Driven by a desire to create a skincare line that was both effective and environmentally conscious, Hana Lee founded vegan brand Melixir in 2018 with the launch of a face oil. Lee’s philosophy was simple: To create cruelty-free products using plant-derived ingredients, and formulations backed by science.
Melixir has since introduced serums, toners, moisturisers, sunscreen, and hand and body wash, which first launched in the United States. In 2022 the brand opened Melixir House in Dosan Park in Gangnam, Seoul, its first international outpost and also a homecoming of sorts given Lee’s roots in South Korea. Today, the San Francisco-headquartered company has earned B Corp certification and is eyeing continued expansion into Asia following its launch in Sephora stores in Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Retail in Asia speaks with founder and CEO Hana Lee to learn more about the brand and its plans.
RiA: Tell us about how and why you founded Melixir.
Hana Lee: When I was working for a beauty tech startup in San Francisco in 2014, I realised there weren’t many cruelty-free options for skincare after a client came looking for more ethical beauty options. That’s when I decided to start Melixir and made a promise to provide skincare that is 100 percent vegan and sustainable.
At the time, I knew the core values I wanted to uphold in Melixir were honesty, purity, and sustainability, and everything that we’ve developed since then is reflected in that initial promise.
By using high-quality plant-based ingredients rooted in traditional Korean culture, we wanted to offer healthy and sustainable skincare accessible to all. My own struggle with finding products that worked on my skin is what inspired me to turn to traditional Korean plants and design every product specifically for sensitive skin.
RiA: There has been no shortage of interest in K-beauty in recent years. Can you share what makes Melixir different from other brands?
Lee: I would say K-beauty has had three waves, and Melixir really helped define the most recent wave where ethics and sustainability issues have only just started to take centre stage for many K-beauty brands.
In my mind, the first wave focused on cute, eye-catching packaging and affordability while the second wave emphasised ‘clean beauty’ and attention to ingredient novelty and quality. In the second wave, we started seeing ingredient index apps and more products with ingredients like ginseng, snake venom, and snail mucin.
When Melixir came on the scene in 2018 as the first fully vegan skincare brand in Korea, brands weren’t focusing on what we still feel is most important. My sense has always been that people wanted healthier options for themselves and for the planet, and the COVID-19 pandemic really brought these concerns to the fore. We’re now seeing the concerns reflected in everything from people’s fashion to dietary choices, and Melixir continues to be a pioneer as k-beauty reaches a more diverse global audience.
RiA: What have been some key milestones in expanding Melixir?
Lee: We are focusing on omni-channel [distribution]. For offline distribution, we found Sephora’s demographic matches well with our target audience. As proven, our Vegan Airfit Sunscreen became the no. 1 bestseller at Sephora in Korea. For online, we want to build tight relationships with our customers on our direct website. Being able to collect customer data is a powerful way to iterate our business and products to increase loyalty and repeat purchases.
On the product level, we continue developing innovative skincare products specifically targeting sensitive skin. We design our products to be gentle on the facial skin microbiomes, so we run tests. We have already had four products certified to be microbiome- friendly: Vegan Lip Butter™, Vegan Balancing Toner™, Vegan Relief Facial Moisturizer, Vegan Airfit Sunscreen – and we are planning on the whole line to be skin microbiome-friendly.
RiA: What’s next for Melixir?
Lee: We’re going global. We have met our customers in the United States through Amazon since 2020. In 2023, we expanded our reach in Asia and Melixir is now available in Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines through Sephora, along with our new launch in India. In 2024, we hope to be available to Europe markets.
RiA: Where do you see the brand in five years?
Lee: My focus has always been on building a strong foundation–creating quality products and having a clear vision to have impactful results for both individuals and society. My goal is to make sure we continue to maintain the highest standards and leverage the most advanced technology to deliver products that people can trust.
In the long-term, I want this trust to extend to our vision for a healthier, more sustainable society. In five years, I hope the community we’ve built is even stronger and larger so we can reduce carbon emissions, rely more heavily on plant-based alternatives, and raise awareness around sustainability on a more global scale. Eventually, I would like Melixir to help more people think about how we can live in harmony with nature.