ZHEN LINE PROVIDES A PALETTE FOR ASIAN SKIN TONES

Byline: Soren Larson

NEW YORK--After years of having trouble finding makeup that matched their skin tones, six Asian-American sisters have taken matters into their own hands.
The Yee siblings pooled their savings to form Zhen, their own cosmetics company, and started selling their products via mail order and a toll-free number in early July.
"The idea started about three years ago. We were always complaining about never finding the right shades," said Susan Yee, the company's president and, at age 33, the third-youngest sister. "It was difficult because everything was pink-based, and Asian women need more yellow and gold undertones."
The Yee sisters launched the company with family and friends performing nearly every task, from package design to advertising, graphics and modeling.
The products themselves were formulated with the aid of an East Coast company that Yee declined to reveal.
The company's operations, including three telephone operators, are based in St. Francis, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis.
The name Zhen was chosen because it means "true, real or genuine" in Chinese, according to Yee.
"It was fitting because we all believe in natural-looking beauty, with nothing too overdone," she said.
The Zhen makeup range includes foundations, face powders, blushes, eyeliners, eye shadows, eye pencils, mascaras, lip pencils and lipsticks. Also available are brushes and a blemish-hiding concealer.
Prices range from $10 for a lipstick to $12 for a mascara to $20 for a foundation compact.
While business was slow the first couple of days, Yee said she has been pleased overall with early sales results.
"The response has been tremendous," she said. "We knew there was a sizable niche market, but the phone has been ringing off the hook."
Foundations and powders have been the fastest-moving items, followed by lipsticks, Yee said, noting that the company projects sales of $150,000 this year, with a gross of $1 million slated for 1995.
"We eventually want to be a multimillion-dollar company," she said. "That would mean being in retail outlets, but we're going to take our time and do it right before that."
While no extensive retail distribution is planned for now, the Zhen line will be tested in one outlet, the Kokoon boutique in Minnesota's Mall of America, beginning next month.
To publicize the Zhen name, the company began advertising in June in national Asian-targeted magazines such as Face, as well as in local Asian newspapers; there are "hundreds," Yee said.
The company sends interested consumers its catalog.
"We've been concentrating on the top 20 Asian markets," Yee said, noting that Los Angeles is the largest, followed by San Francisco and New York.
Next up for Zhen, if makeup sales continue to be solid, will be a skin care range, Yee said.
"In this day and age, cosmetics companies have to adjust to the fact that there are so many different ethnic groups in this country," she said.

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