Birthplace: Seoul, Korea
Occupation: Founder/CEO of Peach & Lily
Residence: United States
Asian skincare, particularly Korean skincare, has been sweeping the beauty world in a dramatic manner the likes of which we haven’t seen since perhaps the Jennifer Aniston haircut back in the 90’s. While Hollywood starlets have long taken center stage as the epitome of beauty, of late, it’s Korean women (no doubt in part led by Korean starlets) who have become the world’s epitome of perfect skin.
In the middle of this maelstrom of Korean skincare trends sits Alicia Yoon, Founder and CEO of Peach & Lily, an e-commerce website dedicated to highly curated Asian skincare products. A graduate of Harvard and a lifelong skincare aficionado who used to do facials for family and friends, Yoon was bit by the entrepreneurial bug and found no better way to dive in than in the industry her deep passions lay. A woman who is proudly obsessive about great skincare habits (a trait she and I share), Yoon is every bit the businesswoman as she is the modern “girl next door” who happens to be able to tell you all about the latest and greatest in skincare.
You’re curious about how those dewy, doe-eyed Korean starlets achieve their seemingly perfect skin? Yoon has the answers and recommendations to boot. You’re curious about what “Essence” is versus Toner? Yoon has the answer.
More interestingly than having those answers, Yoon straddles a highly lucrative industry with that of using technology to reach her customer base. Add in a healthy dose of being able to predict what the next beauty trends will be and where she should position Peach & Lily and we have what may potentially be the next Sephora but with more personalization and greater curation. This puts Yoon on my personal watch-list of fascinating founders. Here’s a brief interview I recently engaged in with the beautiful lady behind the hit site:
Interview with Alicia Yoon, Founder of Peach & Lily
Dina: You talk about your personal journey in dealing with eczema and how you came to learn about doing facials and make-up. Then while at Harvard you knew you wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. Can you share with us how a passion for skincare parlayed into a full blown business? What fears did you have in taking the plunge in what was at the time a niche market of bringing Korean skincare into America?
Alicia: Deciding to leave the Boston Consulting Group where I was advising beauty brands was a really fun job. Deciding to leave a great job to try my hand an entrepreneurship was a hard decision. I had a lot of concerns about market timing, if I could handle the challenges of starting my own business, how I would feel about going from financial stability to financial uncertainty, and also about how I would actually enjoy the experience of being an entrepreneur versus what I imagined it would be like in my mind. Focusing on Peach & Lily and wanting to do skincare was the easy part of the decision — I knew if I started a company, it should be in an area that I’m passionate and knowledgeable about and one I can live and breathe daily without tiring of it. In 2012, though, when I saw BB cream take off in the US, at first, through Sephora, I knew that the timing was now and I thought that while I had some fears, it was now or never. I saw it more as an adventure, and thought that I would give it my all and see what happens. I’m so glad I made that decision — it has been an adventure, indeed.
“I was almost evicted from my apartment three times in the early days as I was not paying myself and all my savings was being plowed back into the company.”
Dina: Tell us about the early days of Peach & Lily…what were some of the most difficult moments you experienced in founding a company in such a highly competitive market?
Alicia: When I started Peach & Lily, there wasn’t much media attention, retailer interest or a large consumer base of people interested in Korean beauty compared to now. As the first retailer to be based in the US and market Korean beauty in more mainstream channels, our company pioneered and grew the Korean beauty market; that was extremely challenging as the marketing process had to take on a very educational role. I had met with dozens and dozens of editors to discuss Korean beauty, and attended tradeshow after tradeshow to discuss and demonstrate how Korean beauty is differentiated. It was challenging to know if Korean beauty would ever gain meaningful traction and yet work so hard to see if it might take off. That uncertainty was challenging to deal with. Additionally, I decided not to take institutional funding and wanted to wait until I met the right investors — that was difficult. I was almost evicted from my apartment three times in the early days as I was not paying myself and all my savings was being plowed back into the company.
Dina: What do you do to handle stress?
Alicia: I’m lucky to have an incredible support group of friends and family around me who I can always go to for encouragement and also great advice as some of them are experienced entrepreneurs, which helps with stress. I also meditate every morning and that has been key for me.
Dina: You’ve mentioned how you had American friends/clients in the early days who constantly asked you about Korean products because Koreans look younger. Do you think the obsession with appearing youthful is what began the American obsession with Korean skincare or was there more to this now explosive trend?
Alicia: There was more to it. I think the innovative products themselves caught the attention of many Americans and intrigue and results spread by word-of-mouth in a very rapid pace.
Dina: In many of the interviews you’ve done to date, we’ve learned about many of your favorite skincare products and your daily skincare routine. You’ve mentioned that Koreans have a more holistic approach to skincare and that healthy skin means being healthy overall (which I agree with wholeheartedly) so we’d like to know what you put into your body, not just what you put on Can you share with us what your favorite foods are both for daily consumption and for indulgent moments?
Alicia: Lots of omega 3 fats. A quick and easy snack is sardines with brown rice mixed in with sesame seed oil, soy sauce and red pepper paste. Easy to make and super healthy. I drink a lot of green tea, which has a lot of antioxidants. I try to steer clear of sugar and processed meats. I’m also big on multivitamins. I also take ginseng supplements to help boost my circulation (this isn’t good for everyone, but great for my body type and needs). I don’t really like to eat fruits because sometimes the tannins hurt my teeth, so I’m very conscious about getting my fruits in through juices. And I really love vegetables, all sorts of vegetables. I try not to stress over food and generally stick to a well balanced and healthy diet — but if I want that chocolate here and there, that’s OK, too, as long as in moderation.
Dina: I’ve been obsessive about skincare since my 20’s and share your deep passion for it. Within my AsianFusionGirl brand, I’ve often tweeted about my favorite skincare products and how important I think skincare is. Once in a long while, I get annoying trolls who belittle those of us who work in or are involved with the skincare industry, trolls who say we’re superficial and that skincare is for high maintenance women. What would you say to such people?
Alicia: I think these kinds of comments are sweeping statements and judgmental in nature — and these kinds of statements aren’t constructive in getting a specific viewpoint across, anyway. I strongly believe that skincare is a form of self care/ healthcare in much the same way that proper nutrition and working out is a form of self care. I’m decidedly and proudly high maintenance when it comes to skincare. I love that I know how to take care of myself and can prevent premature aging and maintain healthy skin; it is my body’s biggest organ, after all. Sure, I love the way radiant skin looks, but I also feel empowered and great, especially because I have chronic and bad eczema and knowing that I don’t need to relegate myself to just having flaky skin but can manage what I was born with to a point where I can still have healthy, radiant skin is a great feeling. Skincare isn’t a vanity thing to me, it’s a self care thing. I don’t think we point fingers at women who take vitamins each day or work out everyday or take great care in what kind of foods to prepare and eat — and I don’t think we should point fingers at women (or men) who want to put the same level of care in maintaining healthy skin.
Dina: What are your hopes for Peach and Lily over the next few years?
Alicia: I hope that Peach & Lily continues to be a differentiated retailer in the skincare space where we curate the best products coming out of Korea and Japan to make them accessible in the North American market. I hope that Peach & Lily can help push the dialogue forward about skincare so that more people feel like skincare is something that they can learn about easily and find products and ingredients that their skin loves. I hope that Peach & Lily can empower people to take better care of their skin through products, education, and conversations.
Dina: What do you envision to be the next major skincare trend?
Alicia: I think people are seeking to customize their skincare regimens more and more. I think brands that offer some level of customization and DIY-elements to their product lines will resonate deeply with customers. I can see personalization being a trend that grows and stays.