Melixir’s Founder Spills The Tea On Starting A K-Beauty Brand

Making a mark in a saturated market

K-beauty brands are trendsetters in the beauty space. We can see it in the numerous products that go viral on TikTok, the beauty looks that have people experimenting with their makeup, and the eventual “dupes” that Western brands come out with. But have you ever wondered what it takes to start a K-beauty brand that also champions sustainability and conscious living?

If you’re looking for mindful beauty alternatives that will still allow you to join the occasional K-beauty trend, then you may want to consider picking up a product from the Korean brand Melixir. To know more about the brand’s story, we sat down with its founder Hana Lee who shares about her journey in penetrating the K-beauty industry, the importance of sustainability, and more.

Melixir CEO and founder Hana Lee standing in front of a shelf filled with Melixir products

Melixir CEO and founder Hana Lee.

Starting a K-beauty brand takes purpose

What sets a brand apart from its competitors? It may sound cliche, but purpose is the key ingredient for any brand, especially a beauty brand. As for Melixir’s purpose, it all began with Hana’s relationship with her skin and skincare.

“I grew up in Korea and in Korea, clean glowy skin is the ultimate staple for anybody,” she shared. “I had a lot of acne because my skin was very sensitive. So I had a lot of insecurity within myself and wanted to overcome it.”

Sensitive skin is a common skincare concern, especially among Singaporeans. And if you have sensitive skin, you know the hurdles you have to go through with finding the “perfect” skincare product. Hana can relate — but she didn’t stop at trial-and-error. “One day, I just thought about stopping using all the products that I have been using and detoxifying my skin for two months. Then after two months of the skincare detox, I started looking into the ingredients of each product and then started mindfully choosing the products that have clean and vegan ingredients.” The rest, as they say, is history. (Or her-story, to be more apt.)

Building a K-beauty brand takes direction

With her experience in discovering clean and vegan skincare, Hana knew she wanted to help people who faced similar issues as her. “At that time, I was working at another beauty startup based out of San Francisco,” she recalled. “In California and the US, veganism was more mainstream and more people were looking for cruelty-free options.” It took another three to four years before she finally decided to create her startup.

“When I started the first ever vegan skincare brand in Korea, the vegan concept wasn't well known. So I had to educate people on what vegan beauty means and why we need it here in Korea and the Korean beauty industry,” Hana added. Hana and Melixir have come a long way since then, since you can now find Melixir products — including the nourishing Vegan Airfit Sunscreen and super moisturising Vegan Lip Butter — in Sephora stores in countries like South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong S.A.R., Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Hana had to shop around for 100% vegan manufacturers — not an easy feat at a time when vegan beauty was only starting to catch on. “It was very difficult in the beginning because manufacturers didn't know about vegan beauty and customers also didn't know about it,” she added.

It was also important that her products were microbiome-friendly. Each product must be free of harsh ingredients and artificial preservatives. These need to be pH-balanced too.

Strengthening a brand leads to making an impact

Since establishing Melixir in 2018, the brand has made great strides to innovate and push the boundaries of vegan beauty in the K-beauty industry. As of 2023, Melixir became the first Korean skincare brand to attain a B-Corporation™ (B-Corp™) certification. B-Corp™-certified companies are recognised for their positive social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Melixir’s recycling campaign called "me:cycle" was a crucial part of attaining this certification.

According to the brand, the me:cycle recycling programme has helped Melixir to reduce over 200 kg of CO2 emissions each year by collecting and recycling their customers' used and empty product bottles. The recycled material is then used in Melixir’s packaging, extending the life cycle of what otherwise would have been waste.

“At Melixir, we’re trying to connect people with nature, as well as introduce the Eastern notion of the universe — that there is a relationship between people and nature, and bringing back that connection to their daily lives through skincare.”

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Next, discover how a former military aerospace engineer switched to being a beauty and wellness space entrepreneur.

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