Working diligently behind the scenes, Michelle Freyre could very well be responsible for the next generation’s success in business. The Global Brand President of Clinique and Origins (it was under her reign that Clinique’s Black Honey lipstick became a worldwide success—again), she’s also an inductee of the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) and was named a corporate trailblazer in the 2022 Most Powerful Latinas (MPL) list. Freyre recently joined ELLE for a virtual panel, Making Our Beauty Mark: A Latinx Beauty Event, where Latinx industry trailblazers offered their insights and gave advice to attendees. Below, she sounds off on her career path and how she plans to look after the Latinx community.
How does it feel to have so many accolades attached to you?
I always think it’s important to know peoples’ backstories. It always defines who we are. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My dad is Cuban, my mom is from the Dominican Republic, so I say that I am fully Caribbean. Both of my parents escaped dictatorships in Latin America, and that shaped them, and therefore shaped me as well. One of the key things that was really important in my house when I was growing up was education. People can take away your money, but they can’t take away what’s in your brain. That intellectual curiosity has been with me forever. After I landed in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to join Neutrogena. It was kind of an indie brand at the time, in a way. Landing in beauty for me was like, “Wow! This is really not going to be a job.” I grew up in beauty as a Latina. It’s a big part of the culture. It’s a big part of who I am.
When did you arrive at Clinique?
I admired it from afar. I joined Clinique virtually in the height of the pandemic in June 2020. I tell people I joined when there was no vaccine. I was leading this global team who had never met me. So, that that was definitely interesting. But it has been an incredible journey. We’ve done a lot of transformation to modernize and evolve the brand. I work with the most talented, passionate, and dedicated group of people around the world. It’s really a blessing, and we’re just getting started. And then last month, my scope of responsibility was expanded to include another fantastic brand in the company portfolio with a rich history, which is Origins.
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Who were your mentors throughout your career?
First and foremost, my parents were my first mentors. They are extremely authentic people, strong-willed and very determined. They’ve gone through a lot of hardship, and they are the first ones to model what it means to be authentic. They have followed what they believe in and showed resilience. I have been very fortunate to have great mentors and sponsors. My first two mentors were men. Now, I have a woman mentor which has been amazing—that came late in my career. Jane Hudis is the executive president for many of our brands. She understands what it’s like to be a woman, a mom, a leader. I haven’t had that before. And look, there are still not enough women in power. So the chances of getting a woman in power to mentor you [are few and far between].
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The president of Neutrogena once said, “You can’t approach your career vertically.” You really have to think about the zig-zagging of it all. So, even though I started my journey in marketing, I ended up moving to sales, which was not part of my original career plan, with his encouragement. But sometimes, that’s the best. There are so many nuances in our culture. I’ve experienced so many stereotypes about Latinx people, and what they should look like or act like. I experienced this in corporate America where I didn’t feel like I could wear a dress, or the red lipstick, or the red nails that I am wearing now, because now I’m living as my authentic self. I didn’t think I could do any of that at the beginning of my career. It wasn’t until I really decided that I am going to live as my authentic self that I realized my full potential.
How are you using your position to be a champion for others?
I feel a huge responsibility. Obviously I have a soft spot for Hispanic women like myself. I co-sponsored the mentorship program at our Hispanic employee resource group, because it’s really important for me that the Hispanic talent and I have official mentors that are raising their visibility in the company. Clinique is a beloved brand by Latinos—it always has been. I signed our first Latina brand ambassador, Melissa Barrera. We introduced our first Spanish-language ads, which may sound crazy, but that’s how it is. And on top of having a Latinx ambassador and speaking in the language, I’ve also focused on celebrating Latino cultural moments to connect more emotionally with the brand. So, for example, our Mother’s Day campaign was focused entirely on Latinos. We also celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by sharing powerful stories from the Latina community about being the first in their families. Most recently, for Día de los Muertos, we introduced a limited-edition run of our Take the Day Off balm featuring like colorful and culturally significant illustrations from a Mexican illustrator, Melissa Zúñiga.
The Latinx community is so diverse. How is it possible to speak to all of us authentically?
I speak to the Latinx community in authentic ways, and celebrate how different we are. We come in different shapes, [with] different hair, different skin colors, and that’s the beauty of who we are as a community. It’s so important to celebrate that and educate the world about it. Our culture is amazing.
Tatjana Freund is a Beauty Commerce Writer, covering makeup, skincare, and haircare products and trends. She’s a fan of vodka tonics and creepy Wikipedia pages.