Korean beauty and tech company Memebox continues its U.S. repositioning with the launch of Kaja Beauty, the first complete K-Beauty color cosmetics line in the States.
Created exclusively in partnership with Sephora, the new brand is launching with a 47-item product collection, including blushes and eyeshadows. The line will launch on Sephora.com on September 18 and then roll out to 58 of its top doors on Sept. 28, though a smaller selection of products will be available in all 410 Sephora stores.
The launch comes as Memebox is shifting strategy. In June, the company, which was founded in 2012 as a Korean beauty subscription box service and has raised US$160 million in funding so far, relaunched its U.S. e-commerce business after shutting it down in 2017 to focus on its own online community and building key retail partnerships.
“The first phase of Memebox was bringing third-party products to the U.S.,” said Memebox CEO Dino Ha. “Now, it’s about building a singular brand that resonates more.”
Its U.S. site now only features its global private-label brands, like Pony Effect, Nooni and I Dew Care (the latter two are also sold at Ulta), and an edited 54 products across the three brands — Kaja won’t be sold on Memebox’s own e-commerce platform at launch, but will debut on the site in the coming months. Memebox also launched its Insider Access dashboard in June, which features influencer-curated micro-shops and content for its online community to read reviews and discover third-party product via affiliate links.
But finding a large American retailer to partner with was Ha’s top-of-mind priority to drive growth, which is where Sephora came in.
Fifteen thousand new brands come out of Korea every year, according to Ha, so to cut through, Kaja is bent on being “customer-centric.” From ideation to launch, the product development took about five months (compared to the typical 18-month production cycles typical of cosmetics and skin-care brands), and was created using customer insights from Sephora’s and Memebox’s 5 million global customers.
As it stands, Sephora doesn’t sell any K-beauty branded color cosmetics online or in-stores. Eighty percent of the customers surveyed for Kaja were non-Asian — they were very familiar with Korean skin care but showed a desire for color cosmetics. Thus, Ha realized that makeup versus skin care was Korean beauty’s natural next frontier in America. This is the first time Memebox has partnered with Sephora, though the retailer has other K-beauty partnerships, including with e-commerce site Glow Recipe. It has also worked with online site Peach & Lily in the past.
“Sephora was particularly in-tune with the white space around makeup in the K-beauty market,” said Ha. “Korean beauty has always focused so heavily on skin care, so we wanted to be the first K-beauty brand that was actually about makeup.”
While Memebox sells a few makeup products in its Pony Effect brand, which was created in partnership with celebrity makeup artist and mega-influencer Pony and offers lip glosses and lipsticks, Memebox was also highly penetrated in skin care, thanks to its Nooni and I Dew Care lines. Kaja is meant to capitalize on that color cosmetics opportunity.
Other K-beauty retailers like Peach & Lily have recently introduced branded product lines, proving these Korean startups have the opportunity to fuel revenue with their own assortments. In March, market research firm Euromonitor International reported that since 2015, South Korea’s beauty exports to the U.S. grew 59 percent, reaching $207 million.
Price was a major consideration for Kaja Beauty — all of the makeup products range from $14 to $24 — in order to further reach those millennial and Gen Z customers. “It’s really about giving that girl on the go what she wants,” said Yoon Sung Choi, Memebox’s vp of brand development.
Memebox is also rebranding its social presence with a Kaja Beauty-forward point of view. On Monday, the brand announced on Instagram that it will be refocusing its account on its new Sephora partnership, and on Wednesday, Memebox totally swiped its Instagram, leaving only a handful of in-feed posts artistically teasing the new Kaja beauty products.
Ha said more Kaja products are on deck with Sephora for 2019, and that Memebox wants to be able to react quickly to customer responses on the new lineup. “Half of our product plan is still wide open, so we can be as deductive as we can be to expand,” he said.