Stephanie Zhang: On Being KraveBeauty's Brand Experience Designer and Working in the K-Beauty Industry

Launched in December 2017, KraveBeauty is a startup founded by popular K-Beauty YouTuber, Liah Yoo, that is dedicated to providing a simple but efficient skincare routine for people who may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of products in the beauty industry. They boldly encourage consumers to “#PressReset on the ineffective, conventional skincare routine. Feed what your skin craves, nothing it doesn't,” and have amassed 49.2k followers on Instagram and many positive reviews in just one year. To learn more about KraveBeauty and what it’s like to work in the K-Beauty industry, read on for an inside look from Stephanie Zhang, NYU junior and KraveBeauty’s Brand Experience Designer.

The Basics:

Name: Stephanie Zhang

Year: Junior

School: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Major: Media, Culture, and Communication

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

The Interview:

HC NYU: How and when did you get into K-Beauty and how has it affected your life?

SZ: I got into K-Beauty in the beginning of high school, because I was really into K-Pop during middle school so K-Beauty kind of came naturally. It became a staple in my routine because it was such a different approach in terms of formulation and the way the product feels compared to Western brands. I think the Korean beauty philosophy is very different from the Western philosophy, as it emphasizes hydration and protecting the skin barrier. K-Beauty is more about prevention whereas Western beauty seems to be more about covering up. Now I look for products that will show me long-term results rather than short-term fixes for the skin.

HC NYU: What are your opinions on the growing popularity of K-Beauty in the U.S.?

SZ: I think it’s incredibly exciting to see K-Beauty getting traction in the Western sphere, because 3-4 years ago, K-Beauty wasn’t even a thing in Sephora. But now, there are whole walls dedicated to K-Beauty competing directly with Western incumbents that have been here for so long. I love how innovative K-Beauty is and how they’re so willing to try out new ingredients and formulations that will work well for the skin. I’d love to see more brands being carried here because there is a demand for it in the market that the Western market doesn’t address. While I do think K-Beauty is for everyone, I think it is starting a movement of people knowing what goes into their products. I think before, people used to go out and buy things immediately after brands launched them, because they knew the brands. But now that K-Beauty is available and most people aren’t too familiar with the brands, they do more research and actually see the effectiveness of the product. They’re becoming staples in Sephora which represents how they can become staples in the skincare routines of people who have never seen K-Beauty before.

HC NYU: The world of beauty, especially K-Beauty, is very new and even overwhelming to beginners who may not know where to start. What are some tips you may give to someone who is just starting out? What are some of your favorite products?

SZ: I know that K-Beauty is really pushing for the ten step skincare routine -- it’s what made them famous really quickly in America. Krave is pushing for a totally different philosophy: to keep it simple. Press reset on what your skincare routine is currently and only feed your skin what it needs. The market tells you to use all these things -- toner, essence, serums, lotions, creams -- but in reality, our skin is really smart and knows what it wants. Just know your skin type, skin concerns, and just buy the products that your skin will for sure need. In my opinion, you really just need a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Always wear sunscreen! Be smart with your purchases - it’s easy to fall for marketing gimmicks and buzz words. Depending on what your skin needs, which will vary day by day, only apply what your skin needs that day. But ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

I definitely recommend KraveBeauty’s Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser, the Klair Supple Preparation Unscented Facial Toner, the Innisfree Intensive Hydrating Serum with Green Tea Seed, and the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream. I also currently really like the Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day SPF 30 UV Sun Fluid.

HC NYU: How and when did you become KraveBeauty’s Brand Experience Designer? What do you do?

SZ: To make a long story short, Liah was looking for a designer for the brand and I just applied [laugh]. I didn’t expect her to reach out to me but literally two days after I flew back from NYU London, I met up with her. I started working for her at the end of May 2018.

Right now, I’m at the intersection of marketing and design by creating and revising content strategy as we see fit, and executing campaigns for product pushes, launches, partnerships, sponsorships, collaborations, and also leading the email marketing strategy for the brand. Right now, our brand exists solely on an e-commerce platform, which means most of our marketing is done digitally. So, we focus all our marketing efforts on social media and email. I work with other members on the team to focus on these two things.

HC NYU: What is your favorite thing about being KraveBeauty’s Brand Experience Designer? Least favorite?

SZ: My favorite part is that it is a startup, so we adapt really quickly to things as they come along. We try to work ahead of the schedule, but in reality, we’re always changing things on the day of. It is a weakness as well, but it gives us flexibility to give our consumers what they want and we change depending on the feedback that we get. For example, we have a calendar for our blog posts, but we change the schedule depending on the feedback and we can experiment around with different ideas to see what’s most valuable for the consumer. A challenge that comes with that, though, is that we are working with a very restricted budget and we have limitations to what we can do. We come up with a lot of ideas for promos and collabs but we often don’t have the resources to execute those, so we have to work around that. The team is really small, but because of that we really learned each others’ working styles and learned to adapt to each others’ styles as a team.

HC NYU: Where do you find your inspiration for design? Can you briefly walk us through your process when creating your designs?

SZ: This varies depending on the content that I’m designing. Most of my focus right now is on email newsletters and Instagram stories, and so it really depends because the content of the email is always going to be different, but the general concept will be the same. For example, for email newsletters, I’m usually given a copy. To create the actual design, I find inspiration in Pinterest and other companies’ emails. By looking at other companies, I’m able to see what works and what doesn’t. I pay special attention to details like the CTA (call to action -- basically the thing you click on the email), title, heading, theme, etc. We try to keep it clean, modern, and sometimes fun. Instagram stories are a little different. We try to keep it between 3-6 slides to get the point across quickly, and we try to deliver information that is valuable and engaging for the consumer. We’re not just using fluff, we use actual information that our research team synthesizes for us so we know it’s backed by science. We also post things like UGC (user generated content) reviews to show that we’ve been making traction. The design again changes depending on the theme of the week. But the color generally matches the theme in some way: for acne, I use more skin tone-like colors, and for moisture and hydration, I use colors like light blue and light green.

HC NYU: Do you have any advice for people who are just starting out in design?

SZ: I don’t come from a design background, which I think was part of my appeal to Liah. She didn’t want someone from a purely design background because it limits your thinking and puts a cap on what you can create. So for me, I don’t see design as my only path, but as my starting point for what I can do for the beauty industry and my jump into content marketing. I love doing creative things, so design made sense for me when I started my career in beauty. So my advice is that it’s ok if you don’t come from an educational design background -- it’s ok if you didn’t go to art school. Design is more about solving a problem than making things pretty. Aesthetics are part of it, but it’s never the main focus of design, and people are starting to warm up to this idea that design is part of a process. So I recommend people to go for it and know where to look for resources. For me, when I first started, I looked on YouTube for tutorials on how to use software I had no idea how to use, and now I’m at the point where I can use them proficiently. Just be patient and know it doesn’t all happen in one night. Practice your craft and use your resources to help yourself become a better designer. I also think it’s incredibly important for designers to get feedback from other people -- not just designers. Again, design is about solving a problem, and you can’t solve a problem without knowing all the different facets that affect that problem.

HC NYU: What do you hope to achieve through your personal journey in the beauty world? Where do you hope to be in a few years?

SZ: In terms of what I’ve been doing, it’s really enabled me to look at a brands following and see who the consumers are, what their concerns are, and what their journeys are like. And that’s really valuable because I want to eventually pursue marketing and be able to be in a place in marketing where I can influence people with the right messages, and part of that comes from not having any role models to look up to when I was growing up [in terms of beauty]. In the Western beauty space, I think K-Beauty is gaining traction also because diversity is becoming a huge thing in an industry that was predominantly blonde and blue-eyed. So for something Asian to be in the market, it’s incredibly powerful and paving the way for other brands and people to enter the industry in which they are the minority. And for me, I want to be in a position where I can use the work that I do to empower other people to not only feel comfortable in their own skin but be proud of who they are. I think beauty is so intrinsically linked to how you feel about yourself and if you spread the right messages, you can influence people to feel more positively about themselves. I feel like beauty has always been a takedown culture and before, if you didn’t look a certain way, you weren’t really included. But now, we have so many brands celebrating minorities.

Where do I see myself? [laugh] I want to be working for a brand that is not afraid to be the game changers in anything that they do. The beauty industry is very saturated and part of that is because there are so many players that are trying to top what the others do, which is a good thing for the most part, but I want to work for a brand that knows how to take it to the next level and isn’t just there for the financial gain. And who knows, maybe in a few more years I can create something of my own and help the people that I want to help.

HC NYU: Do you have anything you’d like to say to HC readers?

SZ: We’re actually launching KraveBeauty’s sunscreen here in the United States! It was already launched in South Korea in August, but because of FDA regulations, we haven’t been able to bring it here. So, we renamed our product to The Beet Shield and will launch it on 11/11 at 11:11am. Sunscreen is the best anti-aging product that you can use to help prevent hyperpigmentation and even skin cancer, so if you’re interested in a sunscreen that is gentle, leaves no white cast, blends in well, and also acts as a makeup primer, check out our website on 11/11! You can check out my website for past design work that I’ve done and also follow me on Instagram at @wowsz!

Images courtesy of Stephanie Zhang.