Alicia Yoon can remember accompanying her mother and grandmother to the family facialist in Korea when she was 3 years old (Yoon was born in Korea, moved to the United States at age 1, and returned to Korea when she was 12). She wasn’t there to receive a treatment, of course, but—not wanting to miss out on the action—she tried to emulate the process by playing with dollops of moisturizer while lying on one of the facial beds. Little did Yoon know that this experience would become part of the fabric of her love affair with Korean beauty.
As a high school student in Seoul, 17-year-old Yoon also attended a separate beauty school and received her aesthetician license. “In school I learned what really worked for my eczema-prone skin,” she explains. “It gave me the knowledge to feel more empowered in my own skincare routine.” By the time she went off to New York City to attend Columbia University, she was somewhat of a beauty guru and became the skincare adviser to her friends and confidantes. Yoon went on to Harvard Business School, and then worked for the Boston Consulting Group, where she had a career-changing conversation.
“I was walking down the hall one day, and a cosmetic chemist asked if I was Korean,” explains Yoon. “He said, ‘Your country makes the best skincare.’ A light bulb went off. I [had always] loved Korean beauty because I grew up there, but to hear an expert really validate it, I figured there was an amazing opportunity to bring K-beauty products to the U.S. that weren’t widely available in the States. I ended up going to HR that day, and I told them I wanted to finish the project I was working on, but then I needed to leave to start my own company.” And that’s exactly what she did.
Yoon unveiled Peach & Lily, a curated Korean beauty e-commerce site, in 2012. Naturally, because she didn’t want to bring products to the market that could easily be found in the United States, her curation process involves extensive research. “It has to be results driven and it has to be very straightforward,” says Yoon. “We always test these brands on focus groups made up of people who have a specific skin type or skin concern or who are in a certain age range. Then each tester is given a very detailed survey. We want to know about their experience. If it’s bad or if it seems like a chore, people won’t stick with it.” This extensive research, product knowledge, and understanding of what products work best and for whom have placed Yoon in the superior position of all-knowing Korean beauty expert. Just ask companies such as Target, Macy’s, and Barneys, all of which have enlisted her to curate their rapidly expanding K-beauty selections. The secret is out: Korean beauty is IN.
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