As is the case with many massively popular new brands, it’s hard to believe that Glow Recipe Skincare is so young. Launched only two years ago, the Korean line has become the epitome of—and has even heavily shaped—what makes a successful, Instagram-famous brand in 2019 (namely, pastel top-shelf–worthy packaging, deliciously scented fruit-infused formulas, and irresistible textures). Its very first product, the cult favourite Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, sold out several consecutive times, resulted in 5,000-person wait-lists, and went on to become one of Sephora’s bestselling products of the year.
While Glow Recipe is new to the beauty market, founders Sarah Lee and Christine Chang launched the brand with years of experience and expertise behind them, which equipped them with an impeccable sense of timing. “We’ve known each other for over 13 years,” says Lee over the phone from New York, where they’re currently based. The pair started their careers at L’Oréal Korea, working in global marketing, product devel- opment, and research for major brands like Matrix, Lancôme, and Kiehl’s. In a happy coincidence, Lee and Chang both relocated to the L’Oréal offices in New York in 2008, where they worked for a few years.
Then came the K-Beauty boom in North America five years ago. “We were talking about how we were working on projects that were all K-Beauty-inspired, and were harnessing K-Beauty technologies,” says Lee, “and had this ‘Aha!’ moment of wanting to do this in real-time ourselves.” That moment of realization resulted in glowrecipe.com, an educational platform and curated e-commerce site that launched in 2014 (three years before its offshoot eponymous skincare line), selling a range of indie Korean brands. “We were the only two employees in the company who were bilingual and bicultural,” says Lee, “and we were already working with American retailers and had an understanding of the U.S. consumer. It was [the right time] to bring real Korean products and innovations from our sources to the American consumer.”
The pair also saw a real need for a platform like Glow Recipe. Not only was there a growing interest in Korean beauty, but the information available to the U.S. market was either insufficient, inaccurate, or confusing. “K-Beauty products are really advanced in terms of technology, quality, results, and sensorial textures,” says Lee. “Those weren’t be- ing highlighted in a way that would resonate.” Instead, the marketing around Korean beauty products was centred on things like kitschy names and cutesy packaging.
Lee and Chang also knew that North American women were intimidated by Korean beauty’s famed (but not necessarily accurate) multi-step routine, often criticized by U.S. consumers for being time-consuming and expensive. Even today, a quick Google search for “Korean beauty routine” displays over 34 million results, most of which still refer to it as a 10-step process. Undoing that misconception is a key part of both Glow Recipe’s educational platform and its skincare line, which encourages multi-use products. Take, for instance, the Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer, which is a gel–emulsion hybrid.
“Korean women aren’t counting a certain number of steps that they have to achieve to feel like they’ve done a successful skincare routine,” says Chang, explaining that the key to K-Beauty is “having an open dialogue with your skin” and allowing how your skin feels each day to dictate what—and how many—products you use. “Let your skincare [routine] be a versatile self-care moment and a fluid discussion with your skin,” advises Chang, explaining that that school of thought is a more accurate reflection of how women in Korea approach skincare.
Today, glowrecipe.com and Glow Recipe Skincare harmoniously coexist. If Lee and Chang see a need for a product that isn’t sold by their network of indie Korean brands, they simply create it for Glow Recipe Skincare, while educating consumers on its formula and use on the site. “It’s an organic interweaving of what we consider to be the best in Korean beauty,” says Chang, who insists that “K-Beauty, at its core, is an attitude.”