Sarah Lee and Christine Chang are the pair behind Glow Recipe, a blog and e-commerce destination focused on carefully-selected Korean skin care brands with small to no distribution in the United States.
The duo met while working at L’Oréal Korea in 2004 and ended up moving to New York—and shifting to L’Oréal here—around the same time. Few come with more knowledge than Sarah, 35, and Christine, 34, as both have bi-cultural, bilingual backgrounds with extensive experience in marketing, sales, public relations, product development and manufacturing, all combined with an understanding for what products work in the U.S. market place.
“While at L’Oréal whenever we traveled back to Korea for work, we were always looking for interesting Korean beauty and Asian products for trends, inspiration and ideas,” Sarah said. “We found that Korea had become this global phenomenon that other global companies were looking to for ideas and technology innovation, starting with BB creams five or six years ago.”
After a decade at L’Oréal, the women decided to start their own business.
They quit their jobs in 2014, and a few months later each contributed $25,000 to their new venture. They broke even within three months.
“We loved our careers but we were seeing firsthand the innovations coming from Korea. There was this moment in time where everything was converging,” said Christine. “We wanted to have our own point of view and put our own spin on something that no one else had done before.”
Not long ago the Korean products that were being brought over to the U.S. offered kitschy packaging combined with one-time, cutesy or fun items, “like small hand creams packed in apple-shaped containers,” Christine said. “We wanted Korean beauty to be like French beauty, quality first and result and ingredient driven. That wasn’t being brought over to the U.S. market. We wanted to be that bridge between the two countries.”
Glow has three core consumer types. The first is a skin care savvy American who is looking for innovation. “These women are still striving to find that perfect anti-aging cream or hydrator and are coming to us for answers,” said Sarah.
The second group is the naturalists. “We do rigorous testing and reviewing to make sure everything we’re offering is great for different skin types and skin tones, so natural skin care and natural ingredients are a huge part of what we look for,” she added.
Their third customer type is more advanced. She wants to experiment with something new; she is a digital reader interested in trying the latest innovation or trend in skin care.
Glow Recipe also has a U.S. tester panel made up of 30 volunteers of all different ages and skin types. “They test our newest creations and give us in-depth feedback. From their comments we then decide whether to launch a product.”
“We also bring that feedback to the brands because we work with them on a different level so we can impact their development product cycle down the road,” Sarah added. “We can work with them to tweak and modify their existing formulations to make it even better for the U.S. market.”
And that brings us to the pair’s second venture, their incubator business where they share revenue with the brands they bring into retailers.
“That was our project outside of our site,” said Christine. “We help bigger brands launch into the U.S. and spearhead their U.S. strategy, which has also helped fuel our business in terms of cash flow.”
Presently, K-Beauty products can be found in more than 120 Sephora stores, 25-plus Space NK stores, and a handful of Anthropologie stores.
“We also work with Ulta,” Sarah added.“These outlets want partner-driven content and that type of partnership is important to us. But there’s more to come.” That means retailers who share a common purpose and mission can bring Glow Recipe to that next level.
Perhaps some of their rising popularity can be credited to their Shark Tank appearance, which aired December 4. Huge fans of the show, the two registered during an open casting last April, thinking getting on the show was a long shot. To their surprise they were invited to L.A. where they taped the program in September. The pair was recently offered a $425,000 investment from shark Robert Herjavec.
The women take alternating trips to Korea four or five times a year. Glow Recipe offers more than 150 different products, with a concentration in facial masks. New blog posts go up two or three times a week. Still considered a bootstrapping company with a healthy cash flow, their sights aren’t set on spending their hard earned cash through traditional print advertising but rather growing organically thanks to social media, like many other product-driven web sites.
“For us it’s just as much about the people behind the products as it is about the brands that can stand the test of time in the U.S.,” Christina said. “We meet with the founders, CEOs and the research and development teams of all of the brands we are interested in curating. We are passionate about their stories and being able to tell them.”
Passion, along with an eye for the next big thing, are clearly additional qualities Glow Recipe offers Korean companies, and the U.S. consumers who buy them shows there’s still a need.
3 Korean Brands to watch:
Blithe: This innovative company offers an impressive two-in-one product, Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum ($49), which is a serum and a moisturizer that contains 60% Chaga Mushroom extract. It also launched the Patting Splash Mask ($48), which condenses a 20-minute facial mask ritual into a 30-second treatment that aims to offer smoother, radiant, baby-soft skin.
Primary Raw: Try their Doyou Soy Milk Azulene Gel Cream ($46), which incorporates raw bamboo sap in its list of ingredients. FYI: that same sap helps bamboo grow up to 23 inches in a day.