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Every May since 1990, we've celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (or lovingly known as APAHM for short). Before that, starting in 1979, we had Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, when seven days were thought to be enough to celebrate over 17 million people (according to the 2010 census — though a sizable portion of the Asian population most likely wasn't counted). Groundbreaking Asian productions like Crazy Rich Asians and Never Have I Ever and Asian leaders in business, technology, and lifestyle prove that the impact of Asians has been and continues to be felt in every corner of life.
That impact, without a pigment of doubt, includes beauty. The western beauty world has been forever changed by the explosion of Korean and Japanese beauty, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to influential Asians bringing their unique lens, experiences, and expertise to makeup, skin care, and beyond. Whether their journeys involve making good on their immigrant parents' sacrifices, bringing Asian beauty philosophies/approaches stateside, creating products for their community's skin tones and specific skin concerns, or simply taking the unconventional route of becoming an entrepreneur — they've persevered through it all, and have built amazing brands to show for it.
Because we love hearing the stories behind brands as much as we love shopping and writing about them, we asked 18 (technically more, thanks to power duos and trios) Asian and Pacific Island American beauty brand founders two not-so-simple questions and they thankfully indulged us in answering them:
1. How has your upbringing inspired and/or strengthened your business?\
2. What is your personal hero product (as hard as it is to choose) from your brand? Why do you love it?
Without further ado, here are their touching responses:
Then I Met You & Soko Glam, Charlotte Cho
"My parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea over 40 years ago. As immigrants, they endured many struggles such as language barriers, racism, and job instability. Whenever I run into a hurdle with Soko Glam or Then I Met You, I think about the challenges my parents faced as a business owner for 35 years, and it gives me the conviction and drive to find a solution.
Also, because I am incredibly proud of my upbringing as a Korean American I have made it into my life's work: From starting a Korean beauty platform like Soko Glam to infusing jeong (a Korean cultural concept) into Then I Met You.
My personal hero product is The Giving Essence because it gives your skin deep hydration that will plump it up with moisture. I have tested and curated Korean essences for over eight years, and this is my interpretation of the best silky treatment essence with over 80 percent fermented ingredients and brightening ellagic acid. It leaves my skin glowing." — Charlotte Cho
Em Cosmetics, Michelle Phan
"Growing up in an immigrant family, I saw how my parents struggled living day by day. Their adversities inspired me to find a way to bring stability to our lives. This shifted my mentality and shaped me to become an entrepreneur.
Lip Cushion is my most beloved and used product. There isn't a day where I don't use it. It was a dream product of mine: a lightweight, nourishing lip sleeping mask-like treatment in a tinted form. It's one of our top sellers." — Michelle Phan
Clé Cosmetics, Lauren Jin
"Growing up, my parents always encouraged us to embrace freedom and self-expression. They actually enjoyed letting me experiment with different outfits or makeup looks, and I grew up with both parents really involved in my many style phases. Looking back, I didn't really realize it was because they were not able to do such things growing up in South Korea. I think that trust and freedom really shaped me personally, but also as a businesswoman, to be fearless and just have fun experimenting.
I use all my products every day, but if I had to choose, it would be the Melting Lip Powder. There have been so many moments where I [have to] rush out the door, but still want to look nice. I just apply a little on the cheeks, a bit on the outer corners of my eyes, a dab on the lips, and I'm good to go. It's a subtle difference, but it makes all the difference for me." — Lauren Jin
Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, Glow Recipe
"Both Sarah and I had the experience of our grandmothers rubbing chilled watermelon rind on our skin to soothe heat rash and irritation growing up, and this memory inspires us to bring the Korean approach to beauty and our heritage to every product we lovingly create. It has strengthened our business because we approach every product launch and formulation with storytelling and education around ingredients, application, and routine.
This holistic approach to skin-care and self-care is how we learned about caring for our skin from our own mothers and grandmothers, and we love that we're able to bring these elements to life for our community." — Christine Chang
"My personal hero product is the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask. It's the first product we released (and so will always hold a special place in my heart), and its launch did so much to put our brand on the map. When we developed the mask, our goal was to 'bottle' the sensorial experience of the classic Korean facial, which focuses on soothing, hydrating, and exfoliating the skin.
The Sleeping Mask sold out multiple times at Sephora and glowrecipe.com and had a wait list numbering in the thousands. It exceeded our wildest expectations and truly validated Glow Recipe's purpose and formulation philosophy." — Sarah Lee
Patrick Ta Beauty, Patrick Ta
"I’m a first-generation Vietnamese American and my parents always told me and my sister that they came to the United States so that we could have a better life and opportunities that were not available in Vietnam. They raised us to work extremely hard at everything we did — from school to piano lessons — so we had a very high standard to meet. This upbringing has translated throughout my career. As a full-time makeup artist, my job is to make my clients feel beautiful, and I'm meticulous at making sure that when they leave my chair, they look and feel their best.
When I decided to launch Patrick Ta Beauty, I used, and continue to use, the same level of perfection that was instilled in me by my parents. I am 100 percent involved in every aspect of my business from formulating my products, to making sure that the packaging is not only functional but also beautiful, to the marketing campaigns — I want my community and consumers to see the dedication and details that go into everything I create.
My most recent launch, Major Brow Shaping Wax, is a hero product for me because it's so innovative and something that the brow market hasn't seen. I'm really proud of the formula of this product and that I was able to give consumers a new way to style their eyebrows. There’s nothing better than seeing people use your products, fall in love with them, and share their experiences on social media." — Patrick Ta
Live Tinted, Deepica Mutyala
"Growing up in a South Asian household with immigrant parents, I was raised to believe that the only way you gain respect in America was through hard work. That stayed with me, and I knew that if I wanted to make my dreams come true, it wouldn't be handed to me — I had to go out there and work for it. I also learned the importance of putting your family first. No matter how hard I work or how crazy things get, I will always make time for my family.
My favorite (and only) product is the Huestick. We intentionally have taken our time with product development. I want every product to mean something to people the way the Huestick does. I hope every time someone uses their Huestick they know that they are part of a community that encourages them to feel connected to their identity and culture." — Deepica Mutyala
Tatcha, Vicky Tsai
"My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan right before I was born, and I spent my childhood growing up in New Jersey in a diverse community, so I honestly never thought too much about my Asian heritage as being different than the typical American experience. Then we moved to the Houston area when I was 14 — just in time to be the new kid in a high school with very few minorities — and I began to struggle with my identity. As a result, I spent much of my free time working in my mother's beauty boutique, where I loved disappearing among all of the products and seeing if they held the secret to feeling more beautiful in my own skin.
My twenties were spent traveling around the world for work, including Asia. That global exposure to beauty in all forms, shapes, and shades is what made me finally embrace what I saw when I looked in the mirror. In 2008, my travels eventually took me to Japan, where I fell in love with classical Japanese beauty culture, which emphasizes skin care as self-care and beauty beginning in the heart and the mind. I created Tatcha to share this beauty philosophy.
In 2009, when I began to approach potential retail partners for Tatcha, I was told explicitly that 'Asian beauty is not aspirational in the U.S.' and that Tatcha was 'too niche' and 'too exotic' for the western woman. It felt like high school all over again, but it only made me more passionate about bringing a different perspective on beauty to the U.S.
Now, 10 years later, when Asian Americans introduce themselves to me and tell me how much they love seeing their beauty culture reflected in the mainstream, it means the world to me. I am so grateful for the richness of my Asian American heritage because I feel at home on both sides of this big beautiful world and hope that Tatcha can be a portal into the beauty that is rooted in Japan but available to all.
If I were on a desert island and could only take one thing from Tatcha with me, it would have to be the Essence. It's a formula that truly transformed my skin and also represents the marriage of heritage and innovation that makes Tatcha so special. The scientists at the Tatcha Institute in Japan had originally wanted us to launch it when we were first starting out, but it took seven years of their convincing (and a lot of behind-the-scenes formulating on their behalf) before we launched it." — Vicky Tsai
Tower 28 Beauty, Amy Liu
"My parents arrived in Minnesota in the 1970s as the first Chinese people in the small town of Austin outside of Mankato – I have a newspaper clipping to prove it! My dad had such an inspiring, entrepreneurial spirit. He was incredibly driven and so passionate about his work. It's funny because he would say that he wasn't an entrepreneur by choice, but by necessity. Back then, he didn't feel there were good options for himself in corporate America as an immigrant. I feel lucky that times have changed, but since I was a kid, I knew that one day I would start my own business and went on to receive an MBA at USC in entrepreneurship.
After a brief stint in consulting, I began a career in the beauty industry, working for some incredible brands like Smashbox, Kate Somerville, and Josie Maran. Those experiences really taught me how to work well with others and be a team player. However, it was the entrepreneurial drive I inherited from my father that pushed me to follow my dreams and create Tower 28.
I can't live without our SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray, which stands for Save Our Skin, because that's literally what it did for me. I suffer from pretty severe eczema, and it's the only thing that can stop it in its tracks. The key ingredient in SOS is hypochlorous acid, which your body actually produces naturally in your white blood cells to give you a boost of immunity. It helps fight bacteria and inflammation while soothing angry skin.
I use it on everything – my face, my body, and even my kids. It has the National Eczema Association's Seal of Acceptance and is safe for all ages and skin types. Before SOS, I was relying heavily on topical and oral steroids to manage the flare-ups, but SOS keeps my sensitive skin in check." — Amy Liu
Henné Organics, Laura Xiao
"I'm grateful that my parents instilled some great Chinese values in me — strong work ethic, punctuality, and fiscal prudence, all which have benefited me in running my business — but were still open to me taking a less conventional path in life. They knew from an early age that there was no way I was going to become a doctor, banker, or engineer like many of their friends' kids.
I remember when I told my parents at age six that I wanted to be a journalist. Instead of shooting down or ridiculing my dream, they told me to go for it. When I decided to become an entrepreneur, it definitely freaked them out a bit, but knowing how headstrong and independent I am, they simply shared their fears and concerns with me and didn't try to get in my way.
It's tough [to choose a hero product] because for me, it's like trying to pick my favorite kid. The past weeks, it would have been the Luxury Hand Creams since I've been washing my hands so much lately. But today, I would actually say it's the Lip Mask. I'm literally masking as we speak, and my lips feel like they're on cloud nine." — Laura Xiao
Aleena, Aleezeh, and Naseeha Khan, CTZN Cosmetics
"Our upbringing actually inspired the entire ethos of our business; our brand is called CTZN Cosmetics because my sisters and I felt like Citizens of the World, rather than just belonging to one culture or identity — which is due to being ethnically Pakistani females who were born in Los Angeles and raised in Dubai, U.A.E.
Our diverse upbringing made us comfortable with interacting with people from different backgrounds and belief systems and instilled a very important sense of tolerance and love within us. We wanted to create a brand where anyone from any demographic could look at our collections and feel truly considered, and our mission is to create makeup that provides an option for every skin tone.
I personally am a huge fan of GloBalm in the shade Clear — it is wildly underrated. GloBalm is a dewy gloss that you can apply anywhere on your face or body where you want to add shine. I used to be obsessed with the glossy eyelid trend but never knew how to create the look myself without it being too sticky or heavy on my eyelids. We finally created our own product that allows everyone to finally try that editorial wet look at home. And most importantly, it's 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free." — Alenna Khan
KraveBeauty, Liah Yoo
"Being an immigrant, I naturally had to go the extra mile than anyone else to prove myself. Instead of just talking about my work, I had to show it by putting my head down, working extra hours, and just persevering until the world acknowledged the outcome. I don't think this is a sustainable or smart way of working, but it taught me to walk the walk instead of just adding more fluffs to my CV.
Growing up in Korea, I was rarely exposed to harsh acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide (or beta hydroxy acids), which are a norm here, stateside. And surprisingly, you wouldn't see as much retinol or alpha hydroxy acid-based skin-care products either. Korean's approach to skin care is, and has always been, based around pure hydration and respecting the skin barrier, so with KraveBeauty, I wanted to (re)introduce the world to uncomplicated, gentle skin-care products that truly respect the skin's natural functionality that works with it.
Hands down, Great Barrier Relief. We created a skin barrier-repairing serum to #PressReset on the instant gratification culture in skin care. It is so easy to over-exfoliate and over-do skin care with abundant product options, and Great Barrier Relief is like a breath of fresh air to the skin that hugs the skin and provides the TLC it craves. Whenever my skin is irritated, inflamed, or sensitized, Great Barrier Relief is like a first aid kit that relieves and soothes my stressed skin." — Liah Yoo
Velour Beauty, Mabel Lee
"Growing up in an Asian household it was expected that I become an accountant/doctor/ lawyer (typical!). My parents set pretty high standards for me, but at a very young age my parents divorced, and through that separation, my dad moved out on his own and my mom moved back to China. My parents left us with a home to grow up in, and my siblings and I were on our own from then on. So I really understood the importance of working hard, as I needed to make my own money to survive.
From getting my first job at 12 years old (flipping burgers at A&W) to now owning my own business, my upbringing taught me that if you want to succeed in life, you have to put in the work and the results are all dependent on you and nobody else.
I have a very deep connection with our newest launch — the Lash & Go Eyeliner — a lash adhesive and eyeliner hybrid. I am a lash addict and it has always been my mission at Velour to create a product that makes false lashes easier for people to apply. This eyeliner is a lash adhesive when wet and eyeliner when dry. I've poured my heart into this product, and while it took us two years to develop, I am so proud of it. I am still a daily user of it and it really does cut my lash application time by more than half.
My favorite lashes are from the Effortless Collection in the style "Would I Lie," which is a natural lash collection that doesn't require any measuring or trimming. And so, every day for now (for all my Zoom meetings), I just apply the liner and pop the lashes right on, and I'm ready for the day. My whole morning routine (with lashes) takes less than five minutes." — Mabel Lee
Alicia Yoon, Peach & Lilly
"I grew up in both Seoul and the U.S. My bicultural experience and my Korean heritage, including growing up steeped in the Korean beauty culture, is a huge inspiration behind Peach & Lily.
I spent my childhood and teenage years as a competitive platform diver, but the intensive training led to a series of injuries that resulted in being in a wheelchair for a year, extensive physical therapy, and ultimately the end of my diving career. After years of sacrifice, my dreams were crushed and I was devastated. But this changed the trajectory of my life. I decided to go to college and try new things, and finding a way to turn my life around from such a low point gave me the courage to pursue my passions wholeheartedly without fearing failure.
I also struggled with severe eczema growing up, and by high school, I had resigned myself to the idea that I’d always be stuck with itchy, rashy, bleeding, and dry skin. I went to aesthetician school in Korea when I was 18 (and have since also become a New York licensed aesthetician) — and through my studies, hands-on experience, and continued research, I found a way to transform how my skin looks and feels. This turned into a passion for helping others transform their skin; I spent nights and weekends giving facials for many years, and this same mission to help others with their skin is the passion that fuels Peach & Lily.
In 2018, after years of development, I launched the Peach & Lily Collection, which is a worry-free, non-toxic, vegan, and cruelty-free [skin-care line that uses] clinically-proven ingredients. The gentle nature of the Korean beauty approach helps people achieve big results over the course of a few weeks, rather than overnight. At the center of the collection is the Glass Skin Refining Serum, a star product that helped make the term "glass skin" more widely known [and made it easier] for anyone to achieve glass skin, [which is] skin that is so healthy and hydrated, that it appears poreless, luminous, and translucent.
One of the star ingredients is peach extract, a luxe superstar ingredient you won't find in many skin-care products because it's not the easiest to extract. We also added madecassoside (soothing and healing properties), niacinamide (anti-inflammatory and brightening properties), and mountain yam extract (potent antioxidative properties). With a cooling, light gel texture, our Glass Skin Refining Serum simply sinks into skin, leaving behind no residue or stickiness." — Alicia Yoon
Blume, Taran and Bunny Ghatrora
"Growing up, my dad worked two full-time jobs, 16 hours a day. He would get home from his second job around 1 a.m. every night, and I'd stay up many nights just to say 'hi' to him and give him a hug — because I knew he'd be at work again when I got home from school. My upbringing has inspired and strengthened my business, as well as who I am, in every way. My parents worked so hard their entire lives, but always found ways to give back. They had so much integrity and thinking of their sacrifices always brings me back to my 'why.'
Despite being immigrants and working hard, my parents never pressured me to 'succeed' or even get good grades. I felt supported in whatever I put my mind to, and they helped me pay my way through law school before starting Blume. I credit having the privilege to build this company to my family.
The product I reach for the most is Meltdown. As a teen, I always felt insecure about my skin, especially because I had trouble finding makeup shades that matched me well, and I wanted to cover up breakouts. Since using Meltdown, I've had the best skin of my life over the past few years.
The best part is it helps prevent new acne from forming, so I just experience a lot less trouble with my skin. The formula is gentler than most acne products I used as a teen, so it doesn't irritate my skin or make it feel dry." – Taran Ghatrora
Cocokind, Priscilla Tsai
"I'm so proud to be Asian American; my heritage and upbringing undoubtedly inspired my business and work ethic. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan with nothing and built an incredible life for our family using hard work and determination — and I personally feel like those qualities are pervasive throughout my culture. This has influenced me to always put in the work, get through tough times, and remain humble through it all.
My current hero product is our celery-based texture smoothing cream. It is so light and fresh, but it keeps my skin feeling and looking satiny smooth all day long." — Priscilla Tsai
Ju Rhyu, Hero Cosmetics
"First off, Mighty Patch and my company may not exist if not for my background. As a Korean American, I spent two years as an expat in Seoul, South Korea, which is where I discovered the concept of acne patches. All our suppliers are Korean at the moment and in the beginning, my ability to speak Korean and forge relationships with Korean suppliers was key to getting started.
The other aspect is work ethic and entrepreneurial energy, which I get from my family. And finally, we have a diverse leadership team (non-white men and women) which helps us build a diverse team and makes us stronger for it."
I love Rescue Balm, which is our first non-patch product we launched for breakouts. It's a restorative cream that you apply after you've popped your pimple or when your pimple is in the healing phase. We refer to it as Neosporin for your pimple...but better. I love it because it really does work to reduce redness and speed up the restorative process, and there's nothing like it on the market. The texture just melts into your skin and it's great for cuts and scratches as well." —Ju Rhyu
Amy Ling Lin, Sundays
"What drew me to transition from the fashion industry into the nail industry was the immigrant element and the high percentage of nail salon specialists with Asian ethnicities. I have seen lots of miscommunication happening in nail salons due to language barriers and cultural differences, so I feel strongly about bridging the gap between specialists and clients. I've tried to tackle this problem with little steps like naming our polishes by numbers so that both clients and specialists can recognize and pronounce the different polish shades.
Sundays' wellness element also has quite a lot of eastern influence, such as our guided meditation and mindful tea bar. There is a lot of inward reflection in eastern culture and a lot of outward expression and individuality in western culture — I am grateful to experience both and enjoy both, and so I merged both elements into the Sundays experience and products.
I like L.01, a pastel pink, which goes well with my cool, pinkish skin undertone. It lights up the skin. I don't get tanned easily during the summertime, so it's great that the polish can be worn all season. I think your color choice speaks something about who you are, and L.01 shows my personality. The pastel color shows a minimal, clean look but also a little bit of a feminine touch." — Amy Ling Lin
Sara Shah, Journ Beauty
"As a Pakistani who grew up in Dubai, I've learned some valuable lessons that have formed the foundation upon which we build Journ:
Be unafraid of change. As a daughter of immigrant parents who left behind their well-rooted lives, careers, and loved ones for a better future for their children, I had seen my parents' courage to fearlessly take on new challenges and adapt to this new, unfamiliar world. I recognize that I have it much better than my parents did, but it’s their courage that has always stuck with me as I build Journ and take on new challenges.
Work hard and take nothing for granted. For many of my formative years, my parents lived apart and they did this so selflessly, not once making us feel like their lifestyle was a sacrifice. This served as motivation for me through the LSAT, law school, my legal career, and now following my passion for simplifying peoples' lives through Journ.
Journ was born out of my own journey with cystic acne. In searching for a solution, I learned that the beauty industry was not creating products with a focus on the underlying skin concerns of medium to deeper skin tones. I shared my frustration with Mir (my co-founder and husband) one day and he said to me, 'If it doesn't exist, let's create it!' We created Journ to not only to conceal, but over time, to help address skin concerns for all women, but those most prevalent in medium to deeper skin tones, such as dark circles and spots, hyperpigmentation, sallow skin, and more.
My favorite product and one that I created for myself is Journ Matcha, a green color corrector that not only neutralizes any redness caused by acne and acne scarring but over time helps dry out spots, regulate sebum, and minimize the appearance of pores and acne scars. It's one product I use every single day, even now while I'm working from home. I warm up an apple-seed-sized amount on the back of my hand and apply with my finger onto moisturized skin. Then I finish with a thin layer of foundation and a splash of blush, and I'm refreshed and ready to take on a day of meetings while keeping my little one out of trouble." — Sara Shah
We don't know about you, but we definitely felt a little emotional reading through all of their stories and answers. Throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, remember to shop, stock up on, and support your favorite Asian-founded beauty brands — and by default — the inspirational and multifaceted individuals behind them.
Read more on Asian American bosses:
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Originally Appeared on Allure