How Charlotte Cho and Soko Glam Changed the US Beauty Landscape

From by Marissa Stempien
How Charlotte Cho and Soko Glam Changed the US Beauty Landscape

Chances are in the last year or two you’ve been a part of the Korean skin care revolution. Maybe you’ve tried a sheet face mask, traded your foundation for a cushion compact or even upgraded your daily routine to include a multi-step process of double washing, essences, serums and the like. If you’ve fallen in love with any part of your Korean beauty routine then you probably have Charlotte Cho to thank for that. As the co-founder of Soko Glam, Cho has (almost single-handedly) revolutionized the landscape of beauty in the United States. From her humble beginnings in her apartment to her recently published The Little Book of Skin Care, she’s been transforming the way we look at skin care one sheet mask at a time.


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on Feb 5, 2016 at 3:41pm PST

Born and raised in California, Cho was like any other West Coast girl who preferred lip gloss to toner until she moved to Seoul shortly after college to work as a PR for Samsung. She fell in love with the food, the culture, the people and the skin care. “It was just so different from the way beauty was perceived here [in the US], especially since in Korea they believe that it’s all about skin first. They have a very skin-first philosophy versus the US where the trends are really more heavily focused on makeup,” she told JustLuxe. “I thought that was a really unique way to think about beauty. I’ve just never seen any products quite like the ones I saw in Korea. And every time I’d go back home I’d get a lot of feedback from friends asking me to bring back some.”


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on Jan 31, 2016 at 3:10pm PST

After realizing her friends and family didn’t have access to most popular Korean brands (and would have an even harder time trying to negotiate online stores and product instructions in Korean), she decided to start her own e-commerce site. In 2012, she and her husband launched Soko Glam with only a few brands that they were packing and shipping out of her apartment in Seoul. “It was really hard in the beginning because we were a startup … and the Korean brands were so focused on Asia,” she explained. “It was really just about pitching our ability to reach the US consumer in a way that they probably can’t.” Understanding the difference between the American and Asian markets allowed Cho to make a significant impact on the beauty landscape and change the way we think about skin care. “[Asian] markets already look up to Korean beauty, Korean actresses; they’re very influenced by the trends coming out of Korea, so you don’t have to explain anything and they’ll buy it,” she said. “But in the US it’s educational. You’ve really got to explain about the trends and kind of compare it to what’s existing in the US market.”


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:17am PST

Three years ago you couldn’t find a sheet mask anywhere. Today you can stop at your local mall and find them in most stores, along with a number of other Korean-inspired products. “At the time Korean beauty was not even on the radar in the US. We became the gateway to Korean beauty and I think a big part of that was that our next move out of Korea was New York City,” she told us. “I just really got to know all the editors and they were just genuinely so interested in the beauty products and the trends, and before we knew it, Soko Glam had grown exponentially.” With a whole arsenal of Korean products that were unlike anything found stateside, it was easy to understand why beauty editors were so easily hooked. “[They] have really seen a huge difference when they take up the Korean skincare routine, the multi-step Korean skincare routine. They’ve just seen their complexion feel brighter, smoother, less blemished overall and they’re just really enjoying the whole skin-first philosophy.”


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on May 4, 2015 at 9:17am PDT

Cho may have made previously unavailable products accessible to women in the US, but it was more than just a few kind words from trusted insiders that really turned Soko Glam into an online beauty destination. “I think the products spoke for themselves, they’re just so unique, the categories themselves are just so unique,” she explained. “It’s not just about a gimmicky product—it actually works. So it’s very easy to get on board the K-beauty train. It’s really interesting too, just seeing the development in the beauty space as a whole in the past few years. After K-beauty blew up, so many companies, just these 100-year-old cosmetic companies who have just been the leaders in the space for a very long time, are now looking to Korea for inspiration.” It’s true—within the last few years it’s easy to see how Korean staples like sheet masks, cushion compacts, essences and multi-step skin care have almost become mainstream.


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on Nov 29, 2015 at 10:10am PST

While she places a great deal of importance on a product’s ability to work, she also focuses on knowledge and education, primarily when it comes to ingredients. “We really just encourage people to look at the ingredients and I think the reason why we care so much about that … is because that’s why Korean beauty has become so innovative,” she explained. “Consumers in Korea are so picky about their skincare and they’re so savvy because they care so much about their skin’s health that it forces cosmetic companies … to really turn out amazing products. So now, as a result, Korean cosmetic companies are turning out the best: they pay attention to their ingredients and the way they package things because they know they need to satisfy these Korean women,” she noted. “It’s going to force American brands to be on their toes as well. Some American brands have formulations that they haven’t changed in 20 years, because no one cared or thought to question it. But now the more educated consumers are, the better the products are going to be for everyone.”


A photo posted by Soko Glam (@sokoglam) on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:48am PDT

Those looking to educate themselves on skin care turn to Cho for answers. She travels to Korea five times a year for three to four weeks at a time, immersing herself in the Korean beauty scene to keep abreast of the latest techniques and products hitting the shelves. “I have contacts with the top makeup artists and dermatologists [in Korea] so I’m always making my rounds asking them what’s new. I love to interview models and really just stay on top of the trends,” she explained. Shortly after starting Soko Glam, she also became a licensed esthetician to offer better answers to her customers and followers. “I was getting so many specifics questions about certain skin conditions,” she noted. “I knew a lot about the trends, I knew a lot about products and formulations from the cosmetic industry standpoint, but in terms of the science behind skin, anatomy and how your body is all connected to your skin, and how it affects things and hormones and all that, I wanted to dig deep … I wanted to give better responses and more in-depth advice.”


A photo posted by Charlotte Cho 샬롯조 (@charlottejcho) on Oct 27, 2015 at 10:53am PDT

Most recently she offered up advice to readers around the world when her book, The Little Book of Skin Care was published late last year. Long toted as a Korean beauty guru and information source for shoppers, editors and American beauty insiders, she notes that the informal title still feels a little strange for her. “It’s so funny to be called that because I feel like I’m always still learning … I feel like the learning process never ends, especially when it comes to skincare. There’re so many studies being done, there’re so many trends that are being developed in Korea, but I just think the book has been a game changer for me. It mentioned me as a Korean beauty expert and it was so amazing for me to see it on paper like that because it’s not like I expected that at all. It wasn’t like a goal I had in mind,’” she laughed. “I think that it’s been so great to see the reaction: people picking up the book and actually being inspired to start a Korean routine. It’s weird, a lot of people are tagging me from different countries now that they’ve gotten their hands on a book—in Germany, Russia and Mexico—and it has been amazing seeing the feedback worldwide.”


A photo posted by Charlotte Cho 샬롯조 (@charlottejcho) on Feb 21, 2016 at 12:58pm PST

After only three years in the Korean beauty space, Cho has managed a successful site, a new title as K-beauty guru, published a book and changed the way we think about skin care. She’ll be the first to admit it’s been a pretty amazing ride. “It’s just a true passion of ours to connect Korea to the US and I think it’s been amazing and wonderful to see such positive reactions and feedback from people who’ve never been to Korea, never had any link to Korea, and just seeing them dive into the culture and the way that Korean women do things. It’s been pretty rewarding,” she said. The site has grown exponentially and over the years added on a blog and their own Best of Beauty Awards. She hinted that there will be something new to come in 2016 (though she wasn’t ready to reveal any of her surprises quite yet), but she hopes beauty lovers and fans will enjoy what Soko Glam has in store. “We’re still a startup, and I have to say it’s not 100 percent glamorous. It’s a lot of hard work, we work nights, we work pretty long hours, just trying to be the best site we can.”