Vanessa Lee's 'The Things We Do' Cuts to the Core of Beauty

    July 29 2020

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    Championing that phrase leaned into the essence of the beauty industry as Lee knew it as a professional, working for plastic surgeons and dermatologists before pursuing cosmetic nursing full-time and subsequently opening her own shop. As a child, her introduction to the industry was far more simplistic. Her grandmother – whom she refers to as Lola – was a beloved beautician back in the Philippines. And while her Lola wanted Lee’s mother and aunts to follow in her footsteps, they all went on to work in hospitals. Lee, however, took that inspiration she found in her Lola and ultimately upheld the family mantle.

    “For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved mixing together ingredients for homemade face masks for my friends. It felt innate and my grandmother was a huge inspiration. My parents pushed me toward nursing, so it was amazing to find the intersection of medicine and the beauty industry in the aesthetics field.”

    Lee was the kid that turned her childhood sleepovers into makeshift beauty parlor sessions. She’d rummage through the kitchen pantry grabbing and mixing oatmeal, egg whites, and avocado for her friends to put on their face–all in the name of beauty. There was an innocence to her introduction to beauty; a baseline that even now is the pulse of her company's ethos. Lee’s foundation has never wavered. But she would soon learn that others in the industry didn’t uphold similar ethics, oftentimes preying on patients’ insecurities to meet lofty quotas.

    “We don’t do extreme makeovers. We’re all about subtle enhancements on your natural beauty. You can usually tell someone’s mindset as soon as they walk into the treatment room and it can turn into a bit of a therapy session as they reveal their insecurities. I am not afraid to tell a client that I just don’t see whatever flaw they’re trying to point out to me. That can disappoint some people, but I want them to leave still looking like yourself. I call my philosophy ‘Natural Intention Beauty Guidance’ -  all of our providers are trained to create a custom beauty plan for each patient that brings facial balance and draws out all of the features that they already love.”

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    Lee didn’t want to approach The Things We Do like many of her successful contemporaries. Money, status, and quotas couldn’t come at the expense of a woman’s worth. How women felt about themselves upon entering her space and after leaving it, had to be a guiding principle for her business. That morality and humanistic approach to her business paired with his incredible skill and knowledge base, quickly made Lee a star and The Things We Do a haven for women from all walks of life, including celebrities.

    Often booked out months in advance, Lee has proven as somewhat of a beauty whisperer. Her tips reverberate with the women with a family of four looking to add a little self-care to their busy lifestyle, or with A-listers like Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union whose skin has to glow on the silver screen. “I often preach the gospel of eye jelly over rich eye creams which surprises a lot of people, including my celebrity clients. I find that eye creams are usually too heavy for the under-eye area which causes congestion and milia to form. We like to keep it lightweight with a jelly texture and our formula is constantly selling out in our store. We’re still small, so sometimes a celebrity post will be a huge boost and will sell out a product completely and then I’m working behind the scenes to get more made, which is a great problem to have.”

    But in the time of COVID-19, when clients can’t step foot into either of Lee’s two locations-one in Los Angeles and another in the suburb of Chino Hills–like many other businesses, The Things We Do has had to pivot to eCommerce and emerging platforms like sellit that optimize small business communication with its customers from a digital standpoint.


    “We’ve gone from focusing on in-person treatments to not being able to see patients at all, which was completely unexpected. We quickly pivoted to eCommerce, building up our online store and email list, and shifting our social media strategy. We found that as people spent more time at home, there was a demand for product advice because people had the time to rethink their routines. I was able to keep my staff working on virtual skincare consultations instead, and we sent out hundreds of customized home kits.”

    sellit is a game-changer as far as allowing our customers easy access to shop our products. When I’m scheduling posts in PLANOLY, it makes it so easy to just tag the product, set it for auto-post, and trust that everything is taken care of. I have some exciting things in the pipeline as far as expanding my skincare line and this experience has completely shifted the way I’m thinking about future product launches. We’ve seen the pendulum swing from all brick and mortar to eCommerce, back to experiential marketing and pop-ups, and now back again to eCommerce.”

    Like her lola, who didn’t place cosmetics above beauty but joined the two, who didn’t place sales ahead of experiences but balanced them (a facial experience in the Philippines might mean that you would be gone an entire day soaking in a hot tub or getting acupuncture), Lee wants to inspire more women of color to carve out their own leadership path in the beauty industry as opposed to following current practices. “I’ve been able to use my connection as an Allergan ambassador to advocate for more equity for people of color from leadership down to marketing. I’m also starting a mentorship program with a few colleagues specifically for Black and brown women who want to break into the field. I was fortunate to have some incredible mentors along the way to becoming an entrepreneur, and I can only pay that forward.”

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    There’s a strong sense of ingenuity throughout Lee’s journey – and not just in the genius way. She has pivoted to platforms like sellit with virtual consultation services, customizable at-home kits, and her industry-shifting Dew & Go Microneedling Infusion Stamp. Boldly infusing her Filipino culture into the design elements of her beauty bars honor her connection to home and the people and places that helped form her philosophy on beauty.

    “Everything in our space was chosen for a reason. From the paint colors meant to represent the different shades of skin to the palm frond accents to the batik wallpaper in the treatment rooms. My favorite thing has to be the bathroom, which we did in floor-to-ceiling capiz shell tiles. I’m incredibly proud of my heritage and definitely want people of color to enter the space knowing that it’s here for them, too. We don’t do the sterile med-spa atmosphere here!”

    Creating space for other women of color to lead in the beauty industry might be Lee’s biggest accomplishment when it’s all said and done. Parallel to that lies in her ability to understand the importance of beauty beyond the work she does. Women are born beautiful and nothing supersedes that. “Growing up, I was told constantly by well-meaning aunties to stay out of the sun so that my complexion wouldn't get any darker. It was just ingrained in the culture. I could get into the topic of colorism, but I’ll just say that thankfully I had my mother in my corner telling me that I was already beautiful no matter what.”

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    Darren Griffin

    Darren Griffin was a contributing Senior Writer at PLANOLY. His expertise includes culture, fashion, and social media marketing.

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