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Entrepreneur Pepper Pineda-Henson shines a happy light on home accessories

‘Know your ‘why.’ When things get tough, going back to why you started this business will power you through the hard times.’

It was the brightest idea for people who love to drink and display unique home accessories: upcycle your empty alcohol bottles into beautiful lamps. And there are particularly pretty bottles, ranging from limited-editions to top-shelf and even sari-sari store beer bottles.

Entrepreneur Pepper Pineda-Henson had that light-bulb moment during the pandemic lockdowns. She and her husband Rup Henson launched Happy Light MNL, an Instagram-based business selling repurposed bottle lamps, in October 2020 with a starting capital of less than P10,000.

“Everything started as a passion project and we weren’t really sure how far we could take it,” she says. “It was just me and my husband in the beginning and now we’re a group of eight.”

A mom of two boys, Pepper graduated from Ateneo de Manila with a degree in Communication Arts. Before the pandemic, she and her husband were full-time employees in their family’s food distributorship business. Today, they are creators of hundreds of iterations of Happy Light lamps—and the designs may as well be endless with different fabric and bottle combinations. Imagine those beautiful painted tequila bottles from Mexico, Dan Ackroyd and John Alexander’s 2009 Crystal Head vodka, Hennessy’s limited editions or even an ordinary Botanist or Bombay Sapphire gin becoming beautiful lamps. 

Here, Pepper shines the light on the courage and determination it takes to become an entrepreneur during a time when it seems like the wrong thing to do.

Photos from @happylightmnl on Instagram
What is your leadership style?

When I was younger, I used to micromanage people under me and even my own household and family. Things had to be done my way and in my style. As I grew older and wiser, I have learned the value of listening to people’s views and finding solutions for things together. I have learned the benefit of giving people the autonomy and their own creative space to do their work. I think this is similar to the leadership style of most male counterparts I have had the experience of working with. 

What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles? Is manufacturing a great space for women leaders? 

In our experience with Happy Light and our past businesses, between me and my husband, there’s a different kind of attention to detail that women offer, and I believe that this is important in handling businesses or in managing careers. In particular, this attention to detail is an important advantage in manufacturing home accessories. Customers can see and they appreciate when much thought and heart are put into products, and they feel good about finding a place for these things in their homes.

I have learned the value of listening to people’s views and finding solutions for things together. I have learned the benefit of giving people the autonomy and their own creative space to do their work. 

What do you think is the behavior or trait that derails women in their careers? What is it that lets them flourish in their careers?

I believe that women are very strong and determined, and that they can succeed and flourish in whatever they put their heart and mind into. I don’t think there’s a specific trait that derails women in their chosen careers. If a woman’s career takes a back seat or is put on hold, it is because she chooses to focus on other things like family or self-care for the moment. It’s a choice that she consciously makes and if and when she chooses to focus again on her career, she will be able to do well, as long as she puts her heart and mind into it. 

How did you navigate power structures when you were starting and how do you navigate them now?

I have a good sense of my strengths and weaknesses, and I am always eager to ask help and advice from people who have more experience than me. One thing that helped me with Happy Light is when we first started, my husband and I defined our roles. Although we consult each other in making decisions, at the end of the day, he and I get to have the final say and take full responsibility for the decisions in our specific areas. 

Pepper Pineda-Henson and husband Rup Henson with sons Eno and Nico
Did you have a role model or mentor? What are the lessons they taught you?

I have always valued the insights of my mom and dad who are entrepreneurs. In addition, I am also very lucky to have wonderful in-laws who were both corporate professionals.

Their wide range of experience helped give me a good perspective in not only doing business but also in raising a family. It’s a good balance between taking risks, going out of my comfort zone, and taking note of tried and tested norms. 

What’s your advice for women to grow their business?

My advice is to know your “why.” When things get tough, going back to why you started this business or why you are in this specific career will power you through the hard times. Also, be kind in dealing with customers, suppliers, subordinates. Life is complicated enough. Having a good relationship with the people you work it will make things a lot lighter. 

What is your secret in balancing career and family/personal life?  How hard was it for you and what was the breakthrough moment when you said, “I got this!”

Family is always the priority and I guess this is the secret in balancing the things I need to focus on. The fact that I have set and know my priorities makes things fall into place. Although the pandemic was really hard on all of us, I chose to look at the silver lining behind being on lockdown for two years. It made me realize how much I can simplify my life, doing away with things I’ve gotten used to and are really unnecessary in life.