How two K-beauty bosses started an online empire — and won Shark Tank
Here's how you know an idea is good: It's so simple you can't believe it doesn't exist already.
That's what Sarah Lee and Christine Chang have created in Glow Recipe, an online hub for natural Korean beauty products. Whether you want the newest, most innovative K-beauty trend or simply a moisturizer that works with your combination skin, you'll find it explained in simple terms on the site.
Chang and Lee are more than qualified to be our bearers of K-beauty goodness. They worked at L'Oreal in Seoul and the United States and eventually, Chang tells me, caught on to the fact that industry experts were consistently asking about K-beauty. This December, with the site just over a year old, Chang and Lee's not-so-niche idea got back-up from the big guns. In a December appearance on Shark Tank, they won $425,000, which will make up 25 percent of funding for their company.
"We did not expect it to happen, much less air," says Chang. The two went to an NYC open casting call in April, then beat what the Shark Tank crew told them were 40,000 to 1 odds to actually earn funding. (Take a look at your beauty shelf: Are you surprised a skin care business would do so well?) Of course, Christine remains ever the professional, "We were really humbled by the experience... It really makes you reevaluate what your priorities are as a business owner and as an entrepreneur. That experience itself was worth its weight in gold, and what made me the most happy was that K-beauty got that exposure on a national stage."
Part of the strategy is to tailor what Korean women have been doing for decades to the rest of the world. "Skin is part of your health, it’s an organ, and Korean women consider it really important," says Chang, "But the American consumer will always be more practical and results driven, so it's our job to bring a product that’s not just trendy but works."
You can also get results the trendy way. According to Chang, rubber masking is the latest at-home K-beauty treatment to make it to the United States. Mix your mask just like a Cup Noodle, then leave the rubbery goo on your face for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the nutrients to completely absorb.
Don't have 15 minutes? Take 15 seconds for a splash mask, another skin care trend Chang says has been selling out on the site. "Blithe was inspired by bath house tradition where women splash water on their faces to tone and retexturize. You use just a capful in the shower, splash it all over your face. Pat pat pat, and it's like the effect of doing a sheet mask in 15 seconds. So you have that instant glow."
Every brand on the site — there are 10 currently — is launching for the first time in the United States. "We pick brands that really speak to us," says Chang, "We’ve been lucky to be able to start our beauty careers in Korea, because having that ear to the ground and having that connection, whether it’s Korean local beauty editors or industry insiders, they’ve been able to help us find brands that are really unique." Looking for a night cream with soothing antioxidants? Try Blossom Jeju's line, imported from the "Hawaii of Korea" Jeju Island. "We consider ourselves brand incubators," says Chang.
As for Chang, one of her current favorite products is she splash mask. You can't expect a beauty boss to have much more time than 15 seconds, can you?