K-Beauty: Lauren Lee from STYLE STORY shares her business journey & her top Korean skincare brands

Unless you’ve been hiding in a wifi-free cave for the past decade, you’d be well aware of the K-Beauty craze that has swept the globe – with no sign of slowing down. Korean beauty brands are celebrated for their innovative products, beautiful and oftentimes quirky packaging and unusual but effective ingredients, but in Australian and New Zealand, getting your hands on these cult brands used to be a major struggle. That was of course until STYLE STORY launched in 2014 and changed our beauty cabinets forever.

Based in Brisbane and with a full-time team in Korea, STYLE STORY showcases the best and most innovative K-beauty products to Australians. As the authorised distributor of the best names in Korean beauty like Benton, Elizavecca, Missha, April Skin, Lindsay and Tosowoong, STYLE STORY is also an incubator for emerging brands including Beauty of Joseon, Soroci, iUNIK, Polatam, Thank You Farmer, PACKage and many more.

Here we share our recent interview with Lauren Lee, founder of STYLE STORY, to learn more about her business journey and why K-Beauty is a skincare game-changer.


WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH STYLE STORY? WHAT WAS THAT JOURNEY LIKE?

I first discovered Korean beauty products while studying on exchange at university in South Korea in 2011. I was drawn in by the innovative packaging, as well as how different Korean beauty products were to anything I’d tried before. Not only were the ingredients and formulas beautiful and really unique, the quality was comparable to products five times as expensive back home.  I started bringing Korean skincare and makeup back to Australia for friends and family as gifts, but before I knew it I was filling “orders” for people all over Brisbane who had fallen in love with them and wanted more.

After graduation, I started working as a corporate lawyer at top tier firm Herbert Smith Freehills. I kept filling orders for people in my spare time, more as a hobby. I got to know their skin type and concerns and I’d research the best Korean products to ‘match’ them with. I didn’t charge any money for it as I was just having fun.

It was a colleague who originally suggested I start a “side hustle” selling the products for profit. I never had entrepreneurial ambitions and didn’t know a thing about running a business, so I laughed her off. It wasn’t until a year later, with the products basically selling themselves, that I finally took her advice and set up STYLE STORY.

Once we got online, the business exploded. I am now based in Seoul, Korea and our warehouse is in Brisbane. We have a team across Korea and Australia, and I regularly fly back and forth.

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WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?

I like to keep Australian hours so I get up early every morning to check our social media channels and touch base with the team in Brisbane. They give me an update on stock, deliveries, tasks for the day and any customer feedback or issues that have emerged. Once we’ve confirmed our daily check-lists we hit the ground running.

A large part of my job is communicating with our suppliers in Korea and organising everything on the ground in Seoul ready for export. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into importing products, especially cosmetics, into Australia. I also take the lead with researching new products, connecting with brands and reporting on the latest trends in Korea.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?

I realised early on that to be able to research our products properly and communicate with our suppliers in Korea I would need Korean language skills. I ended up learning Korean and although it has been a massive challenge, it has definitely given us a competitive advantage. It would have been hard for us to have grown our relationships with suppliers without being able to do business in Korean.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT K-BEAUTY? WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL AND WHY SHOULD AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND CONSUMERS GET ON BOARD?

K-Beauty has become a global phenomenon and I think its success lies in several key differences to traditional western skincare. Although the “10 Step Korean Beauty Routine” has been widely reported – more than a set of steps, K-Beauty really encompasses an entire philosophy on nurturing the skin. It’s a skin first, makeup second approach. Rather than concealing and covering flaws, Korean beauty focuses on treating the root cause of any problems. Rather than stripping away old skin to reveal new skin, the focus is on boosting hydration and reinforcing the skin’s barrier. It’s all about light layers of skincare that treat various issues.

With an estimated 13,000 skincare companies in Korea right now, the competition is fierce and everyone is vying to create the latest and best products. I think everything from the ingredients, formulas, approach and purpose sets Korean skincare apart, not to mention the price. It’s a really exciting market and as more Aussies and Kiwis are experimenting with different types of skincare I think they’ll fall in love with these products like the rest of the world has.  

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THIS WILL BE HARD BECAUSE YOU STOCK SO MANY FANTASTIC BRANDS, BUT WHICH BRAND OR PRODUCT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO ANYONE WHO ASKS?

Haha – It’s a bit like asking a mother to pick her favourite child!

A brand I’m really excited about at the moment is one of our natural beauty curations, Soroci [pictured above]. Everything from the formulations to the packaging is just perfection. The collection is a great fit for sensitive skin and comes in hygienic pump bottles that are ideal for travelling.  

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE BEAUTY BLOGGER OR WEBSITE?

I love the talented Korean makeup artist PONY. She does incredible transformations and can even make herself look like Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift!

WHAT 3 BEAUTY PRODUCTS WOULD YOU TAKE TO A DESERT ISLAND?

I’d take my:

  1. Tosoowoong Enzyme Powder Wash – it’s a cleanser that comes in powder form and can double as an exfoliator to get rid of any dirt;
  2. Scinic Honey All-in-One Ampoule – it’s a Toner – Lotion – Essence – Moisturiser in one. It cuts down on so many skincare steps and is massive so it won’t run out;
  3. I’d also pack my Benton Snail Bee Essence High Content Mask – I might as well chill out with a nice face mask while I’m waiting to be rescued(!) Plus, it’s great for getting rid of redness and calming the skin.

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WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ‘WIN’ SINCE LAUNCHING?

So far we’ve tripled our sales every year but the biggest win for me personally has been turning what was a hobby and passion into my dream job!

WHAT ARE THE NEXT BIG THINGS ON THE HORIZON FOR STYLE STORY?

In addition to expanding our team, we’re also expanding our product range and services.

Due to the growth of the K-Beauty industry globally we’ve identified a real market need for a professional K Beauty Consultancy, which we have established. Our team has a diverse background in venture capital, health, business management and law, meaning we’re perfectly placed to help manufacturers, retailers and industry with their K-Beauty needs.  We have already begun advising several K-Beauty brands on their Australian market entry strategy.

I’m also working on several other projects on the ground in Korea that we’re hoping to launch over the next few years.  

AND ONE FOR US! WHY DID YOU NEED FLAUNTER? WHAT DID YOU USE BEFORE?

For a brand like STYLE STORY that is constantly curating new products, a resource like Flaunter is fantastic. We and our brands have so many photos of all our products but they are often under-utilised. Having a central resource that is easily accessible when media request them is invaluable.

Prior to Flaunter, we used to send photos to media directly – if the photos weren’t the right fit, they would photograph the products themselves. It was a lot more time-consuming for everyone!


 

…and just like that, I’ve booked my tickets on board the beauty train to Korea! Find an follow STYLE STORY on Facebook or on Instagram @style_story_au. Keep up with Lauren on Instagram @seoul_diary.

Calling all Journos, Bloggers and Stylists: instantly download hi-res images from STYLE STORY here.  Don’t have an account yet? Simply create one for free to start searching and downloading from our library of over 350 stunning brands.