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Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam, bestselling author shares why jeong is the essence to building connections

We learn first-hand from Charlotte Cho, on how to build the Korean concept of connecting with people, places and even while using our skincare.

Charlotte Cho shows us how we can build connection with people, places and things. PHOTO: Then I Met You
Charlotte Cho shows us how we can build connection with people, places and things. PHOTO: Then I Met You

In a world where people are seeking quick-fix solutions, there is one entrepreneur who believes in the concept of jeong – a Korean idea of building a deep and meaningful connection between people, places, and things. That is none other than Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam, a multilabel beauty e-commerce retailer, founder of the award-winning skincare line, Then I Met You, and international bestselling author of two books, The Little Book of Jeong and The Little Book of Skin Care.

That’s not all. Charlotte was one of WWD's 40 Under 40 in 2017, and in 2019, she was named Adweek's Trailblazer of the Year and one of Bustle’s 2019 Rule Breakers. A media darling of outlets such as Entrepreneur, The New York Times, Allure, CNN, Forbes, and Fast Company, this journalist took the rare opportunity to have a one-on-one with this trailblazing entrepreneur and grilled her about industry beauty secrets.

We chatted over coffee and detox juices at The Singapore Edition Hotel’s The Lobby Bar early morning at 10 am when she was in town to share about the award-winning skincare line Then I Met You. There was a lot to like about Charlotte. She exuded girlish charm even at 38 and as a mother of two. Best of all, her genuine sincerity in making a connection, from sharing about her Carribean-inspired skincare line Then I Met You to her two internationally bestselling books, to Korean dramas and her self-care routine.

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International Women's Day 2024: Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam and award-winning skincare line

Knowing that time was of the essence, with back-to-back interviews lined up that day for her, I dived right into it, “Why Korean skincare?”

Charlotte passionately shared why Korean products are so popular: innovation, price accessibility, and risk-taking. How so? Korean skincare labels offer all sorts of skincare, including essences, facial mists, and sheet masks. Best of all, even very hydrating products are never heavy but lightweight.

In terms of price point, there’s one that fits any budget in the Korean cosmetics world.

‘Traditionally in the West, if you want good skincare it costs 50 dollars or more, but in Korea, … you can get it for $10 to $15. It has made skincare more democratic, rather than just for high-income individuals. It’s not just great for skincare industries, it has also pushed a lot of brands globally to be just more affordable.’

Ever thought of putting snail mucous on your face? Yep, that's what the Koreans did. Not afraid of taking risks and venturing into unknown territories are just two of many reasons the Korean beauty industry arrested the hearts of consumers. Not one to rest on their laurels, when everyone is doing niacinamide, the Koreans were way ahead, exploring the skin benefits of snails, circa, and more. Charlotte continues, '[Koreans] are always trying to find new ways to enhance the skin.'

…Korea has made skincare more democratic, rather than just for high-income individuals. It's not just great for skincare industries, it has also pushed a lot of brands globally to be more affordable.Charlotte Cho on how the Korean beauty industry has made good skincare affordable for all.

Who better to observe the West and East beauty divide than Charlotte, an aesthetician who holds a dual identity as a Korean-American?

‘Even when it comes to acne, the way Korean cosmetics tackles it is very gentle. In America, they use a high concentration of salicylic acid to almost dry your skin and zap away your acne and moisture. Korean skincare came up with hydrochloride patches which is going to just seal the skin and draw impurities very gently with no harshness or dryness.’

The vast differences between Korean techniques and ingredients versus what America was doing were stark, and Charlotte was swayed towards Korean beauty based on her observations. In the last five years, she has observed that ‘the West has been picking up on Korean style’.

But it wasn’t the case in the beginning. Born, bred, and educated in America by Korean parents, Charlotte admitted she was never proud to be a Korean until she started working and living in Seoul for Samsung. Thrown into the unknown, since her parents had no intention of returning to Korea and she had never been to Korea before, she fell in love with its culture and got acquainted with her roots. It was there that she started having a skincare routine and brushed up on her shaky mother tongue, but much more than that, jeong drew her deeper into her roots, and she wanted to share this with everyone she knew.

That marked the beginning of Soko Glam in 2012, an e-beauty retailer that houses Korean skincare labels in the US market which was new to Korean beauty concepts. Making her e-commerce platform work was no easy feat, especially when consumers were still wary of making online purchases and revealing credit card details a decade ago, especially with a relatively small and unknown entity such as Soko Glam.

Resistance started in Korea. 'I had to beg to carry the Korean brands on Soko Glam. Some were open, many others were not keen to collaborate.’

The fact that we had to change the mindset of people, that was challenging. Being a small company, many Korean brands didn't respect Soko Glam.Charlotte recalled her greatest barrier to entry when she first started Soko Glam in 2012.

In time to come, Soko Glam got the attention of beauty editors who were intrigued by Korean beauty products, and word got around. The support from beauty editors and beauty insiders helped propel Soko Glam and raised awareness of what Korean beauty products can do for you.

Despite naysayers and disbelievers, Americans started double cleansing and paying more attention to skincare, veering away from their primary focus on makeup. Charlotte was proud to add that five years later, everything changed. ‘Those who work at the top beauty conglomerates had Soko Glam on their screen in their strategy meeting saying they have to follow this. So Soko glam changed a lot within the beauty industry.’

Another proud moment for Charlotte is that viral brands such as Iope and Hanyul have picked Soko Glam to be their main distributor today, helping to spread awareness and bring it to the US market.

‘Korean beauty is now here to stay and people in the US want to learn more about skincare. So that was a big shift. I’m proud of that kind of shift. It's very cultural and educational. It’s hard to change the mindset of people. So that’s something we were very proud of at Soko Glam.’

When Charlotte was first exposed to the Korean beauty culture focusing more on the skin, she was blown away. Subsequently, with Soko Glam’s focus on education, she witnessed how better skincare has transformed lives positively, propelling her to continue to share her knowledge.

When I went to Korea, I had no skincare routine. I wasn't proud to be Korean until I worked and lived there. My mind was blown because the Korean beauty industry focuses more on skin first, while the US is all about makeup covering up your skin.Charlotte was blown away by Korean beauty concepts when she first arrived in Seoul.

Coming from the American culture, which was more about covering up skin blemishes, Charlotte appreciated the Koreans’ approach, which focuses on the skin, ‘Your makeup is going to sit better if your skincare is good. It’s all about prevention, not turning back the hands of time or covering up. I like education and the science behind the beauty concepts… Soko Glam brought in the education portion and it helped bring in more affordable skincare, and new fresh concepts, I want to share all of those things because it changed my skin for the better. I saw that for Soko Glam, people’s lives have changed. For example, I know of people who have severe acne and are unable to head out until they discover Korean beauty. Skincare education helped change their approach.’

She continued, ‘I also feel a sense of duty, as a Korean-American, to be the gateway to showcase Korean beauty in the best possible light. So, I’m very particular about what we curate at Soko Glam. It’s not just about a viral or fun product. I want the product to work. In Korean beauty, not everything works perfectly, so I’m making sure I’m discerning about the curation.’

'From start to finish, it typically takes 6 months to launch a product on Soko Glam which includes the curation, testing, and whatnot. Cos we are online, we take a much shorter time as compared to a physical retailer.'

With more than 10 years of experience helming Soko Glam, Charlotte is still very hands-on and continues to try every product they put on the platform.

‘Our team is very hands-on, so am I. We've been around for 11 years and we try every product still. People on the team have different skin tones, types, and different skin goals, we tend to have a wide range of opinions on curation.’

In town to share more about her skincare line Then I Met You (TIMY), I was curious about how the fun name came about.

‘The phrase ‘Then I Met You’ signifies a turning point, something positive. This could mean a skincare product that changed your life, it could also mean a person who changed your life. So it’s very different for every single person. For me, Korea was a big turning point. I have jeong, a deep connection with Korea, and so I want this line to be something deeper than skincare.'

Delving deeper into the concept of jeong, I asked her how I can incorporate a deeper connection with people, places, and things every day, and how we can develop a deeper connection with our skin. Charlotte breaks it down for us. Akin to taking the time to build deep connections with people, you should do the same with your skin. We often cut steps to save time or because we are tired. Charlotte has a suggestion.

‘If we can even take just a little time, even 5 – 10 minutes instead of 1 minute, use that time to take a break, light a candle, do a facial massage. It just really deepens your self-care experience and gives a moment to yourself for reflection, for rest, or just think about your day.’

She adds, ‘You don’t even have to do it every day, I know it's challenging. Once a week, is also an opportunity for you to deepen that skincare routine. Also when it comes to your own personal life or your work, it’s about giving that intentionality. Meet up with a friend, call or send a message.’

‘The key component of jeong is the deep connection which takes time. You have to build upon it. Whether you have more face-to-face meetings or have more lunches/dinners or just simply be more vulnerable, I think are key components to building jeong with others.’

‘I think similar to skincare and my philosophy for this line, I’m about building deep connections with my community and also about taking time to build the right formulas. This line has been around for 5 years, and I only have 9 products. Every product must be a holy grail and essential. That's how I build jeong.’

Then I Met You is a skincare line that promises to deepen your connection with your skin. PHOTO: Then I Met You
Then I Met You is a skincare line that promises to deepen your connection with your skin. PHOTO: Then I Met You

‘TIMY is my interpretation of a Carribean, sensorial feel. What I love about this line is that it is very emotional. When it comes to skincare, it’s very much to do with this Korean concept which I call jeong, which I wrote a book about…Korean dramas have a lot of jeong. They are very bold. When you see a character fall in love or the jeong between other characters, there’s this deep connection and it takes time to build it. You don’t see the build-up, the trials and the challenges, the beautiful moments that lead up to the time the characters get together.’

Sharing more about TIMY’s most popular product, which has already garnered 14 awards so far, Charlotte deliberated when formulating the Living Cleansing Balm into a very sensorial product. It took her three years to develop the formulation, and it was worth all the effort. Not only is it travel-friendly, the balm is very neat, with none of the drippy, messiness that comes with cleansing oil. It's also very effective in melting all makeup at one go, including stubborn makeup on the eyes, lips, and face.

Pro-tip: When applying the Living Cleansing Balm, Charlotte suggests deepening your jeong with it and using it as a mask. Here's how:

‘Use your knuckles to go to your nose bridge, do it 5 times. Use the same technique for the under eye and also across your jawline and underneath your cheekbones because it helps with your lymphatic drainage. It helps to brighten and lift the skin.’

‘There’s so many skincare products out there and this line is about meaning. I don't want to make a cleanser for the sake of making a cleanser. I wanted something that truly deepens connection, I wanted to make something that is sensorial... It’s like a treat! It’s unlike any other cleansers that you will experience.’

As an aesthetician, Charlotte has the privilege of tweaking the formulation of her skincare line to elevate its efficacy. For example, the Birch Milk Refining Toner contains just 1% AHA and BHA, which can help smooth out fine lines and clear breakouts. The Giving Essence contains an optimal 5% concentration of niacinamide, which gives the essence a kick and brightens the skin.

‘Sometimes I find Korean skincare is too gentle. I’m 38 and I want a little bit more kick.’

Charlotte on infusing her skincare line with all the skin-loving ingredients she knows that works.

My agenda for our chat included grilling Charlotte about beauty tips. Here’s what she shared.

Skincare tip 1: Always double cleanse

Did you know that impurities in the skin can lead to premature ageing? That’s why Charlotte is a proponent of double cleansing, having seen her skin improve tremendously since she started.

The award-winning Living Cleansing Balm from Then I Met You changes the game when it comes to cleansing. PHOTO: Then I Met You
The award-winning Living Cleansing Balm from Then I Met You changes the game when it comes to cleansing. PHOTO: Then I Met You

‘Cleansing once is not enough, you have to cleanse twice. And that's when I saw the biggest difference in my skin. Your products will work better. ‘Cos if you have a film on your skin, and you put on the products, it’s not even penetrating and with impurities, you have free radical damage, that leads to sagging skin, loss of elasticity. That’s why when I launched my skincare line, I started with two cleansers. These are what you need then the rest of the products will work.’

Skincare tip 2: Adjust your skincare based on needs and the weather

With Singapore’s humidity, some of us may not even require face creams. For those with oilier skin types, use serums or essences like your moisturiser. They are very layerable. Pat it on your skin 2 or 3 times and it’s not going to pill. ‘70% of your skincare products evaporate, but when you layer your skincare, it traps the moisture.’

Skincare tip 3: Never neglect your lips.

The skin on our lips is the thinnest in our body, followed by the neck, hands, and then eyes. They require daily maintenance and exfoliant. Even when I put sunscreen on, I always put some on my lips. Charlotte assured us that skincare works perfectly fine on our lips too.

Skincare tip 4: Quick mask solution

Soak a cotton pad with toner. Let sit for 5 minutes and voila, it’s a quickie mask. Because of the birch milk content in TIMY, it will seep into your pores and make them appear smaller.

As the clock started ticking and the next Media waited, I fielded more questions to the 38-year-old entrepreneur who looks not a day older than 24, despite not caring much for her skin during her teenage years in America. Charlotte revealed that her top self-care routine includes taking extra care of her hands and feet.

‘As a mum, I’m always washing my hands, my hands get so dry… I always cover my hands and feet in emollient cream and put socks on. I even put cellophane, ‘cos sometimes socks absorb moisture.’

‘And whenever you touch your skin, gently tap on it and always be gentle. Koreans treat [their skin] like an egg when they touch their face. Try not to tug and pull but tap it.’

Armed with newfound knowledge about Charlotte's advice for us battling with Singapore's humidity and her top beauty tips, I savoured the last drops of my detox juice and grabbed a photo opp with the affable founder. Bonding over Korean dramas and posing with the latest viral cheek heart pose, my heart was full as I left our little tete-a-tete.

Then I Met You launched in April in Sephora.

Discover more about jeong in Charlotte Cho’s The Little Book of Jeong and Korean beauty myths demystified in her other bestselling The Little Book of Skincare.

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