How the Glow Recipe co-CEOs turned $50,000 into a $100 million brand

Even if you don’t know what K-beauty – short for Korean beauty – is, chances are you’ve seen the promising jade rollers, sheet masks and snail mucin creams. radiant, mirror-like skin on your Instagram feed or the shelves of your local drugstore.

Since its introduction to US markets in 2011, K-beauty has become a mainstay of the global beauty industry, and it looks like people’s obsession with it won’t fade any time soon: here 2029, the global K-beauty products market is expected to reach around $31.6 billion in salesaccording to Prophecy Market Insights, a market research company.

One of the leading Korean skin care brands movement is Glow Recipe. Its founders and co-CEOs, Christine Chang and Sarah Lee first created Glow Recipe in 2014 as a curation of other K-beauty products imported from Seoul to help small brands launch in the United States, then went on to launched their own skincare line. three years later.

Now, Glow Recipe is one of the hottest brands in skincare, closing 2021 with estimated sales of $100 million. CNBC Make It spoke with Chang and Lee about quitting their jobs to pursue their dreams and how their Korean heritage inspires everything they do at Glow Recipe, from ingredient lists to advocacy.

Leaving the corporate world to start your own business

Chang and Lee’s relationship started like many good relationships: bonding over food.

The couple first met as new employees at L’Oréal Korea in 2005. “I remember going to eat with our colleagues at a Korean barbecue restaurant one evening and noticing that Christine was really enjoying his meal,” Lee recalled. “We immediately shared our passion for Korean barbecue, but it sparked additional conversations about our love of K-beauty and our families.

A few years later, Chang and Lee were transferred to the L’Oréal office in New York. They could often be found after work sprawled on the floor of Lee’s apartment, unwinding with cloth masks and glasses of wine.

It was during one such late-night conversation that Chang and Lee, who both identify as Korean-Americans, realized they were the only bicultural and bilingual executives on their teams at L’Oréal. . As global marketers, Chang and Lee were fascinated by Korean skincare innovation and predicted that it would become “the next big thing” in the United States, Lee recalls.

“We felt like our mission was to bring these amazing K-beauty technologies to the United States,” she adds. The couple quit their jobs in 2014 and pooled $50,000 in savings to launch Glow Recipe, a name inspired by the menu of services they would see at Korean spas or dermatologist offices that would offer different “glows” for clients’ skin such as ” the shine of water” or “the shine of honey”. ”

Although Glow Recipe now has 40 employees, Chang and Lee fondly recall when the brand was a two-woman company.

“When it comes to entrepreneurship, you really have to be your own legal, accounting and design support team, all of those skills that we didn’t have access to when we were at L’Oréal,” says Chang. “We like to joke that Google was still on speed dial.”

Chang and Lee quickly realized the value of asking for help. “Even if you’re scrappy and primed, it’s a good idea to outsource a lawyer or accountant to help you grow your business,” she adds. “Every entrepreneur has to figure out what they do best and where they should spend their time, and for us, that was product development.”

Honoring their Korean heritage has become an essential part of their success

A central childhood memory Chang and Lee share is spending the hot summer months in South Korea playing outside, and their grandmothers rubbing fresh watermelon rinds on their sunburned skin.

Watermelon is one of Korea’s most popular fruits and is a traditional remedy for soothing dry, irritated skin. It’s also the key ingredient in Glow Recipe’s first product, Watermelon Glow Sleep Mask, which the founders say took over a thousand formulations to perfect and sold seven times in a row.

While watermelon was the star fruit of Glow Recipe’s initial launch, its skincare collection now includes strawberry and plum serums, avocado eye creams and more. All fruit concentrates are combined with active ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help brighten and brighten skin.

Growing up in South Korea, Chang and Lee have always viewed skincare as a luxury, watching their mothers and grandmothers pamper themselves before bed. In the United States, however, skincare has often been seen as a “chore,” says Chang, “something you have to do to put on makeup, which was the fun part.”

With Glow Recipe, Chang and Lee set out to take skincare from a chore to a skincare ritual, using glowing packaging and sensory, bouncy textures.

“We are incredibly fortunate that our work is closely linked to our [Korean] legacy,” Chang says. “Seeing K-beauty seep into every medicine cabinet and beauty bag has been amazing, and where we always thought it should go.

Using their platform to amplify AAPI voices

Glow Recipes instagram isn’t just a colorful grid of product tutorials and sunny selfies – it’s also a place where its millions of subscribers can find information about other AAPI Owned Marks and organizations responding to the recent wave of hate crimes targeting the AAPI community.

Both Chang and Lee have personally experienced racism throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At one point, a person in the middle of the street shouted, ‘Go back to China! Chinese virus!’ to my husband, daughter and me,” Chang wrote in a February 2021 post. blog post. “Since then, and seeing that people were avoiding her, my daughter refused to leave the house without her umbrella, which gave her a sense of security.”

Lee shared a similar incident, noting that a few months after her naturalization ceremony in 2020, a couple walking beside her on the street shouted “Corona” in her face “and walked away laughing loudly.”

“I had a hard time understanding what happened in the moment,” she wrote in the same blog post. “Did I do something wrong? Was I so different from them? Why were they attacking me, precisely?

Chang and Lee view advocacy as a core aspect of Glow Recipe’s mission, aligned with their values ​​of diversity, inclusion and empowerment.

“We are fortunate to have a large enough platform to help raise awareness of these important issues,” Chang said. “I think our community appreciates that when hate crimes are on the rise, for example, we’re not just going to talk about beauty products – those issues are front and center as well.”


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