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.
We've all heard of the elusive stem cells and how it does wonders for anti-aging. What if I told you that you can now enjoy the benefits of stem cells from a wide range of everyday skincare products? Let's find out more from Narae Jeon and Jaein Kim, co-founders of XOUL Cosmetic, which specializes in cosmetics infused with Stem Cell Technology and has made high-end stem cell cosmetics more accessible to consumers.
Jaein Kim and Narae Jeon, co-founders of XOUL Cosmetic
Could you introduce yourselves?
The two of us became friends when we met each other while studying in New York. We were both well-versed in beauty, and like cosmetic researchers, we were both interested in the ingredients of products. We gathered our opinions to challenge the cosmetics business as young female entrepreneurs. Rather than just wanting to make the business successful, we wanted to make cosmetics with features and designs that would rank among luxury cosmetics at a reasonable price. As women ourselves, we take our life experience with cosmetics and work with researchers that have theoretical knowledge to create products that contain XOUL Cosmetic's concept and beliefs.
XOUL has a brand concept of human stem cell culture fluid cosmetics. Was there a reason why you had human stem cell culture fluid as XOUL's brand concept?
Usually, you'll look for key ingredients that can be the main ingredient after you decide to start the cosmetics business, but on the contrary, we started the cosmetics business because we were fascinated by this ingredient known as human stem cell culture fluid. Thankfully, I have used a variety of products from good brands since I was young due to my mother's influence. The most impressive product of them was a product made of human stem cell culture fluid. It was the only product that I felt was effective and fit me well without any side effects on my skin, which suffered from atopic dermatitis. But the price was 1 million Korean won for each cream and the ampoule was close to 2 million Korean won. So why does it have to be so expensive? It would be great if many people could experience such good ingredients without any financial burden! With that thought, I searched for stem cell culture ingredients, and after endless challenges and frustrations, I found a way to connect with a bio company and get a direct supply.
So the brand that we've started is XOUL.
XOUL's company ideology when we first established the brand is to deliver good ingredients to the masses, which is not limited to just human stem cell culture. We are also now being recognized overseas, but we continue to look for active ingredients that are rarely found in Korea, which are safer and stand out from others. We want to create anti-aging products that appeal to younger people, made with the best combination of the most skin-friendly and effective ingredients.
Photo credit: XOUL Cosmetic
How is XOUL perceived in Korea?
Now, we think our brand's credibility has reached a point where there are customers who purchase our products without even reading the detailed description. A big factor is that we invest 2 years in developing a single product. In particular, we communicate with our customers and work together in the process. It seems that the trustworthy image that we have has naturally been established as information is easily shared and customers are encouraged to participate through social media. Of course, customers become curious when they see that the products lead to visible changes, so the functions of the products played the main role.
Which product was the most difficult to develop?
One of the major achievements of XOUL Cosmetic is our lip balm product containing stem cell cultures derived from adipose tissue. The formulation of stem cells is very fragile, especially when produced in a wax-type lip balm product, which is why it is difficult to find cosmetics with stem cell culture fluid in the market. At this point, XOUL Cosmetic succeeded in developing a wax-type stem cell culture lip balm, becoming the world's first brand to add lip balm to the category.
Ever Moist Lip Balm from XOUL Cosmetic
What are XOUL's bestselling products? Please tell us about the most loved product.
I've been asked this question a lot, and it's one of the hardest questions to answer.
Apart from XOUL Packs, there is a slight difference depending on the season, and the sale of our products perform similarly on a yearly basis. In other words, all products are representative products, and after reflecting on the reason, I think it's because XOUL doesn't have products that are made for specific purposes.
Our company is turning 4 years old this year, but the reason why we still only have about 10 products is similar! There is a clear reason for each product's release, and development also takes a considerable amount of time for each product to be created.
You might be a little curious about the reasons for their release.
Take for example, the lip balm. I felt sorry for the fact that a lot of people care about their eyes, but they neglect the care of their lips.
And listening to the concerns of women in their 40s who have less volume and wrinkles as they grow older, the goal was to develop products that can go beyond just moisturizing care, to include anti-aging care in XOUL. Thus, the world's first stem cell culture lip balm containing Volufiline as its key ingredient was created with the name 'Ever Moist Lip Balm', after 1 year and 2 months of development.
This is just one example, but we think that every product should have its own clear birth story, the reason it should be released in XOUL, and points to differentiate it against other brands. That's why we think the sales of each product is evenly distributed like they are all representative products.
Photo credit: XOUL Cosmetic
How far along is the development of the new product you are currently working on it? What kind of product is it?
I think this year will be the year to showcase XOUL laboratory's unique technology that we've accumulated for many years. Cosmetics contain a lot of ingredients, and it's not easy to find the right proportion of them. XOUL has found that perfect ratio and I think it's time to speed up based on that.
The earliest product to be released in May will be an ampoule containing more than 50% of "human-like collagen," which can be called the next-generation collagen, along with home care devices created personally by XOUL from the design to development.
After that, our company's popular summer product, the Frozen Mask Pack, will be renewed and re-released again. Two types of sunscreen are also scheduled to be released.
Photo credit: XOUL Cosmetic
Where do you usually get inspiration for ideas when you develop new products?
The two of us will visit wherever we can to learn about cosmetics and skin. I also have a first-class cosmetic expert license. The reason we are telling you this is because we absolutely avoid developing a product just because it's popular in other companies, or because the ingredient is popular these days. When we reach a point where we're constantly thinking and digging into information based on skin health, we begin product development.
We want to create a brand without referencing others, and we want to continue to approach it in a way that no one else does. We want to grow a brand with unparalleled quality.
Have you ever faced any difficulties in the development and sales of XOUL Cosmetic's products? How did you solve it?
Everything is still difficult. In particular, the process of product development can bring a sense of shame to the point of giving up cosmetics. XOUL is known to be a brand that uses our own technology, starting from the formula, and in fact, it takes a lot of time and financial resources to maintain this standard. For example, the ampoule which will be released in May, took more than a year to develop in order to contain more than 50% of next-generation collagen, and we've failed countless times. If you choose a general manufacturing method that only adds brand concept ingredients to the existing formula, you don't have to consider the stability of the product, but because XOUL's products have never been made before, manufacturers have to take on the challenge and we have to wait longer.
As such, the process of development feels more tedious as our demands are higher, and it is always difficult to go through this process without relying on outdated methods to reach our customers.
Photo credit: XOUL Cosmetic
Do you have any keywords that you think are important in leading various activities and companies as female leaders? Why?
What we're most concerned about these days is how to grow old beautifully. It's not only about the beauty of the skin, but also about mental and physical health! We've been running a cosmetics company for about 4 years and we've been stressing about many things, so it's been a series of days where we can't eat and sleep well. And we felt that our health have been deteriorating and our skin conditions were getting worse, so we thought about the beauty industry we were in. We realized that skin is an indicator of the health of our bodies.
XOUL's keyword in 2021 is "well-aging", and we will think more about ways to live a healthy and beautiful life beyond applying good products and share them with others.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female business leaders?
The leader has many burdens and responsibilities to be accountable for. You may experience a lot of frustration, failure, and despair, but the experiences accumulate and become a great nourishment for your life and serve as a compass. Not just women, but for young people with this question, I would advise that they never stop aspiring and dreaming endlessly.