When Korean beauty and tech company Memebox, which launched in 2012 as a way to bring K-beauty products to the U.S., introduced its first private-label color cosmetics line called Kaja in September, CEO Dino Ha said it was the next phase of the company.
“When we first started, it was about bringing third-party products to the U.S. That was chapter one,” he said, regarding Memebox’s original business model of a multi-brand retailer. “Now, we are more focused on building singular brands.”
Though Kaja, which is exclusive to Sephora, was Ha’s first foray into color, he had previously tested Memebox’s own collection of products with I Dew Care, a mask line, and Nooni, a skin-care offering beginning in June 2017. Both are sold at Ulta, and Memebox’s business there has grown seven times this year, said Ha. Memebox’s redesigned U.S. site now only features its global private-label brands versus third-party products. Ha said that since debuting Kaja less than three months ago, the brand is seeing more than triple the sales in Sephora compared to other brands selling color cosmetics brands through the retailer.
“From all the learnings we had from selling third-party products, we thought our brands could be more localized to resonate more with the people here in the U.S.,” said Ha. “There are 15,000 Korean beauty brands that come to the [Korean] market each year, and they all remain very customer-centric. Why wouldn’t we want to do that here, as well?”
Memebox is not the only Korean beauty company that considered its own products as the next frontier in K beauty in the U.S. Alicia Yoon, founder of Korean beauty site Peach & Lily, introduced her own in-house skin-care brand in July, and Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam, which sells 45 brands and 550 products on its site, debuted her private-label brand, Then I Met You, in October.
“Six years of curating for Soko Glam has really made me understand what people want,” said Cho of Then I Met You. “This was really a culmination of my experience and understanding of skin care.” Yoon, meanwhile, wanted to cater to the Peach & Lily community’s concerns around efficacious products with “worry-free” ingredients. “There was an opportunity to give her something more personalized and customized, and just for her,” she said.
The Korean beauty market continues to be on fire in the U.S.: Market research firm Euromonitor International reported that sales of South Korea’s beauty exports to the U.S. are expected to grow to $13 billion by 2022. It makes sense that K-beauty’s original advocates would want a more direct piece of the pie.
Glow Recipe’s co-founders and co-CEOs Christine Chang and Sarah Lee first introduced their company’s namesake product line in Sephora in May 2017, and it’s seen great success, particularly in the skin-care division. The brand’s first private-label product, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask sold out over seven times at GlowRecipe.com and Sephora at launch.
“2018 has been about leveraging that momentum,” said Lee, who said the company added two new products to the watermelon franchise, a moisturizer and a jelly sheet mask, as well as a blueberry cleanser and an avocado sleeping mask. Women’s Wear Daily reported that the brand’s skin-care line was estimated to do $30 million in retail sales this year. Chang said that four new products are tentatively on deck for 2019. “We want to make sure we give enough time for each product to shine,” she said, of the measured cadence. “We never want to forget our hero products.”
For his part, Ha said that Kaja will be introducing around 50 new color cosmetic products in January alone. (In September, the brand debuted 47 units of blushes, highlighters, concealers, eye shadows, brow gels and lip products.)
Cho, too, will be adding new products to Then I Met You in 2019. Still, she contended that the private-label brand is not a Korean beauty brand, per se, as it is not sold in Korea, but it is instead “inspired” by the country — this is why it is not sold on the Soko Glam site. “Trust is so important to our customer, and we do not want to confuse them,” she said. Keeping that direct relationship with her customers continues to be important to Cho, which is why Then I Met You is not sold through any retail partners right now, either; it is only available on ThenIMetYou.com.
Peach & Lily had a two-prong approach to selling a branded collection: first, launching its own collection on PeachandLily.com for one month, then launching with Ulta Beauty exclusively in its select 250 stores. The reasoning? To own that “direct customer conversation,” which inspired the line in the first place. Across all channels, the brand’s Glass Skin Refining Serum sold out over five times in the first month of launch, the Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask sold out three times on PeachandLily.com and twice at Ulta Beauty, and its Lazy Day All-in-One Moisture Pads have been sold out since September. “The whole collection has been beyond our wildest expectations,” said Yoon. “Sales continue to grow, and adding Ulta has not changed sales on our own site.”
Memebox, however, has clearly taken another approach with Kaja, Nooni, I Dew Care and its partnerships with Sephora and Ulta. “Even though we started as an online business and we have more than a million registered users in the U.S., if you compare that to the market size or to the reach that Ulta or Sephora has, it is still smaller,” said Ha. (Globally, Membox has 5 million customers.) “We want to have a greater understanding of who our customer is and who they could be with these brands and products. These partnerships are helping us get there.”