawad Kalinga, the same non-profit she worked for, and several organizations to fight child hunger. With every single purchase of its products, Kaya provides a school meal for a child in the US and the Philippines with the help of its partners.