Several years ago, well ahead of the current mask and Korean beauty explosion, Allan Lever discovered beauty innovations being developed in Korea.
Lever, the founder of Look Beauty, started bringing affordable mask technology to U.S. retailers. One of the first was the debut of Que Bella, a collection from the U.K. he sold into Target. “At that time, Target had white space in masks,” explained Lever.
Building on the success of Que Bella, Lever fused Korean technology with his masks to create Masque Bar. The goal was to deliver the quality of products priced at $36 in the luxury market at a retail under $10 for chains. Target served as the launch pad, but Masque Bar expanded to 15,000 doors in the U.S.: Walgreens Boots Alliance, Ricky’s, Rite Aid, Urban Outfitters, select TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
International growth has been brisk. Today, Look Beauty masks are sold in 50 countries, up from 28 just last year.
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Now Lever is at a crossroads. How does a small independent stay competitive as megabrands venture into masks? “We have to be different. I just have to keep being first to market with new ideas. Masks are all we do, it isn’t just a side business for us,” he explained.
A case in point in delivering something unique is a collection of masks imprinted with animal faces called Animalz.
“Kylie Jenner went to Target and bought one and posted in social media,” recalled Lever. “Now we can’t keep them in stock.” There will soon be a total of 12 animal masks in the lineup including seasonally appropriate themes, such as a reindeer, slated for holiday.
Next up, he plans to be one of the first to mass with a Bio Cellulose Mask. This natural gel mask is made from coconuts harvested in Vietnam. Gel masks, he said, fit better than tissue sheet masks and the coconut gel absorbs faster.
The popular modeling masks gaining traction in Korea and the luxury market in the U.S. are interpreted by Look for the mass market. His comes in a plastic tub with powder that is activated by seven scoops of water. The other side of the scoop has a spatula to spread the mixture, which settles into a paste that after 20 to 30 minutes hardens into a rubberlike sheet, which peels off.
Noting that men are stealing wives’ or girlfriends’ masks, Lever is launching a men’s range called Bandito by Masque Bar. The edgy line features a moustache and goatee actually printed on the sheet and whimsical names such as Pimped Out No More for the acne version.
Look’s masks offer cutting-edgy technology at sharp values. The men’s mask line retails for $3.99, the Modeling Mask and Bio Cellulose version carry a $4.99 price tag.
Lever is imitating the concept of fast fashion espoused by Zara or H&M with a “fast beauty” line called in.gredients. “Every month, we will bring out three sku’s with ingredients such as egg cream masks or kale masks,” he said. Holiday collections will tie into themes such as pumpkin spice latte for fall to roll out in tune with Starbucks flavors, he noted. There are even lip-flavored masks with tastes and smell. “Few people can do what we do with this speed to market,” he noted.
From an ingredients standpoint, Lever said charcoal is in demand. “It is our number-one sku and we are planning a whole range of charcoal masks,” he added.
The masks aren’t only for face — Look offers foot and eye masks. Exclusive to Walgreens is an oxygen bubble sheet mask creating a buzz with beauty editors and influencers because of the ability to see the ingredients in action.
Lever, who travels the world on the quest for newness, sees no limits to Korean beauty opportunity. “We have yet to see any country as innovative as South Korea which has changed everything from cars to televisions,” Lever said.