Korean beauty (also known as ‘K-beauty) has been on the rise around the world in recent years, as can be demonstrated by the infiltration of Korean brands in mainstream beauty businesses including Sephora and the international growth of Korean major beauty retailers such as Innisfree.
According to a study by Research and Markets, the K-beauty market is projected to reach $21.8 billion by 2026, creating vast opportunities for industry players.
According to Lee, who suffered from severe cystic acne as a teenager, K-Beauty products have a ‘skin first, makeup second’ approach to beauty and focus on treating and nurturing the skin, rather than covering and concealing flaws.
“K-Beauty is really trending in Australia right now and a lot of other online stores have popped up trying to capitalise on the growing market,” explained Lee, a former corporate lawyer.
“The difference is that they can’t replicate what we have — a team of experts who know the industry, the brands and the players, plus staff who are actually based on the ground in Korea. I learned the Korean language so that I could delve deeper into the industry and not wait on things to be translated for me first. Our customers like having a source ‘on the ground’ in Korea.”
When Lee first launched Style Story, she was selling products at the markets and hosting house parties. Lee eventually took the business online and it now has a warehouse in Sydney, with staff in both Australia and Korea.
Before Covid hit, Lee would run regular K-beauty meet-ups to engage with her customers. When restrictions put an end to the events, Lee was inspired to continue the conversation online and launched, her own podcast, The Korean Beauty Show, where she discusses different brands and aims to educate and entertain her community of listeners.
“Style Story customers are very switched on when it comes to skincare and beauty,” Lee said. “They want to know what they’re putting on their faces and are interested in ingredients, trends and products.”
“That’s often why they are using K-Beauty products in the first place; because they’ve researched the beauty industry and discovered that things are being done differently in Korea.”
The Korean Beauty Show now has listeners in more than 140 countries.
“It is a great way for us to carry on a conversation with our customers and introduce even more people to the K-Beauty philosophy,” said Lee.
A new chapter
Last year, Style Story launched its first in-house brand, Jelly Ko. Lee worked with prominent cosmetic chemists, designers and packaging companies from Korea to help the business during the development process.
There are currently three products in the range, with more on the way. Lee is also currently exploring opportunities for the range with physical retailers in the US.
“Our first release, Bubble Tea Steam Cream, is an ode to bubble tea. It’s designed to be a hydrating drink for the face and looks just like a creamy glass of bubble tea,” she said.
Style Story’s second in-house product, Cherry Blossom Sleeping Mask, is an overnight face mask infused with real cherry blossom extracts.
“We wanted to capture the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom season in Korea in a product that would nourish the skin overnight while you sleep. Both Jelly Ko products have become best-sellers on our site,” Lee said.
2021 and beyond
According to Lee, 2020 was Style Story’s best year on record, with sales quadrupling in some months due to the surge in consumers shopping online.
“We actually struggled to keep up with the demand thanks to delays in shipping, and had issues with our website as well due to the increased traffic,” she said.
“Both K-beauty products and the K-beauty skincare routine were a natural fit for people wanting to do self-care during lockdown, as they involve gently nourishing the skin and taking time out of the day for yourself.”
Because of their increased visitors to the site, Lee said the team spent the last four months of the year redesigning the website and migrated their platform at the beginning of 2021.
Before the pandemic, Style Story hosted offline events where people can meet and learn about the products, try them in person and ask questions about them.
Moving forward, Lee said they want to continue engaging in real conversations with their customers, know their concerns and what kinds of products, textures and ingredients they are interested in.
“We seek their input and feedback so we can incorporate it into our curation process and content strategies,” she said.