How Glow Recipe’s Founders Created One of the Most-Liked Skincare Products at Sephora
Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
In summer 2017, Glow Recipe's Watermelon Sleeping Mask became a viral sensation, racking up a waitlist of more than 5,000 people — and that was before the product had even officially launched. While the sleeping mask is one of their most popular products, that's not the end of Glow Recipe's influence. Thanks to its affordable in-house skincare line and a well-curated offering of Korean beauty brands, Glow Recipe has quickly become the online destination for K-beauty skincare in just a few years since the e-retailer's site went live in 2014.
The site and its namesake skincare line are the brainchild of co-founders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, who met while working in marketing and product development at L'Oreal Paris. The pair bonded over their love of Korean skincare products like sheet masks. As they say, is history.
Today, you can also find Glow Recipe's products at Sephora, and beginning later this month, Target, with the launch of Sweet Chef, a sister brand that's even more budget friendly with all of its superfood-based formulas ringing in at $20 or less.
Here, we chatted with Chang and Lee about how Glow Recipe came to be, the key to making viral beauty products, and why the US is so obsessed with K-beauty.
Tell us how Glow Recipe came to be.
Sarah Lee: Christine and I were sheet masking together one day, and we realized that we were both working on projects inspired by Korean beauty technologies. As global marketers, and having traveled to Korea multiple times annually, we were always astounded by the amazing innovations in Korean beauty, but found that many Korean companies lacked the expertise to take their domestic success global. And herein was the white space: the absence of a stakeholder who had the ability to identify, market, and nurture Korean products and brands with the potential to become key players, and make them relevant and appealing to American consumers. What was needed was a value-add intermediary, translating not only the language but culture, encompassing marketing and packaging.
Christine Chang: As marketing and product development executives at L’Oreal, we were the only two employees in the company with expertise in both the Korean and American markets. That gave us a unique perspective to help introduce innovative, quality K-beauty brands to consumers everywhere. We knew we wanted to create a digital platform to tell the K-beauty story, as well as, help major retailers navigate and curate the best products from Korea.
You were offered investment funds on Shark Tank, but ultimately didn’t accept them. Why is it important to say no to some opportunities as a young brand?
CC: We’ve been offered a number of different investment opportunities, which we’re grateful for. As a growing brand, it’s really important to us that any partners we have, whether it’s a retailer, brand, or influencer, really understands our needs and are aligned with our goals. Always ask the important questions needed for your brand to succeed.
How do you pick which K-beauty trends to incorporate into your line?
SL: We’re traveling to Korea constantly and always tap into our network of beauty insiders, like our makeup artist and beauty editor friends in Korea to hear about the newest trends. We were the first to report on glass skin and the 7-skin method here in the states, and have used these trends to create specialized skin routines, as well as educational videos on our social channels.
Why do you think there’s a continued interest in K-beauty in the US?
CC: We know that Korean formulations and technologies are ahead of the curve. When we were executives at L’Oreal in product development and marketing, we constantly looked to Korean formulations as benchmarks. That’s why we started Glow Recipe — to help smaller, sustainable, natural K-beauty brands enter the American market.
The Watermelon Sleeping Mask blew up during spring 2017. Did you expect such a big reaction to the product?
SL: We were honestly overwhelmed by the outpour of love and all our customer’s reaction. We still can’t believe our Watermelon Sleeping Mask garnered a 5,000 person waitlist at its launch. Even today, we’re humbled at all of the love the Watermelon Sleeping Mask has received. At 160 thousand, it's currently one of the most liked skin-care product on sephora.com.
What’s the secret sauce for creating cult-favorite products?
CC: Our recipe is combining hero ingredients with unexpected ingredient pairings. For example, we worked endlessly with our lab in Korea to create the OG Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask. We saw submission after submission. We knew we wanted to create an overnight mask that harnessed the soothing and antioxidant-rich benefits of watermelon, plumping hyaluronic acid, and resurfacing AHAs to create a formula we had never seen on the market before.
Why did you think it was important/time to create Glow Recipe's offshoot brand Sweet Chef, which just launched?
SL: We believe K-beauty and effective skin care products should be used by everyone, not just the skincare savvy. Sweet Chef’s mission is to bring K-beauty staples into every home, which is why we’ve partnered with Target for the launch with plans to expand to more retailers in 2019.
CC: Serums and sheet masks are staples in every Korean home, so it was only natural we launched with a collection of the hero ingredients of Ginger + Vitamin C, Beet + Vitamin A, and Kale + Vitamin B in a serum and sheet mask formula.
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What K-beauty ingredients/trends do you think the US is missing out on or will be the next big thing?
SL: During my most recent trip to Korea, I saw PHAs everywhere! I knew it was going to be the latest trendy ingredient that we would definitely leverage in our new launch. Most beauty lovers know about AHAs and their benefits, but we like to think of PHAs as second generation AHAs. PHAs are larger and gentler, so they take longer to penetrate into the skin but are just as effective as AHAs. They are able to exfoliate, regenerate, and hydrate the skin at the same time. We chose to feature PHAs in a sleeping mask because overnight treatments are an effective way to treat the skin and we felt that it was the best way to introduce a gentle yet effective exfoliating mask to our customers.
CC: We definitely think formulas with high concentrations of single ingredients will be bigger this year. We have always been passionate about this concept, which is why so much of Glow Recipe Skincare aims to harness the food power of the fruits we carefully select. Our new Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask is 74 percent of four forms of avocado, using avocado flesh, extract, oil and butter, and our cult-favorite Watermelon Glow Pink Juice is 90 percent watermelon! We already see this trend happening as there have been launches this year that contain high concentrations of mushrooms and other superfoods.