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The Rocha sisters: Bonding over art and business

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 07, 2021 5:00 am

“Look at what you have around you, make the best of it, and have fun!” advised artist Charlie Rocha to his daughters as they were growing up. Creative, multi-talented, resourceful, and yes, lovely -- these are words I would like to use to describe the Rocha sisters.

Let me introduce you to Mia, Kimi and Georgia. Growing up in an artistic and entrepreneurial environment helped shape their current undertakings, which span luscious desserts, various scents, baby products, snacks, and even art.

Their mom and dad were great influences in their lives who nurtured these expressions that ended up as profitable businesses.

Their mother, Minda, was an educator but before that, owned an art gallery and was a fine art dealer. The three ladies grew up informed about art but they were also business-minded.

As kids, they would sell snacks in school, tutor younger students, and make friendship bracelets for a fee, among other little ventures.

They were never pressured to follow a specific path, were encouraged in their choices, and supported with their desire to earn an income at a young age. This was their home atmosphere growing up, and it shaped their current endeavors.

Mia Rocha: So True Naturals

Mia is the eldest sister and is married to respected actor and singer Raymond Lauchengco. She is mom to Nat and Davey.

Her venture into business all began when she started making soap for her daughter, who had very sensitive skin. She discovered that Castile soap made only from olive oil and called the “newborn soap” was mild enough to use.

If I was desperate enough to make my own soap, in my kitchen, imagine all the moms who felt the way I did, but didn’t have the time to make them? That’s when the business started.

Despite having no experience in soap making and even hating chemistry, she still taught herself to make it. So True Naturals was established a few years later.

“I realized that if I was desperate enough to make my own soap, in my kitchen, imagine all the moms who felt the way I did, but didn’t have the time to make them? That’s when the business started. Then later on, the product line grew depending on my kids’ needs: vapor rubs, insect repellents, etc. And when they needed less attention, I remembered, ‘Oh, I have a house pala!’ and that’s when I ventured into home scents like room sprays, diffusers, and candles.”

 Castile bar soaps from So True Naturals

So True Naturals is a 100-percent-Filipino brand that was founded in 2011. They make natural skincare products, from soaps, balms and scrubs to home scents like room sprays and candles.

Admirably, all their products are made by a group of women in the care of a partner foundation that provides education, shelter, livelihood training, and opportunities for survivors of human trafficking.

Mia says, “In 2018, I started doing workshops, teaching others how to make soap. I thought I would get a lot of moms who wanted to learn to make natural products for their kids, but it turned out that many of them were corporate executives looking for a creative outlet to avoid burnout, or people who wanted to start businesses of their own.

“These workshops are now all on Zoom. This year we introduced Workshops On Demand, which are pre-recorded online workshops on making soaps and scents. Retail is exciting and a lot of fun, but teaching gives a very different sense of fulfillment.”

COVID disrupted her business, like all other businesses around the globe.

  The So True Naturals line includes Castile soaps, room and linen sprays, soy candles, soothing balms and scented sachets.

“At the start of the pandemic, I thought that was the end of it. I wanted to shut down. How do we get supplies? How do we deliver them? My workshops were just gaining traction and suddenly, face-to-face gatherings were prohibited. But I have an amazing team who didn’t think it was right to give up. So we didn’t.

“We found that as makers of soaps (essential goods), some of our suppliers were allowed to operate. Three weeks into the lockdown, we made the bold decision to announce our first-ever Zoom workshops. Pre-pandemic, the plan was to record online courses, but our shoot fell on the week ECQ was first announced, so that was obviously shelved, and the decision to shift to Zoom was pretty much made on the fly. But it worked.” 

As restrictions eased, her team was finally able to make time to shoot the online courses, and they launched Workshops On Demand for bar and liquid soap and natural home scents early this year. So True Naturals hopes to launch another set of Workshops On Demand soon, this time for candles, balms, and scrubs.

A wife, mother, daughter, and sister, Mia's greatest pandemic lesson is not related to business at all but very personal. “I’ve always known this, but it’s become so clear during this pandemic that you can’t say ‘I love you’ too many times.”

Kimi Rocha: Yellow Door Gallery and BananaramaPH

The middle child — or shall I say, middle daughter — is Kimi. I think among the three girls, she inherited from her parents Charlie and Minda the love for art the most. She has been married for almost seven years to businessman Francisco Delgado IV.

Her father, Charlie, was an entrepreneur but has always been artistic. His daughters would witness him produce wonderful paintings and create sculptures that were sold at her mother’s art gallery on Pasay Road called Galeria Mia. He goes by the name “Carlos” as an artist. His three daughters encouraged him to mount an exhibition when he was contemplating retirement in the early 2000s.

By default, they became his “managers.” For his first show at the Power Plant Mall, his paintings sold out in 10 minutes.

“A Second at a Small Café” by Carlos is available at the online gallery of Kimi Rocha Delgado. Follow the artist on Instagram.

Kimi recalls, “As the years went by, my sisters moved on to other careers, but I stayed on, managing my dad’s profession, mounting exhibitions for him. The art business felt like it grew organically — my mom was a gallery owner so I felt like I knew the business and what it entailed. I love art, so it’s a pleasure being surrounded by my dad’s canvases.”

Kimi’s view on the art of Carlos: “I do find his art unique. I love art with socio-political commentary or that are heavy with thoughts about the human condition, but my dad’s philosophy is to create art that brings joy and incites an appreciation of the beautiful things in life we tend to take for granted. To create unabashedly beautiful paintings without irony or cynicism — that sounds unique to me in this milieu.”

I remember trying banana pudding for the first time in the US and thinking I could make it even better at home with what I consider to be the best bananas in the world: Philippine bananas.

When the pandemic kicked in, exhibit spaces were closed. However, Kimi had already established a website for the artworks.

In the downtime between exhibitions, Kimi pursued entrepreneurial endeavors like BananaramaPH. She loved to bake and cook and found it to be a stress reliever. It never occurred to her to make this hobby into a business because she didn’t want to be stressed to begin with.

“I purposely avoided making it a business because I felt that having a business and its challenges were the very reasons I needed a hobby like baking in the first place!

The Bananarama strawberry choco-chip flavor

“I remember trying banana pudding for the first time in the US and thinking I could make it even better at home with what I consider to be the best bananas in the world: Philippine bananas. When I started making it over a decade ago just for my family, nobody had heard of it here in Manila, which is why my family and friends were pushing me to sell it! Still, for years, I said no.”

In 2016, her sister Mia was organizing a pop-up bazaar. With only a week before the event, she told Kimi that she had reserved a booth for her and to “get going.” Left with no choice, Kimi thought of a name, created labels and packaging and BananaramaPH came to fruition. She threw herself into this project with her trusty, tiny Kyowa hand mixer.

It was stressful and exhausting but the response was overwhelming. Her banana pudding was selling out at every bazaar. Influencers started featuring BananaramaPH on social media, and soon she realized that maybe she had something. BananaramaPH was built on one recipe: banana pudding. Now they have 12 different pudding flavors, including mango, strawberry, and avocado.

With the restrictions of the lockdowns, Kimi had to manage BananaramaPH herself as her staff couldn’t come to work. She moved its operations back to her home kitchen. For her sales, she already had a working online and social media platform to promote her products.

Kimi shares her personal introspection about COVID: “I learned how to lean on God. It’s all a mess, really — nothing is sure or set in stone, things are always changing, most of the time for the worse. Nobody expected and nobody knows what to expect of this pandemic.

“God has been the source of strength for me, even more so in my personal life. Most of the time, I don’t understand Him at all, but He doesn’t require that we do, just that we trust Him. There’s a song that goes, ‘When you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.’ It’s not easy; it’s a daily, hourly practice.”

Georgia Rocha: Snackalubong

The bunso of the Rocha sisters is Georgia, who is wife to Gilson Chu and mom to Ada, Gray, Erin and five dogs.

Like Kimi, she is enthusiastic about cooking and baking, which she attributes to her mom Minda and lola Carmen. Her good memories of many meriendas prepared created an attachment to cooking processes and most of all, snacks. So opening Snackalubong seemed like a natural thing to do.

Though hopia and piaya can be easily found off the shelf in any supermarket, freshly made ones are not easy to find. They are cooked per order, are not pre-packed, and have no preservatives.

“I’ve been in the food industry since 2008,” she says. “I started with Empire Macaron, where we specialized in French macarons. In 2012, we began supplying fresh hopia to a national chicken restaurant chain. I finally started selling hopia through Snackalubong in 2020 entirely online (on Facebook and Instagram) due to the pandemic. We also opened a brick-and-mortar store just last September in a bustling section of Quezon City.”

Snackalubong freshly makes ube, mongo, pandan, red bean and salted egg hopia as well as piaya.

Snackalubong offers freshly made hopia and piaya. She continues, “The main concept of Snackalubong is exactly what the name suggests: snacks you take home and share with your loved ones. That’s the essence of pasalubong, right? It’s a very Filipino concept, which I love. Our entire product line is freshly made per order.”

Though hopia and piaya can be easily found off the shelf in any supermarket, freshly made ones are not easy to find. They are cooked per order, are not pre-packed, and have no preservatives. They are all made traditionally, by hand, with traditional ingredients. The muscovado used is from Panay. But what makes them unique is that when you receive it, it is still warm.

“When the pandemic hit and malls closed, the restaurant chain I supplied to also closed for a while and business was at zero. Because of that, I knew I had to go online, and it worked out very well.

“The pandemic also influenced my choice of location for my store. I needed a place that was pandemic-proof so the mall, office buildings, and transport terminals were off the table. Then I realized the palengke never closes. It’s really the backbone of any Filipino community, and so I chose to take a space in my favorite one, Suki Market in Dapitan, Quezon City.”

Snackalubong is along the periphery of the market, making it very accessible for couriers and curbside pickups. Though Georgia adapted her business to the pandemic situation, she says that personally, “I learned that family is all you have and really all that matters. Family and friends who are family.”