How Krie Reyes-Lopez Busts Down “Invisible Barriers” for At-Risk Youth

A conversation with Messy Bessy’s Krie Reyes-Lopez on her unorthodox approach to sponsoring at-risk youth - and how she’s soldiering on through the lockdown. By Rhea Claire E. Madarang

Image courtesy of Krie Reyes-Lopez
Krie Reyes-Lopez (left) with colleague. Image courtesy of Krie Reyes-Lopez

“It’s the commonsensical thing to do now, [to] be mindful of the environment. [We aspire] to be sustainable and inclusive, working with people who normally would not be hired or employed.”

While many businesses have closed down or have been severely affected by the pandemic, Messy Bessy founder and CEO Krie Reyes-Lopez remains optimistic about continuing the social enterprise’s triple bottom line of “people, planet, and profit.”  

To this end, Messy Bessy, which sells eco-friendly home and personal care products, has taken its operations online, adapted to changing consumer demand, and partnered with companies like Avida Land to support its main advocacy of training and employing at-risk youth.

Founded for the youth

The social enterprise is 13 years old, and was set up from the beginning to provide employment and education for at-risk youth. “These are the young adults out of school, out of a decent job, going through extreme poverty, and sometimes, trauma,” Reyes-Lopez said. 

Through Messy Bessy and their partner nonprofit arm Helping Ourselves through Sustainable Enterprises (HOUSE) Foundation, the youth work at Messy Bessy and partner businesses, and the salary they earn also helps finance their schooling. About 60% of these at-risk youth make up Messy Bessy’s workforce. 

Reyes-Lopez also noted the “invisible barriers” these youth face, and how Messy Bessy seeks to address them.

Image courtesy of Krie Reyes-Lopez
Proud Messy Bessy graduates. Image courtesy of Krie Reyes-Lopez

“Having grown up where or how they did, sometimes they don’t have the work ethic, or the proper mindset to be able to maintain a job – to be professional and to be self-confident,” she said. Thus, Messy Bessy also provides their charges with psychosocial development interventions and neuroscience-based tools, “for a more holistic approach.”

Reyes-Lopez recalls the story of “Joe”, one of her graduates who ran away from home, far from an abusive father. He ended up in the streets, and even dabbled in petty crime. Through Messy Bessy’s training and education coupled with psychosocial intervention, he finished high school and college, and is now a social worker working with street children.

“This boy, I consider a success,” explains Reyes Lopez; “I feel he would not have finished high school let alone college if it weren’t for Messy Bessy – no one else would have taken the chance, because it takes a lot of effort to instill professionalism, discipline, and grit.”

Going digital, adapting to changing demand

While Messy Bessy strives to continue working with at-risk youth, Reyes-Lopez revealed that their sales dropped because their physical stores in malls were affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, but she also saw it as an opportunity.

“This is a good time for us to transform digitally,” Reyes- Lopez said. “E-commerce has really grown. It’s a big opportunity because there’s no finite shelf space online – now, it’s infinite.”

She also noted changes in consumer behavior: as people tend to stay at and work from home more, they buy bigger sizes of products. Messy Bessy modified productions to meet this demand. Reyes-Lopez noted that this packaging was also better for the environment, and also more economical for consumers.

Reyes-Lopez also highlighted their products’ relevance to health during the pandemic.

“Our soaps are derived from coconut, our alcohol is derived from sugarcane, and our scents are from essential oils,” Reyes-Lopez said. She noted that commercial counterparts usually have synthetic ingredients, and these “can have negative effects on health, meaning, inhaling them can aggravate asthma or some respiratory illnesses.”

Because of the threat of COVID-19, consumers are also more particular about safety, especially for those with kids.

In response, Reyes-Lopez shared, “We make sure we have a team that is always open to converse with customers, as they go through a lot of questions and anxiety.”

Hope for at-risk youth

Meanwhile, to maintain its training and employment program for youth, Messy Bessy partnered with big businesses like Ayala Corporation, particularly Avida Land.

“Our program is currently reliant on our business,” Reyes-Lopez admitted. “So if the economy continues to shrink, and then our business will do so also.” This, in turn, might affect the program.

Messy Bessy and Avida Land are now collaborating on the “30 Years, 30 Scholars” campaign, with the goal of giving 30 at-risk youth a college education.

Avida Land’s purchase and packaging of Messy Bessy’s organic and non-toxic cleaning essentials, as part of Avida Land’s welcome kit for new homeowners, helps fund the scholarship campaign – giving these beneficiaries added certainty about their future, at a time when very few outcomes are certain.

“Our goal is for all 30 of our scholars to finish the program armed with the first college degree in their family, lifting the entire family out of poverty permanently,” Reyes-Lopez said. “Beyond the 30 scholars, Avida’s support will also spread our advocacy to their community, who we know share in our aspirations for a healthier planet and a better future for everyone.”

With the threat of the pandemic to already at-risk youth and other vulnerable sectors and with “widening inequality,” Reyes-Lopez shared her dream –

“It is my biggest hope that businesses during this time will rethink how they do their business – not just hiring the highly employable, but also opening up their teams to those who are marginalized, the way Messy Bessy has. That’s one of our big, big missions: to inspire and encourage other businesses to take in young adults the way we have as well.”

Visit Messy Bessy’s Linktree page to see their latest promotions and online outlets; HOUSE Foundation’s website offers more details on their scholarship work and the positive impact they’ve made. And for homes that (like Messy Bessy) provide an enhanced lifestyle for conscientious Filipinos, visit Avida Land’s website.