Narrowing K-beauty awareness gap

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Narrowing K-beauty awareness gap

Judy Kim, CEO of lifestyle startup SOAK, during an interview with The Korea Times. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Lee Han-na

The growing overseas interest in Korean cosmetics has motivated Korean-American Judy Kim to found startup SOAK, a media platform dedicated to Korean beauty and lifestyle in Seoul, to raise awareness of Korean cosmetics for overseas consumers.

She said the popularity of K-beauty overseas is real, not media hype.

However, she said, consumers struggle to find the right Korean skincare products in their home countries due to the advertising power and presence of commercial brands, instead of the actual quality products Koreans really use.

"My friends [in the States] would ask me millions of questions about Korean beauty but I was frustrated that the advertisements for Korean beauty were either weird or for low end brands, not the ones Koreans actually use," she said during a recent Korea Times interview. "So I started an informational media platform to show Americans what Korean beauty really is."

Kim, an ambitious entrepreneur, claims Korean beauty is not just a trend but has the potential to help people.

"Latin American and Middle Eastern followers [on Instagram] love Korean beauty and they share how the Korean products help them feel better and confident in their own skin. My friend who tried Korean products told me she never felt more beautiful without makeup," she explained.

The CEO talked about products that are being developed by entrepreneurs who use safe and natural ingredients as well.

She lamented that the brands don't get enough recognition in the States, "The Korean beauty industry is fast and innovative. There are often very creative start-up companies with technologies. It is so unfortunate such brands are not resonating in the right way."

Kim said she wants to promote Korean beauty in a new way. "I want Korean beauty to be not just cute but premium, high quality and luxurious, a high end experience. I want to bring new light into Korean beauty and lifestyle."

Judy Kim working with beauty influencers during a brunch event. Courtesy of SOAK

Kim, who was born in Korea but spent her adolescent years in California, founded her own startup years after she returned to Korea. Facing financial difficulties, she dropped out of New York University Department of Media, Culture and Communication and came back to Korea in 2010.

Living in Korea, especially as someone who didn't speak the language well, was a new challenge because of this and culture differences.

Despite the challenges, she followed her creative passion and started working in the entertainment industry as an intern. However, Kim was shocked at the difference in work culture between the United States and Korea.

"I don't know if it is only for the media industry but there is a lot of military-like culture. One day, it was a 14 hour shoot. I was sitting down for a minute and they would criticize, "Why are you playing around? Get up and work." But that was very normal. They would ask you, "Why aren't you running [working]?""

Kim remembered her working experience as hard and emotionally draining, where harsh words and extra tasks not related to work were normally accepted.

"The culture is getting better but that's why a lot of people started making their own commercial production companies. That's why I started my own company. My close colleague from advertising also started her own production company five years ago ― to change the culture," she added.

Judy Kim speaks during an interview about the criticism 'creators' face in Korea. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul


She also mentioned the unfair criticism she and other beauty creators have faced.

Kim shared, "If you are not a specific height and weight, you can't model. That's international but in Korea, women who had modeled in another country are disqualified because they look 'fat' and 'thick.' In the United States, there are different types of model, like plus size, runway, fashion, etc."

Likewise, there have been concerns about Korea's strict beauty standards. Some models were rejected because of their tattoos and recently, a beauty pageant winner faced criticism over her weight.

Kim shared her own experience.

"I was wearing a Bohemian headband when it was in style and my colleagues were seriously asking if I was hurt, as if it's is a hospital bandage." she said.

"I showed them the picture of the style but they told me, 'But that girl [in the picture] is pretty.' Indirect, aggressive commentary of my looks was part of the norm."

Wanting to escape from her work environment, Kim decided to create her own business with the support of fellow beauty creators.

"I want SOAK to be a platform for everybody to speak. We want to take part in sharing good morals and principles, not just physical but inner beauty as well."


Lee Han-na is a Korea Times intern.


Judy Kim, CEO of lifestyle startup SOAK, during an interview with The Korea Times. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Lee Han-na

The growing overseas interest in Korean cosmetics has motivated Korean-American Judy Kim to found startup SOAK, a media platform dedicated to Korean beauty and lifestyle in Seoul, to raise awareness of Korean cosmetics for overseas consumers.

She said the popularity of K-beauty overseas is real, not media hype.

However, she said, consumers struggle to find the right Korean skincare products in their home countries due to the advertising power and presence of commercial brands, instead of the actual quality products Koreans really use.

"My friends [in the States] would ask me millions of questions about Korean beauty but I was frustrated that the advertisements for Korean beauty were either weird or for low end brands, not the ones Koreans actually use," she said during a recent Korea Times interview. "So I started an informational media platform to show Americans what Korean beauty really is."

Kim, an ambitious entrepreneur, claims Korean beauty is not just a trend but has the potential to help people.

"Latin American and Middle Eastern followers [on Instagram] love Korean beauty and they share how the Korean products help them feel better and confident in their own skin. My friend who tried Korean products told me she never felt more beautiful without makeup," she explained.

The CEO talked about products that are being developed by entrepreneurs who use safe and natural ingredients as well.

She lamented that the brands don't get enough recognition in the States, "The Korean beauty industry is fast and innovative. There are often very creative start-up companies with technologies. It is so unfortunate such brands are not resonating in the right way."

Kim said she wants to promote Korean beauty in a new way. "I want Korean beauty to be not just cute but premium, high quality and luxurious, a high end experience. I want to bring new light into Korean beauty and lifestyle."

Judy Kim working with beauty influencers during a brunch event. Courtesy of SOAK

Kim, who was born in Korea but spent her adolescent years in California, founded her own startup years after she returned to Korea. Facing financial difficulties, she dropped out of New York University Department of Media, Culture and Communication and came back to Korea in 2010.

Living in Korea, especially as someone who didn't speak the language well, was a new challenge because of this and culture differences.

Despite the challenges, she followed her creative passion and started working in the entertainment industry as an intern. However, Kim was shocked at the difference in work culture between the United States and Korea.

"I don't know if it is only for the media industry but there is a lot of military-like culture. One day, it was a 14 hour shoot. I was sitting down for a minute and they would criticize, "Why are you playing around? Get up and work." But that was very normal. They would ask you, "Why aren't you running [working]?""

Kim remembered her working experience as hard and emotionally draining, where harsh words and extra tasks not related to work were normally accepted.

"The culture is getting better but that's why a lot of people started making their own commercial production companies. That's why I started my own company. My close colleague from advertising also started her own production company five years ago ― to change the culture," she added.

Judy Kim speaks during an interview about the criticism 'creators' face in Korea. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul


She also mentioned the unfair criticism she and other beauty creators have faced.

Kim shared, "If you are not a specific height and weight, you can't model. That's international but in Korea, women who had modeled in another country are disqualified because they look 'fat' and 'thick.' In the United States, there are different types of model, like plus size, runway, fashion, etc."

Likewise, there have been concerns about Korea's strict beauty standards. Some models were rejected because of their tattoos and recently, a beauty pageant winner faced criticism over her weight.

Kim shared her own experience.

"I was wearing a Bohemian headband when it was in style and my colleagues were seriously asking if I was hurt, as if it's is a hospital bandage." she said.

"I showed them the picture of the style but they told me, 'But that girl [in the picture] is pretty.' Indirect, aggressive commentary of my looks was part of the norm."

Wanting to escape from her work environment, Kim decided to create her own business with the support of fellow beauty creators.

"I want SOAK to be a platform for everybody to speak. We want to take part in sharing good morals and principles, not just physical but inner beauty as well."


Lee Han-na is a Korea Times intern.


이한나 leehanna1594@gmail.com


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