Escalating interest in Korean beauty doesn’t surprise Alicia Yoon, the chief executive officer and founder of Peach and Lily Inc., a company that curates and distributes Korean and Japanese beauty brands to North America.
“The question we get the most is ‘why is Korea so innovative?’ Having amazing skin is linked to the culture. Inner skin is a big concept,” explained Yoon, who grew up in both New York City and Seoul. “It is all about keeping your skin healthy.”
Beyond the beauty-centric culture, Yoon identified the high-technology capabilities Korean manufacturers offer, resulting in unique products ranging from eyebrow tattoos, cushion applicators and hydrating (modeling) masks.
Yoon sifts through thousands of items identifying those she feels will resonate with shoppers for the Peach and Lily Web site, as well as for her distribution arm. The bar is set high: only 5 percent meet her standards. “We are beauty spelunkers,” she joked. “We cast a wide net looking at everything from reviews, ingredients and what people are saying. An important part of the process is we actually interview the brands.” Operating an e-commerce site gives her “early indicators” on what will resonate with retail partners’ stores.
A different set of rules dictate product success in Korea that doesn’t always translate to the U.S. “Korea is a country where beauty is truly democratized. It isn’t as easy for power bloggers to make as much money. There is real dialogue among real women and men. Everybody is an expert. Brands have products that can become heroes or zeroes overnight. Listening digitally to what everyone is saying has been a key for us.”
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And although North America shoppers have opened pocketbooks for Korean beauty, retail acceptance sometimes lags linked to risks of experimenting with the lines. “It takes up to five to eight years for any of these [Korean innovations] to make it here,” she said. “There’s tremendous friction and lots of questions, such as will this innovation be ROI positive. Will it translate here? Is it going to be the next big thing? This is what we are trying to solve at Peach & Lilly.”
As far as the next big money-makers imported from Korea, Yoon pinpoints more masks, “Botox in a bottle” (the first commercializable product was just released in Korea), stick formulas and hard-to-keep-in-stock snail cream as a few examples. “At first, snail cream was difficult to put on our site. We didn’t want to be associated with ingredients that are too zany,” she recalled. But when the decision was made, Yoon went with what she considered the best (Mizon), which has become the best-selling item. “It has become a phenomenon – and no snails were harmed.”