South Korean beauty’s visual appeal helped lift U.S. skin-care sales, as tracked by The NPD Group, 9 percent last year, according to Charlotte Cho, the cofounder and chief curator of Soko Glam. “K-beauty is creating a lot of newness in beauty and I believe it is fueling the growth of skin care, surpassing makeup,” explained Cho. “Experts discuss how skin care is growing largely due to presentation of the products — it is very social — and also the growth of the health and wellness category [where K-beauty also fits].”
Demonstrating K-beauty products via digital has been an impetus for the growth of Soko Glam, a purveyor of Korean beauty products. In addition to its budding e-commerce business, Cho handpicks items sold at Urban Outfitters, Birchbox, a pop-up at Bloomingdale’s, Sephora and 3,000 CVS doors. Cho is quick to note that although growth has been explosive over the past few years, K-beauty isn’t new to the U.S. “It started with BB creams in 2008 and now sheet masks are everywhere. Cushion compacts have been picked up by large western brands,” Cho said.
Soko Glam can take some of the credit for the groundswell behind K-beauty, even though the California-born founder Cho didn’t discover the forward-thinking technology associated with Korea until she moved there in her twenties for a job. “It [Korean beauty] wasn’t part of my vocabulary,” she admitted. “I was more into jeans and Juicy lip gloss than what I put on my skin.” Once indoctrinated, she was hooked. “My skin was transformed, and I fell in love with the beauty industry,” she recalled. “Skin care didn’t feel like a chore anymore.”
Upon returning to the U.S., she introduced K-beauty to the American market — even though “naysayers questioned selling products no one had heard of without a physical store.” Cho saw the launch as an avenue to stay connected with Korea. She knew she had her work cut out for her when she asked an editor if they knew what K-beauty was and they asked, “do you mean Kardashian beauty?”
Undaunted and with a minuscule budget, she approached beauty publications who helped get her message out, especially on her 10-step skin-care regimen. Cho doesn’t undergo 10 steps nightly, but her mission was to help Americans understand the arsenal of products endemic to Korean skin care.
Soko Glam launched with a simple and straightforward web site in 2012 and emerged as a resource for truth in K-beauty product information. Cho vets every item on the site and uses YouTube (in videos often filmed in the company’s supply closet) to explain why each product is selected. “Digital was truly what Korean beauty needed, it was the perfect platform,” Cho added.
Education is first on all of Soko Glam’s platforms. “We do not chase revenue, we chase our mission. We go against the mainstream,” Cho stated. An example is Instagram, where “our captions are pretty dang long,” said Cho. “We have long descriptions of the ingredients and why they are effective. It is what our community wants.” The same approach is applied to how it deals with influencers, where Cho said the company isn’t looking for one-hits that go viral by paid posters because followers “can see right through that.”
Most e-commerce sites are about streamlining the path to purchase, she explained. Soko Glam, however, even drives the audience to The Klog.co., a content-rich URL launched in 2016. The company found readers clicking over to The Klog devoted more than five minutes to the site and visited five more pages on average. “And in just a year since we pulled it out of Soko Glam [to its own URL] traffic has increased 250 percent.” An updated Klog is in the works.
K-beauty will continue to flourish, she said, because of a constant pipeline of innovations from Korea. She expects the next wave of cutting edge items to include products with more texture and consistency, as well as the influx of color cosmetics. “Korean beauty isn’t a trend, it is synonymous with innovation. When people think Denmark, they think awesome furniture. I want people to think Korea and amazing cosmetics.”