In celebration of International Women's History Month, we're starting a new series where we interview female founders in K-Beauty Industry to learn about their entrepreneurial journey and how their beauty brand was born.
Kim Hyojin, founder and CEO of HNCOSKIN
Thank you for taking this interview! Could you start by telling us more about yourself?
Hello, I'm Kim Hyojin, CEO of HNCOSKIN. I actually incorporated the company on my birthday. 'H' in the name of the company stands for Hyojin, and together HNCO stands for Hyojin and cosmetics. And, as the company's founding anniversary falls on the same day as my birthday, I do a year-end workshop at that time every year.
I am a mother of two boys, and I started my career in a marketing role in an IT company in South Korea. I also worked as a sales representative at a cosmetics company.
Photo credit: HNCOSKIN
What does your company do exactly? When and how did you start HNCOSKIN?
HNCOSKIN's main business ranges from producing the raw ingredients for basic cosmetic products such as cushions, patches and masks, to subsidiary material sourcing. We also develop and market our own skincare brands like Patchholic and AOSA. We plan to focus more on developing our brands in 2021.
Before starting HNCOSKIN, I worked as the Director at a cosmetics manufacturing company that produce for big brands like Amore Pacific. During that time, I challenged myself to increase the sales of Amore Pacific brands and large single brands for eight years. I achieved domestic, overseas, and brand goals, and I seemed to have achieved all the sales goals I wanted. Of course, those were not sales goals enforced by the company, but rather goals I've set for myself.
I wanted to take on a new challenge as my new goal to create sincere cosmetics. I left behind my office worker self and prepared myself to become a CEO of a start-up. I registered the company name, got a small office, and searched on YouTube and the Internet for what to prepare.
A business begins with money. Starting with the unfamiliar word 'capital', a boss has to make money to be in a position to pay out salaries. It's an iron rule back then and now, and the mere thought of not being able to pay my employees hurts my pride. So I did it step by step. I compiled a list of products that can be sold and businesses of interest. And I went to a factory where each of the products could be made according to my proposals, and I signed the contract. I started preparing the samples. For urgent expenses required immediately, I relied on and my severance pay, and tried my best not to spend as much money on desks and office furniture.
Each of the small successes I have achieved have helped me. I didn't prepare anything to start my own business while working for my previous company, and I thought that was right even though this might seem silly to others. I don't think it would have worked out even if I had prepared for it. And so I realized, there's no trick in business.
Our company is a start-up that is currently in its 4th year of cosmetics OEM and brand business. We only established the company in March 2018 and have already achieved 4.6 million USD in sales last year. We've also received many accolades from esteemed organizations in Korea, including a 2020 Trade Export Certification for achieving over 1 million dollars worth of exports.
Photo credit: HNCOSKIN
Could you tell us more about AOSA? How did you come up with AOSA’s brand concept?
As our modern lives become busier and more tiring, there are some days when you're too tired to remove your makeup before sleep, and I am not exception. Although I've created so many cosmetic products, I don't use every single one of them everyday. The environment is becoming more damaged, which is in turn causing more harm to our skin and speeding up aging. I wanted to make a product that can slow down aging as much as possible and help the skin to withstand the harmful environment. It had to be a simple and effective product that anyone can do alone at home without having to go to expensive aesthetic clinics. The Black Power product uses natural charcoal powder to clean the pores of dust, fills the skin with moisture using liposomes to hydrate the skin during cleansing, and uses panthenol to strengthen the skin barrier against harmful ingredients and protect the skin's moisture.
How do you develop new products? Where do you get your ideas from?
I'm always thinking about it, be it when playing golf or eating out. If you only work on it within a fixed time like how you do with homework, you can't make good products.
These days, we are looking at products that can suit a variety of customers, such as those affected by the weather, customers who are sensitive to environmental pollution and other clean beauty products, and the Gen Z who prefer intuitive shopping.
Based on the basic formulations of products preferred by foreign customers, we suggest products that fit the trend. For those who can't travel due to COVID-19 these days, we have developed UV eye stickers for sun care when playing golf.
There is also a lot of development of raw ingredients for various Cica products that soothe skin sensitivity caused by mask-wearing and skin problems caused by germs.
For clean beauty products, we double-check raw materials for harmful ingredients or animal experiments, develop and source packages that do not generate trash, or are biodegradable.
We research various aspects such as product design, fabric development, and effective raw ingredients of patch products that can be attached to the face or body and deliver the effective ingredients well.
You created the Pure Energy CICA+ Line recently. What is new about the CICA+ line?
I across the skin conditions of female customers in their teens and 20s in the Philippines and Indonesia through Instagram. I heard that due to weather and air quality, they are easily exposed to acne and trouble not only on their face but also their body. There are already many cica products on the market, but they were not accessible to all customers Southeast Asia in terms of product content, effectiveness and price.
We swapped purified water, which accounts for 50 to 80 percent of most cosmetic products, to Centella asiatica leaf extract from Madagascar, a well-preserved area in the world, and added soothing and moisturizing ingredients such as Madecassoside. I constantly researched with the lab to make products that really work when used consistently, and I wanted to make sure that the containers and packaging materials used would not affect the price so that the customers could be really satisfied. I'm confident that it's a cost-effective product that helps improve your skin with consistent use.
What were the major challenges after you started your business?
To be honest, in 2020, I invested a lot in overseas certification to develop branding fully, but I couldn't go abroad because of COVID-19. So instead, we quickly switched to producing hand sanitizers and sanitizing tissues and secured the subsidiary materials needed. I was very worried that it wouldn't work out, but the company seems to have grown thanks to its quick response.
Business relies a lot on the self. I received a lot of help from the factory owners and the subsidiary material businesses, but at the end of the day, I have to take care of everything from the cost to the packaging in order to see results. After all, all the choices are made by me. Of course, I have to be responsible.
There are times when people or the circumstances rarely helped and there are temptations, mostly in the form of investments.
I rejected all of them because they were different from our company's values. The interests of each investor differ from one other, so it's better to make a good judgement and discuss it with an expert first before proceeding.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Firstly, accurate cash flow! The CEO is the person who makes the money. Even if it's an item that the CEO believes in, if the cash flow is not clear, you need to supplement it quickly.
We're a manufacturing business, so we started from sourcing factories and subsidiary materials. Because we're a manufacturer without our own factory, I think it's important to gather talented people who can put in effort in the fields that are different from yours. There's not much you can do by yourself.
Business owners can only rely on their workforce. The thing I talked about the most last year is thorough care for the health of the employees. Of course, it is especially important due to COVID-19, but if the manpower falls apart, there'll be no company.
Health, fitness, and mental care are really important. Of course, chronic hair loss and wrinkles on the forehead are always followed by chronic headaches.
What are some upcoming trends you foresee in the K-beauty industry?
Due to COVID-19, online and platform businesses are diversifying. Already, social media is actively used to drive offline and online sales. More specifically, there's a lot of attention on the influencers' and businesses' social media platforms and on developing ideas that will allow them to succeed.
Many cica, soothing, and calming products that help resolve skin issues and germ build-up caused by our daily mask usage are likely to continue to gain popularity.
Clean Beauty, which has become a global issue, is also being developed with ethical consumption and safe products using honest cosmetic ingredients and packaging.
Home aesthetic products with high efficacy and good ingredients, home training, and home skincare products to achieve skin health are also receiving more attention than high-end aesthetic makeup and skincare.