Today’s interview is with the lovely Alicia, co-founder of Peach and Lily, a site dedicated to bringing Asian skincare brands to the United States. I was very excited for this interview because I am a skincare dunce. I’ve always been curious about Asian skincare, but have always been intimidated by the sheer number of choices out there. I came across Peach and Lily through a rather serendipitous way and was thrilled when I learned that Alicia was involved.
Alicia and I first met while in Hong Kong on a trip with classmates, and I distinctly remember even years later how flawless her skin was. We would all go out for late nights together, and while the rest of us would be hunched over in the morning at the hotel breakfast, ashen faced and altogether looking terrible, Alicia would be sitting there with glowing, perfect skin. Anybody who looks like Alicia did after a night of drinking is a certifiable skincare expert to me, and thus I was thrilled to get to ask her some questions. Enjoy meeting Alicia!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I’m Alicia and I’m one of the co-founders of Peach and Lily. I grew up in New York, moved back to Korea when I was 12 (went to an American school out there so the move wasn’t too bad) and then ultimately moved back to New York for college and have been here for the last 14 years, except for a two year stint in Boston for business school. At this point, I’d say I’m a New Yorker at heart!
You left a job at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to begin Peach and Lily. What gave you the push to go off and start your own business?
Growing up, my grandfather was a small-time hero of mine; he was this passionate and successful serial entrepreneur. It wasn’t his success that compelled me, but his love for creating businesses and making ideas a reality that was my inspiration. I always wanted to launch my own business, but wanted to make sure my passions would align with a way to solve a real problem. While I was at BCG, I was consulting for beauty clients and learned that so many amazing American and European brands look to Korea and Japan for beauty innovation. I learned that Korea’s beauty R&D labs are known to be the best in the world.
I wasn’t actually too surprised by this because for the last handful of years, whenever I’d go back to visit my family, my list of beauty products that my friends wanted me to bring back for them in the United States had been steadily growing. I saw firsthand the complete lack of access U.S. consumers have to these incredible beauty products that focus on high-quality, less chemically infused formulations, and started to see that this was a big consumer access problem. I’m passionate about beauty and retail, so it actually didn’t take too much to be excited about this opportunity after some initial market testing and focus on truly curating the best beauty products from Asia to finally make them available real-time in the U.S. Luckily, I had been in touch with Cindy, my co-founder, who had been noticing the same issue and deciding to launch Peach and Lily together was a very natural next step for us.
What were some of the biggest happy surprises about starting your own business?
The biggest happy surprise was the outpouring of love from our consumers! While I was hoping for our consumers to enjoy these products as much as we do, I was really happily surprised by just how positive the responses were. It’s only been 15 weeks, but many of our consumers have already purchased up to 5 times from us because the products have worked really well for them. This more than anything puts a big smile on my face as we’re really passionate about finding the best beauty products from Asia and making them available in the US.
What is it about Asian skincare in general that makes it so effective? How do you narrow down which products you actually choose to feature on your site, among all the choices out there?
Asian beauty in general is known to have incredible beauty innovation. Marie Claire recently said that “Korea is the new skin superpower” and “12 years ahead in beauty innovation.” A big reason for this is that Korean women spend 7X more on beauty than women in the U.S.,and flawless skin has long been a status symbol in Asia. With incredibly demanding consumers and with a lot of money pouring into beauty R&D, beauty companies compete through skincare that has the highest quality ingredients that produce real results in creating dewy, radiant skin.
Our vetting process is stringent so that we can ensure that the cream of the crop is hand selected. First, we identify all the cult-followed bestsellers. We pick the products that are popularized because of the results produced (versus celebrity endorsements or other big marketing pushes). With this narrowed down list, we go interview the brands – we meet with their R&D team, manufacturing team and the CEO. We make sure that the brands are committed to superior R&D and their brand philosophy is in line with Peach and Lily’s – using high quality ingredients to truly focus on producing sensational results. We then pore over ingredient lists. Our final step is to have our focus group that includes women with a variety of skin type try each product. After three weeks, we decide if the product is one we should carry. Only <10% of brands so far have made our vetting process. Some of the top reasons that we disqualify a brand include 1) low quality ingredient list, 2) poor focus group feedback, and 3) less than stellar R&D team.
I’ve often heard that Asian skincare and cosmetics are more advanced than in the West. Do you believe this to be true – and why is this so?
Asian skincare and cosmetics are centered on some of the most cutting edge beauty innovation. More than in the West, there is a big emphasis on timeless natural ingredients that have been passed on through the generations for centuries. So compared to the West, there is a bit more of a focus on these natural ingredients (e.g. rice, ssanghwang mushrooms, sake, botanicals, herbs) that is deeply rooted in a long-standing Asian beauty heritage. With Asian women being such demanding beauty consumers and seriously pursuing flawless skin, and with so many beauty brands competing in Korea and Japan, beauty science is pushed very quickly and far. This makes beauty innovation more cutting edge in Asia compared to the West, in our opinion.
A good example is the BB Cream story – it was popularized in Korea and Japan in 2006, but only made it’s U.S. debut in 2011. There are so many other new product categories and skincare ingredients that are making a huge splash in Asia developed out of these incredible beauty labs that aren’t yet in the US. We’re passionate about bridging this gap.
Myth or true? Are Asian skincare lines formulated “best” for Asian skin?
Total myth! Asian skincare is not formulated for just Asian skin. Formulations are, however, for specific skin types such as dry skin, sensitive skin, etc. Think SK-II and Shiseido – these brands are enjoyed and loved by women of all ethnic backgrounds. However, these brands will reflect the things that Asian women care about most.
For example, suncare is extremely important in Asia as the sun will wreak havoc and make it near impossible to maintain flawless skin well into your 40s and 50s. So most Asian skincare lines will have products with a high spf content in it and sunscreens will be formulated in a way that is incredible gentle on the skin as Asian women have a huge range of high end but affordable sunscreens to choose from. So for a sunscreen to be competitive, it has to not be chalky, be gentle, smell good and not clog the pores! Competition is great as consumers truly end up with the products pushed hard to be the best that science can offer.
What are some more mainstream skincare brands that you admire?
Origins is great for their natural ingredients and their focus on leaving out the more potentially harmful ingredients. Fresh is also great because they focus on a single ingredient that works, and Fresh’s products highlight the power of that one ingredient like sugar or soy.
What are some of your personal favorite products that you’ve been able to try via Peach and Lily?
We try all our products, so we can personally vouch for all of them! Having said that, for me, because I have eczema and my skin is on the drier side, I love the Aromatica Sea Daffodil Cleansing Mousse for the way it cleans without stripping my skin. I also love the Sua Young Bio-Whitening Complex for the way it gently makes my skin more radiant. And I can’t live without Be the Skin’s Power Nutrition Serum which is just incredible – super high quality timeless botanicals that leave my skin hydrated without the grease and clogging of pores.
What about some of your bestsellers? I know you have sold through some items incredibly quickly!
Our top five bestsellers would be: 1) Be the Skin’s serums, all have gotten incredible reviews, 2) Sua Young’s Botanical Toner, which doubles as a facial mist, 3) Mizon’s snail cream, 4) Aromatica’s Rose First Serum and 5) Clio’s Kill Black eyeliner set.
What’s a few key, crucial pieces of skincare advice that you believe that you could share?
Use a gentle facial wash versus one that strips your skin which makes it too alkaline and creates skin problems. And don’t ever skip the night wash even if you had that extra glass of wine. Don’t underestimate the power of serums – these are like vitamin shots into the skin and will target what your skin needs and will do wonders for the skin. And don’t ever, ever skip that spf – for me, the easiest way to get my spf is through my BB Cream and I only use mineral-based BB Creams as I find that it’s healthier for my skin and looks much more natural.
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite cosmetics in general, and beauty products. Any products that you could find at say, Sephora or Target on that list?
I appreciate Dr. Perricone’s Vitamin C Ester. It’s a bit pricey but it firms the skin without irritating it and truly boosts collagen production. I also like Fresh’s Sake bubble bath wash; it’s hydrating and keeps the skin supple.
What are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I love to paint, dance and eat my way through town. Being a huge foodie, it’s so delightful to live in NYC where there is such a huge diversity of food offerings.
And finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
I’m a petite girl so people won’t usually assume this about me, but I can be a total adrenaline junkie. Riding ATV’s and diving off high things can be such a treat!
I had so much fun picking Alicia’s brain about all things skincare. She is clearly so passionate and well informed, and I loved hearing her perspective on Asian skincare. For myself, I can say that after speaking with Alicia, I’ve definitely added more Asian skincare products to my routine. She was kind enough to send me some of her picks from Peach and Lily, and my favorite has been an amazing Mizon cream which I will be repurchasing once it runs out! I don’t think my skincare routine will ever be comprised of all Asian products – there are lots of fabulous Western options which I love and use – but I’ve definitely seen the benefit of adding some top Asian products as well.