Are U.S. based K-Beauty brands a game-changer in the skincare industry? We ask founder of Venn, Brian Oh
The skincare industry is endlessly evolving. From LED eye treatment glasses to smart masking devices, it seems the possibilities are limitless when armed with the right technology and a whole lotta nerve — both of which U.S. beauty brands and K-Beauty labels have in spades. This got us wondering: what would happen if you combine the two front-runners of the beauty community?
On-the-rise skincare label, Venn, is the answer. "The brand launched simultaneously in both the U.S. and South Korea in November 2017," explains founder, Brian Oh. "So, the brand was created with both leading markets in mind, in terms of skincare ingredients, formulations and trends. Venn is a clean beauty brand, focused on using non-toxic ingredients. While the term 'clean beauty' isn't consistently defined, one common feedback we hear from our clean beauty retail partners is that they've been having trouble finding a K-Beauty brand that complied with their 'clean' standards. By being based both in the U.S. and South Korea, we are able to be at the forefront of the latest trends, requirements and consumer demands in both markets."
But is catering to multiple markets as simple as it sounds? Is there truly a difference between Asian and American beauty brands? And is an amalgamation of both the future of skincare? We're brimming with questions for Venn — or, well, founder, Brian Oh. He delivers on the goods and goss, below.
Why the name, Venn? What's the meaning behind it?
It comes from Venn diagram in geometry — the overlapping concentration of different elements. It reflects the brand's intersection of science, nature, and lifestyle, which are the three key pillars that form the brand's DNA. So, consistent with our brand name, the logo for Venn layers the "V" and the "N," forming a Venn diagram that visually echoes the name and conveys the integrative qualities of the brand.
I heard that the idea for Venn came to you when you were working as a corporate attorney. Tell us about that.
Before Venn, I worked as a corporate attorney in New York City and later in Silicon Valley. I've been always interested in self-care and particularly in skincare given my Korean background. Back then, I purchased many skincare products and owned most of the products from the top luxury brands, including La Mer, SK-II, Sisley and Amore Pacific. But the issue for me was — given my long and hectic working hours — I never actually had the time to use multiple products, let alone even understand each product and figure out which products to apply. Often, even applying two or three different products was overwhelming. What I needed was a skincare routine that was not only very effective, but also simple, convenient, and streamlined. In Silicon Valley, I was introduced to my co-founder through my work with life science startups. He is one of the leading skincare chemists in South Korea and is now Venn's Chief Scientific Officer. He's been researching and developing skincare technology, ingredients, and formulations for over 20 years. He shared the same vision of creating a brand that is focused on offering uncompromising, streamlined skincare solutions. So, we each left what we were doing and co-founded this brand.
Why did you decide to approach chemists in South Korea rather than chemists from New York City, the city where you live in?
South Korea is at the forefront of skincare technology and innovation, which is also what has driven the global K-Beauty phenomenon. So, given my Korean cultural background, if I created a skincare brand, I wanted it to be based on and driven by the skincare technology and innovation from South Korea. Also, despite the long history of skincare advancements in South Korea, it seemed that outside Korea, K-Beauty has been defined largely by facial sheet masks and fun, trendy products. I wanted to introduce the "other side" of K-Beauty by creating a brand backed by science and technology that would compete with other global brands in the premium, luxury space.
What distinguishes an American beauty brand from a K-Beauty brand?
I don't think there are specific key features that distinguish an American beauty brand from a K-Beauty brand. Instead, I think K-Beauty has been largely defined and recognised outside South Korea by facial sheet masks and more affordable, trendy products, which actually forms only a subset category of skincare in South Korea. K-Beauty is also at the forefront of skincare science, innovation and technology, and Venn is a good example of this.
Are there any specific challenges that come with running an Americanised K-Beauty brand?
I don't think it's a challenge, but K-Beauty has never been a key marketing point for the brand. We always talk about our science and R&D, which come from South Korea, and we have our government-registered R&D centre in South Korea. But our messaging has been always focused on offering streamlined skincare rather than K-Beauty aspect of the brand.
If there is a lesson that you think American beauty brands should learn from K-Beauty brands, what would it be?
K-Beauty has become a global phenomenon because it is recognised as leading the skincare trend with new and interesting products. The start of all of this was facial sheet masks. I think one lesson that American beauty brands could take from K-Beauty brands is the constant strive by K-Beauty brands to explore the unknown and sometimes even take risks to introduce something new and not seen in the market. Of course, all of this is backed by and made possible by the long history of skincare science and innovation in South Korea.
Conversely, if there is a lesson that K-Beauty brands should learn from American beauty brands, what would it be?
I think that American beauty brands are more conscious of global trends, requirements and customer demands than Korean beauty brands, especially when it comes to skincare ingredients. I've seen many Korean skincare brands — even the ones from large, prominent companies — fail to successfully enter the U.S. or European markets because they failed to take into consideration different ingredient requirements and preferences in markets outside Korea.
Does this mean that there's actually a rather big difference between Asian and Non-Asian skin?
No, because whether it's Asian skin or non-Asian skin, people have different skin types that are largely categorized by dry, normal, combination, oily and sensitive skin types. I think many people in the U.S. and other non-Asian countries love K-Beauty because the products work well on their skin. I don't want to generalise, but I think there's a difference in terms of the trending skincare benefits that people in Asian and non-Asian countries look for. For example, in South Korea, many people are focused on clarifying and brightening their skin to attain "glass skin," while in the U.S., the emphasis is more on achieving a glowing skin.
Now that you're on board with Net-A-Porter, how has the response been with the global audience?
It's very exciting for us and our global audience. It's exciting for us because it has provided us with a global awareness and reach in regards to audience who would really appreciate Venn and our products. We've been receiving very positive and exciting feedback from the global audience as they are now offered a new, streamlined option for skincare rather than another set of products that require the traditional multi-step routine. Also, for many who've been wanting to use our products, they can now easily purchase our products at Net-A-Porter. We've recently received a DM from a customer in Asia who sent us a photo of her order of Venn products she received from Net-A-Porter. Previously, she would need to order to a U.S. address, and have her friend ship the products to her. She's extremely excited that she can now order on Net-A-Porter where it only took 2 days for her order to arrive.
If you could recommend a single VENN product for Singaporeans, what would it be and why?
I would definitely recommend our Age-Reversing All-In-One Concentrate since the weather in Singapore is warm and humid all year round. The concentrate is lightweight on the skin yet deeply hydrating, and it is clinically tested to deliver comprehensive skin benefits. You can complete your skincare routine with just this single product after cleansing without having to layer multiple products on the skin. For people who prefer slightly richer texture, our Vitamin B Activated All-In-One Concentrate is a perfect option. Also, Singapore is the hub of technology innovation in Asia, and I believe many Singaporeans would appreciate the advanced technologies behind our all-in-one formulations.
Are there any Venn products that you're dying to develop, but haven't got around to yet?
Yes, it's a Compound K booster. Compound K is one of the key natural actives that we use in our Age-Reversing All-In-One Concentrate and our Concentrated Revitalizing Lifting Mask. Compound K is a key anti-aging active component of Panax Ginseng, with as strong (if not, stronger) antioxidant power as vitamin C but without stability issues. It promotes collagen synthesis and fights comprehensive signs of aging including dryness, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, loss of elasticity and firmness. Compound K's extremely low solubility and hydrophobic properties have prevented this potent active ingredient from being effectively used in skincare. But with our proprietary Solubilization Technology, we are able to water-dissolve Compound K and use it as a key active in our skincare formulations. While our current two products use this "miracle" ingredient as one of the key actives, I want to create a booster that contains very high concentrations of Compound K. Because Compound K is a very strong antioxidant that is also very stable, you can use the booster as a standalone or add to any products you are using to boost the efficacy. We hope to develop it soon and ideally launch it in 2020.
What do you think is the future of skincare?
When observing markets outside of skincare, it seems most technological innovations and advancements have been focusing on making lives more convenient, efficient and simplified. Smartphones and Uber are very good examples of this. I think skincare is no different, as long as brands are able to offer streamlined and simplified skincare solutions that don't compromise on the quality and benefits. We are already starting to see this trend in skincare pick up in South Korea (the "skip-care" routines) and the U.S. (the "less is more" movement).