They have a cult brand and more than 800,000 Instagram followers, but co-founders of skincare label
Glow Recipe Sarah Lee and Christine Chang still remember their humble beginnings – standing in line to audition for an American business reality television show in 2015.
They had answered an open call in New York City for Shark Tank (2009 to present), which invites
start-ups to pitch their businesses to a panel of investors called Sharks. Then, Glow Recipe was an online marketplace curating K-beauty brands and skincare education for the American market.
Lee tells The Straits Times (ST) in an e-mail interview: “To stand out from the crowd, we stood in line with sheet masks on the entire time.”
She and Chang, both Korean Americans in their 30s, met as colleagues at L’Oreal Korea. They were speaking to ST about their brand’s debut in Singapore and South-east Asia – via beauty retailer Sephora on Aug 20.
“There was never a guarantee we would make it to the live show,” Lee adds.
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But they did – and even made it on air in Season 7 in 2015, where they received three out of five in-
vestment offers from the Sharks and accepted Canadian businessman Robert Herjavec’s.
Though they ended up turning down his offer after discussions off- camera, Lee says Shark Tank “really shaped the foundation of where we are today and took our business to a new level”.
After the episode aired, the Glow Recipe site went down due to an immense spike in online traffic, she recalls. The team had to help the warehouse staff pack shipments by hand for the next few weeks.
“The episode really put us on the map with viewers and opened a lot of doors and opportunities for our brand,” Lee says.
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On the dime of other investors, the platform grew steadily. In 2017, they switched from curating t creating, launching their own in-house skincare line of fruit-based, clean products.
Their line-up today comprises superfood-forward products in millennial-friendly packaging, each spotlighting trendy ingredients like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), vitamin C and retinol. The innovations are inspired by South Korean beauty trends and age-old treatments, like the popular aqua peel facial both founders often get when visiting South Korea.
Of their debut product and best-seller, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, Chang says: “Watermelon was not commonly used in skincare at the time, and we wanted to make sure the experience and texture was as evocative of the childhood memories we had of our grandmothers rubbing cold watermelon rind on our skin to soothe heat rash and irritation.”
It sold out multiple times at launch and had a waiting list “thousands long”, she adds. To date, it remains their proudest product. It will cost $69 here, with the full range of products priced from $16 to $75.
Indeed, the duo’s Korean heritage is something they take pride in – and have used to their advantage.
When Glow Recipe started as an e-tailer in 2014, K-beauty was on the cusp of exploding in the United States, says Lee.
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“Many K-beauty brands were being sold with a more promotional, discount-focused approach, instead of telling the story behind the performance and innovation of the products. People didn’t really know what K-beauty meant or were misinformed about it being an overwhelming, 10- to 15-step routine.
“We knew we’d uniquely be able to leverage our combined 20 years of bicultural beauty industry experience. Our expertise as global marketeers and developers, and the experience of working for L’Oreal, gave us the tools to bridge the gap between Korea and the US consumer.”
Their first-mover advantage aside, they believe it is their transparency that has helped the three-year-old skincare line see such success. “A huge part of our business model is creating education and skincare tutorials with each launch,” says Lee.
On social media, the duo front videos on their product formulations and uses, including going behind the scenes to look at how a product is made in Glow Recipe’s laboratories in South Korea. They
call it “skintertainment”.
After growing rapidly in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Britain, the brand’s South-east Asia launch has been hotly anticipated.
Singapore is “one of the regions outside of the US where we have the highest following on social media”, says Chang. “And Sephora was one of the first brands to believe in our mission and purpose.”
Lee adds: “We can’t wait for our brand and story to resonate with the Asian consumer, including those in Korea. Korean beauty is part of our heritage and will always be at the core of our skincare philosophy.”
Photos Courtesy of Glow Recipe
This article first appeared in The Straits Times.