Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Natural Skincare Products -- From Hippie to Hip : Meet Julie Kim of Saison Beauty

Julie Kim of Saison Beauty in Dogpatch makes natural beauty products based on ingredients from the four seasons. 
Natural skincare and beauty products have long had more of a hippie than hip image with products found in the aisles of the local Whole Foods or natural health food stores instead of in department stores or chic salons and boutiques.  But in the last decade and especially in the last few years natural skincare lines have grown from a niche market into a rapidly growing full-blown industry. And many of those companies striving to bring natural and safe skincare products free of preservatives and using high quality plant extracts to market are located in Northern California including 100% Pure, EO, Juice Beauty and now Saison Beauty located in Dogpatch.

Saison (pronounced say sawn) is French for season and the changing seasons and how each season can affect our skin was the inspiration for Saison Beauty founder Julie Kim's product line. Her products are categorized not only by the seasons, but also by skin type and product type to make it easier for customers to find the best fit for their skincare needs.  And Kim doesn't just offer products to purchase on her website -- she also offers beauty bonus tips and DIY beauty recipes (pumpkin ginger face mask sounds delicious!).

Why do you do what you do?

I love the challenge of experimenting with ingredients to formulate products.  Then to actually produce the product and be able to offer it to someone to solve a skincare need is such a joy for me.

I always knew that I wanted to start my own business but I didn't know what that business would be. I was born in Korea but came to California as a baby.  I grew up in Southern California and went to college in San Diego where I eventually studied communications. I was particularly interested in international studies.

Saison Beauty Seasonal Body Lotion is manufactured by Julie Kim in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA

My first job while in high school was for a trendy hair salon. That was my first taste of the beauty world.  They had a talented makeup artist there as well as the hair stylists.  I loved it!  My first job out of college was in London for a PR agency that specialized in beauty.  I learned to work with models and editors and had the opportunity to work with beauty brands that were just starting to be available in Europe such as Shu Uemura and Aveda.  Aveda was one of the first companies to focus on the importance of what was in their products.  One of my projects I worked on was a program for departments stores to train their cosmetic department employees how to apply makeup on different skin types.  That is common now but was cutting edge then in the 1990s.

I left after nine months -- I felt that I had to decide if my future was in Europe or the U.S. so I chose to come back home.  Back in Los Angeles, tech was all the rage so I dove into the tech world and worked as an account manager at an agency.  I decided I wanted to broaden my skills beyond public relations so I moved to Northern California to pursue an MBA at USF.  I also worked full time while pursuing my MBA at NEC Electronics where I worked as a branding specialist.  While there I learned a lot about international product launches which lined up nicely with my goals to get more experience in international business.

After graduation I worked at Gap Inc. where I helped build their e-commerce business for all of their brands --- Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy. I learned so much about digital marketing, product fulfillment, SEO and so much more. I really was fortunate to learn the ins and outs of retail at a complex level.

I like to think that my career choices have always been very deliberate with my goal of owning my own business very much my priority.  As such, my career path hasn't always been about my next promotion but more about what new skills I could acquire that might some day help me in my own venture.

While working at the Gap, I started craving a  more holistic approach to my lifestyle.  All that traveling for work, long hours and just the aging process had started to take a toll. I decided to get healthy.

I experimented with diet and exercise as well as what the skincare and beauty products I used were doing to my body.  I always felt that skincare products are another way that we "feed" our bodies.  In fact, skin can absorb up to 60 percent of what we apply to it.  We eat seasonally and I think we should think of skincare in the same way. I look back at my work with Aveda and I think the seeds were planted then in my mind that skincare products should do no harm. My mom worked on cosmetic formulations in Korea so she understood my passion.  Much of my mother and grandmother's beauty rituals were holistic so perhaps I come by the science and beauty combination naturally!

I started taking classes after work and on weekends about how to formulate products.  It started out as just a hobby. I loved creating a database of herbal properties and figuring out how to solve various skincare issues using them.  My brother-in-law is a doctor and he was very patient with me as I asked him tons of questions about various skin issues.

I started making products and worked with a third-party lab to verify my results and to make sure the products were safe.  It took three years of nights and weekends to create the product line. The green beauty community is a close knit group and everyone has been so supportive and helpful.

By 2015 I was ready to quit my position at the Gap.  My products and website were ready so it was time to launch! The first year was all about testing and learning. The second year about sales and how to get the products on shelves in boutiques and to learn about wholesaling and year three might be about hiring my first employees.

Why Dogpatch?

I had to find a place that would allow me to formulate and package my products. There aren't too many places that allow that in San Francisco.  Thankfully the American Industrial Center (AIC) does! On Craigslist I saw a listing for someone who wanted to share their office space in the AIC.  They were a food business so they had the perfect space for me to start out in.  A space by myself on the second floor soon followed and then nine months ago this space became available.  I love the natural light and the views from this office.

The creativity, energy and sense of community in the AIC and in the neighborhood is just incredible. I love being part of the maker community which is thriving in Dogpatch. And I'm certainly eating my way around the neighborhood!

Sometimes I miss the social aspect that being part of a large company gives you but I find the AIC gives me that connection to a larger community.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

My goal is to have a balanced, independent and creative life and Saison Beauty gives me all of that.