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Jinmin Lee, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of isoi

Issue15_November 2017

isoi is one of the leading natural Korean skincare brands that is reputable for refusing to use harmful, synthetic chemicals in its products. After successfully launching in Whole Foods Market stores nationwide and being the first ever Korean brand to receive top scores from the EWG, isoi is rapidly gaining a reputation in the U.S. as a leading natural skincare brand. What was the motivation and inspiration behind isoi?

When I was younger, I had a phase of acne and I had used various steroid creams to combat it. However, my skin had become incredibly sensitive and dry as side effects of the medications, and often times my face reddened, with skin peeling off as colder seasons approached. At the time, a task as simple as rinsing my face with water was painful. This led me to reach out to online community by creating a forum website. My question gained much traction and many people have tried to help me with my skin concern, but the various tips made little difference for my condition. In 1999, however, I happened to read a report issued in Europe that would change my perspective on skincare. The article stated how the use of chemically-derived synthetic ingredients has a high likelihood of disrupting the skin’s natural processes, and that applying exclusively naturally-derived compounds can help treat skin symptoms. I followed this radical advice and incorporated a blend of Bulgarian Rose Oil as well as other plant-based oils and extracts into my skin regimen. In less than a year, I saw incredible changes. My skin had become clearer and more radiant, and exuded this healthy glow that was beyond what I had originally hoped to see. For the next decade, I travelled the world to gain expertise in developing natural cosmetics, and sought after these key components: safe, healthy, and quick yet long lasting results. After much research and trial-and-error, I succeeded in launching isoi in 2009, providing natural cosmetics without any harmful ingredients. Since then, the brand has substantially grown thanks to the consumers who appreciate and love our products and philosophy.

isoi products in Whole Foods Market

As the CEO of a globally-revered Korean cosmetic brand and as a successful entrepreneur, what are the top three priority assets or skills that you believe lead to such success?

If I had to choose three assets that led isoi to its success, the first would be a sense of mission one would hold as a CEO. This one in particular has great personal meaning to me. Since the establishment of the brand, our team at isoi have run the company with a mission to upgrade not only the outer appearance of women, but also their quality of life. We’ve also carried out various communication activities, and made it a top priority to always be in touch with our consumerbase as not mere customers, but women with struggles that we know too well of. I firmly believe that we were able to expand our company at the rate we did because we never forgot our core goal in improving the welfare of women.

Next, we encompass a set of values. Among them include one, the “no additive principle,” where we pledge to never add toxic, or any high-risk ingredients that may pose harm to the human body. Two, we make it a priority that the raw materials be the primary ingredients in our products, which we call the “best ingredient principle.” Three, the “low skin irritation principle” ensures that our products minimize skin irritation through the use of high quality, gentle ingredients. By employing these principles in the production and development of isoi’s cosmetics, we’ve been able to achieve a rapid growth in sales and an increase in brand awareness.

The last asset I would like address are the employees of isoi. The growth of a company is primarily contingent upon the employees, and not on the CEO alone. Therefore, it is incredibly vital to me that a healthy and stimulating work culture is cultivated for them, and that they genuinely recognize themselves as invaluable contributors to our brand. Furthermore, employee satisfaction ultimately leads to positive consumer experience of our products and service. isoi has spared no effort to support the education, leisure, and cultural activities for our employees in order to ensure that they are truly content with their work environment. A few examples of our educational support include sending our employees abroad to experience worldwide trends of cosmetics and offering to enroll in an MBA curriculum to all our team members. Also at our company, we provide corporate dining with organic and healthy food options as well as pilates classes and refreshment rooms for optimal health and relaxation.

Korean beauty, often termed as K-beauty, became a big trend in the global beauty industry. How do you differentiate isoi from competing cosmetic companies? Can you please explain isoi’s strategies, mission, and activities to our readers?

isoi is a brand offering functional cosmetic products that exclusively use natural ingredients to enhance the skin’s self-sustenance abilities, as I’ve mentioned earlier. The most distinguishing feature of our products, I would say, is our unique, yet carefully thought out selection of raw materials. Bulgarian Rose Oil, for instance, is isoi’s signature ingredient, and offers an incredible array of benefits for the skin.

We acquire this particular rose extract by repeatedly boiling and cooling 3,000 Bulgarian roses, and among the various grades of Bulgarian Rose Oil, we specifically employ the initial extract oil, which is namely used for medical purposes, in order to help improve the skin’s natural repair and maintenance mechanisms. Our unique selection of raw materials is consistent with isoi’s brand philosophy that “good ingredients are destined to change the skin,” which is something we remain committed to despite the rising prices in such raw materials every year.

Another distinguishing quality of isoi amongst other cosmetic brands is our brand concept of completely banning the use of harmful, toxic, and synthetic ingredients in our products.

Jinmin Lee during product development meeting

With growing industrialization across the globe, adverse effects related to chemically formulated, and potentially toxic ingredients have risen amongst consumers. Despite this, a number of cosmetic companies give insufficient regard to the source of their products’ ingredients, and therefore isoi has built its own territory and differentiated itself by committing to making products completely free of high-risk, toxic ingredients. Going beyond what are in our products, isoi also puts an emphasis on helping women learn of, select, and use healthy and safe cosmetics with the execution of our brand promotion and marketing activities.

We also carry out various communication activities aimed at promoting women’s health and their rights by relaying self-empowering, positive messages.

Continuing on into the future, we, at isoi, are keen on becoming more than a simple cosmetics brand. By expanding our practices in social movements and relaying more women-positive messages, we anticipate that isoi gains recognition as a company that centers its values and principles on the health and happiness of women.

What are some significant changes you have noticed in the beauty industry for the past years? And how do you forecast the global and Korean beauty industry will be like within the next five years?

Today’s cosmetics market is saturated with a variety of trends, many of which are rapidly changing as we speak. However, what we personally pay most attention to is the increased consumers’ awareness of the ingredients making up the cosmetics they apply regularly.

There has always been a high demand for “newer”, “more convenient”, yet still “effective” cosmetics, but nowadays, a new buzzword has emerged. Consumers now prioritize their health, and now also search for “safe” products that still uphold the previously mentioned qualities. Beauty companies have long been involved in social activities, especially those promoting women’s health. Yet, ironically, their products continue to contain significant amounts of potentially harmful and high-risk ingredients that, in the end, are likely to compromise the health of so many of their consumers.

Due to the lack of information on the ingredients themselves and a stronger emphasis on the general values these beauty companies would like to represent, consumers continue to purchase and use such products, not knowing their health may be negatively impacted by them. In recent years, people have begun to pay better attention to what goes into the cosmetics they use, and thus they’re becoming more aware of this irony.

The past few years have especially headlined various incidents where consumers reported adverse effects from the hazardous ingredients in their cosmetic products, as well as those related to the environmental surroundings. In either case, their skin and other parts of their body have been affected, and has led to the eventual increase in their demand for safe cosmetics.

This change in what the consumers now seek for in beauty products is now being reflected in the marketing strategies of beauty brands. Unlike the past, where cosmetic companies put a greater emphasis on the aesthetic appeal of their products, especially through their use of models and vibrant color schemes, brands are now advertising that their cosmetics are “free” of a disreputable ingredient, or that they are formulated with “non-toxic ingredients” in order to reestablish and gain the consumers’ trust. Isoi expects that this isn’t a mere trend, but a fundamental criterion that will remain.

WKMJ has readers from over 10 countries globally. Please share your final thoughts or words with our readers.

isoi will continue to preserve its philosophy in providing safe and natural cosmetics, and remain committed to further research and development in order to meet the healthy beauty standard held by people all over the globe. As one of the few pioneering Korean cosmetic brands founded on the natural concept, we seek to become the top company within this realm of the beauty industry, and will always strive to achieve this objective in an honest and transparent manner, never to disrupt the trust we’ve established with our consumers.

The team at isoi, including myself, kindly bid to the WKMJ readers that they become more aware of their skin health, and thereby the ingredients in the beauty products they currently use. We would also greatly appreciate that the readers accompany us on our journey, which can be at times difficult due to our growing, yet still niche concept, and watch over us with encouragement. Please keep an eye on isoi, as it will hopefully grow into a beauty company that can fulfill its social roles and responsibilities as an integral member of global society.

Jinmin Lee, M.A.

Chief Executive Officer and Founder. isoi

Jinmin Lee is the Founder and current Chief Executive Officer of isoi, a South Korean beauty brand founded on the philosophy that beauty should never compromise one’s health. Her previous titles include being the youngest Creative Director at Cheil, a marketing company under the Samsung Group, where she participated in brand consultation for the Samsung Anycall TV Commercial in South Korea. With an especial interest in women’s health and rights, She is also a founding member of Miclub, the South Korean internet portal site for women. Furthermore, she is a member of the Board of Directors at the Hope Institute, as well as an Advisory Board Member at the Seoul Culture Forum with interests in promoting civic duties around social, educational, environmental and political topics. Jinmin Lee has earned a Master of Arts degree in Korean Language Education at the Ewha Womans University.

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