#ConnectedWomen: Camille R. Escudero, Founder Of Lily Of The Valley
Contributed by Gina Romero September 30, 2017
Camille shares her entrepreneurial journey, successes, the business lessons learned, and her pro-women advocacies. Find out how she went from software engineering to lingerie in this exclusive interview!
As women continue to be a driving force for change in the Philippines, this series aims to highlight those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to creating an impact in their home nation and beyond.
In this interview Connected Women caught up with Camille R. Escudero, President and General Manager of the Quality Philippine Export Lingerie And Apparel, Inc. (QPELA). It pioneered products such as Lily of the Valley Period Panty, an innovative solution that addresses problems with sanitary pads for women across the globe.
How did you transition from systems software engineering to underwear manufacturing?
When I graduated, never did I imagine I would get into manufacturing undergarments. In fact, I dreamed of living in Spain, so I studied Spanish after college. But because my allowance stopped upon graduation, I needed to work to support my activities and luxuries. So I looked to join companies that could send me to Spain as an expat. While I was clear about pursuing a Spanish-speaking position, I was accepted for an English support project answering emails of customers having trouble with their ISP.
Fast forward to 2010, I was managing the technical support centers in the Philippines of AT&T, one of the US’ leading telecommunications companies. In eight years, I had become skilled in bringing together people, processes, and products to achieve a common purpose. At that time, I felt I was plateauing and I was soon going to look for a shift. To where or how, I did not know.
What triggered the change in career path and why lingerie?
A critical family event led me to drop everything and care for my dad, who was battling cancer. It was a short campaign, four months, and I couldn’t see myself going back after he passed. I took a few months off; then started dabbling on little projects for my mom’s business.
I love lingerie. I grew up with tons of beautiful sets and pieces because my mother had been in the industry since the 1980s. So the opportunity to be surrounded by those lovely, alluring underthings sounded so dreamy. I’ve learned so much, from technical to aesthetic. One downside is that it’s no longer fun shopping for underwear. I inspect the products too much because I can tell good quality from the cruddy ones. Tsk!
My role now primarily revolves around information technology and data management; process compliance and documentation; and environmental and sustainability initiatives. I’m working to transform our organization into one that can evolve with market demands.
Can you tell us more about Lily of the Valley and how you drive innovation within this niche market?
A serendipitous occasion steered us into developing Lily of the Valley. One of my girlfriends shared her exasperation over her period and asked if I could make her underwear that could help with her monthly situation.
Research shows that women are worried about embarrassing leaks and the discomforts that accompany their monthly period. Lily of the Valley Period Panties or Relief Lilies, are innovative undergarments that address women’s most common period woes. With regular use, Relief Lilies provide relief, comfort, freshness, and security during menstruation. Unfortunately, the product did not get traction and our marketing efforts failed. We pulled the product from the market. It seems the market isn’t ready for a product like this.
In time, we began developing other products, catering to niche markets with specific needs.
Freedom Lilies are specially created and designed for functionality, comfort, and style, to suit different types of activities. Through our products we give women freedom to pursue their goals and find balance in their diverse lifestyles.
Hope Lilies provide women with high-quality yet affordable breast care products. The Philippines is among the top three Asian countries with the highest incidence of breast cancer and has the highest rate of mastectomies (surgical removal of all or part of the breast) performed on those diagnosed. Yet, the products that are available are expensive and made for foreign markets.
What is the most important aspect of your leadership style and company culture?
Building and maintaining a trusting relationship. Take a genuine interest in the person, not just the numbers. Make them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Then they’ll stop working for you, but with you.
The relationships I’ve forged across various industries, among younger and older, have been valuable. Insight into, and being surrounded by brilliant minds have made me a better person overall. And when your friends are becoming friends of friends, your world isn’t getting smaller, it’s actually getting bigger.
As the President of BPW-Makati, what are the key benefits of being a member of a strong professional network?
Being part of Business & Professional Women (BPW) Makati has exposed me to diverse personalities who inspire me every day. At BPW-Makati, we support women entrepreneurs and emerging leaders to become more active change agents in society. We are cultivating a community where women can connect and collaborate, mentor and find mentoring, and engage in activities that support our personal and professional growth. We are a community that allows women to become and thrive together.
Many extraordinary individuals have met and forged relationships, and that is truly special.
Tell us about GREAT Women and your overall goal of supporting underprivileged women?
We have been engaging in development efforts involving indigenous/traditional communities in support of the country’s gender platform, GREAT Women. It stands for Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women. By working with local communities, we hope to revive the craft industry, and to provide sustainable livelihood to artisans and their families. The products borne support efforts to uplift the lives of underprivileged women and girls.
As a manufacturer, my influence is in taking these communities into my supply chain, providing them access to markets they would otherwise be unable to reach. The communities I’ve engaged with are piña weavers from Aklan, indigenous Bagobo women residing around Mt. Apo, Davao, and langkit weavers from Marawi, Lanao del Sur.
Other designers, like my friend Zarah Juan, work intimately with communities in producing truly artisanal, one-of-a-kind pieces. You can see more of GREAT Women products in our showroom in Tesoros Bldg. along A. Arnaiz Ave., Makati City.
What is your biggest challenge or frustration as an entrepreneur?
Being able to work sustainably is a challenge and remembering to care for one’s self physically. There are so many promising ideas I want to help kick-off and enable. Often I say “I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day” or “I wish there were 10 of me” so I can do all these wonderful things.
Luckily, my BPW Makati Lean In Circle has helped me in actually getting things done. Since the beginning of 2017, a group of us (consisting of home-based moms, professionals, and entrepreneurs) have been meeting consistently every 4th Wednesday of the month. We work on developing our shared goals and tackle different challenges. By supporting each other we become more connected, confident, and empowered.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I don’t see myself staying in the same business. Yes, I dream to see my manufacturing company becoming a well-oiled machine so that I can move onto my next career. It could be in policy, technology, training … the possibilities are endless.
I have three goals for my company right now, which I’m working to achieve in the next three to five years:
Sustainability: To ensure our company can continue to provide work to people and help them improve their quality of life; to contribute to the 2030 Sustainability Development Goals.
Innovation: To allow our company to produce and develop quality products customers need/look for.
Resilience: To make it easy for our company to transform when customers’ needs change.
As for BPW-Makati, I hope that we create a culture of women empowering women, and women aspiring for greater things for themselves and the communities in which they belong.
Camille Escudero is a leader in both innovation and advocacy from developing Lily of the Valley to creating spaces where women can incite positive change among each other. She exemplifies a woman blazing new trails and actively championing the empowerment of women.
We are the leaders, activists, innovators and visionaries – whether in the public eye or behind the scenes – who are revolutionising the way people think and live. We are #ConnectedWomen.
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