Nora Atienza: From housemaid to mananahi to entrepreneur-exporter

charmica soap


This is the story of Leonora Atienza of Antipolo City  and how she parlayed her soap-making venture from a P1,000 business into a million peso enterprise that sells to markets in Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

For Nora, it has been a long haul from working as housemaid then as seamstress to dabbling in buy-and-sell and finally to managing Charmica Soap.

The ninth of eleven children born to an impoverished family in Bolinao, Pangasinan, she worked as a katulong in Manila order to finish her studies.  After three years, she landed a job as seamstress at Riverside Mills in Pasig City.

Life remained hard when she got married to Jose Atienza, a co-worker in the textile factory and built a family of five children.  The desire to provide more for her family led her to a part-time job selling beauty products through a network-marketing scheme. She did so well that she was eventually recognized as a top seller.

In 1986, Nora quit her job and tried her luck selling repacked peanuts, butong pakwan, pansit, ginatan and other snack items to her former co-workers at Riverside Mills.

In 1996, she enrolled in soap making at the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC).

She learned only the basics in the training program.  “If you want to go into business, you have to experiment a lot and come up with the right formulation.”

In her first venture, she partnered with a friend who provided the financing while Nora did all  the laboring – from production to marketing.  She saw the fruits of her work only in financial statements – she received no income, not even an allowance.

Her next two ventures were again with financiers, with the same disappointing outcome.  Nora found herself with nothing again and yet again, in spite of the hard work she put into the ventures.

For a while, she was afraid to try again, but her husband egged her on. “Kaya mo,” he would tell her.  And so she bided for the right time.

The right time was in November 2000.

With her P1,000 savings, Nora bought a big can of vegetable oil, caustic soda, perfume and other ingredients.

Charmica was registered with the Department of Industry as both the brand name of her product and the name of her company.

Nora produced a few dozen soaps in the initial runs and peddled these in stores and markets.  If someone ordered 10 pieces, she delivered these even if “lugi pa ako.”

Production of the soap started in her kitchen with her two older daughters assisting her. During his day off, Jose lent a hand.

For a year, they barely made money from the venture.  The Atienza family survived on Jose’s wages – barely.  He took advantage of an early-retirement incentive package so he could help Nora full time.  With the generous retirement pay, he was able to buy an owner-type jeep which became the first Charmica business vehicle.

Charmica started to prosper with the birth of their youngest daughter.  She was named Charmica.

At about this time, Nora, on a tip from a friend, stumbled on an opportunity to do business with J.C. Martin, a network marketing company.

Before the year ended, Charmica was supplying the company with 20 boxes of soap per week.  Before long, the volume became 100 boxes or P780,000 worth of products monthly.

She also supplies soap in bulk to El-Shaddai, a big religious group.

Among her later clients were famous showbiz personality and hairdresser Fanny Serrano.  Together, Nora and Fanny export soap to the US, Japan and UK.

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 Adapted from: “Aling Nora’s Winning Recipe” by Janet Bungay, Dreamers, Doers, Risktakers 3 published by the SERDEF and UP ISSI.

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

Photo: Charmica soap from

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