70 South Bay Accent
“It was just common sense to me,” she
says. “I’ve always had a way to figure out
solutions to any problems presented to me.”
A native of Seoul, South Korea, Wang
didn’t just solve her own problem, but one
that many other cosmetic companies had
been grappling with. When she, “just for
fun,” submitted patents for her discovery,
these companies took notice and began
pursuing her. Soon afterwards, she found
herself flying to New York to consult with
some of these businesses.
Wang had visited New York before this.
On her first trip for an internship at Vogue
when she was 17, she forgot to pack her
contact lenses and found herself stumbling
around the city almost sightless.
“I bumped into a pole that made me collapse
on the street,” Wang recalls. “Diane
von Fürstenberg and the buyer of (women’s
accessory store) Henri Bendel, Laura Saio,
came rushing to my rescue. Diane comforted
me and told me about my beautiful
future and that I can grow up to marry a
prince like she had done.”
Growing an idea
In the early stages of developing her business
ideas, Wang met Ric Kostick, another UC
student who had lost three family members
to cancer and was interested in formulating
healthy, nontoxic personal care products.
He had already made some headway into
the personal care industry, having created a
shampoo line for teenagers that was picked
up by Sephora and Nordstrom. Its packaging
design was even showcased in the
Museum of Modern Art. When Ric read
a Forbes profile on Wang and the patent
she’d filed, he knew he’d found what he was
looking for. Once Kostick and Wang met
(they had attended UC at the same time
but didn’t connect till afterwards), the two
decided to pool their talents, and those of
Wang’s brother, James, to create a cosmetics
company with truly natural, sustainable
products that didn’t harm people or animals.
Unlike the stories of many Silicon Valley successes, the company
didn’t start in anyone’s garage or incubator, but rather in a Napa
farmhouse in 2005.
My parents were living in Napa,” says Wang. “Since it was a
startup without any funding, we needed a free place to operate from
at the time.” Her parents let Wang and her colleagues use a detached
unit on their large parcel of land for their new business venture.
“It was so idyllic and peaceful, surrounded by vineyards, a lake,
deer, rabbits and other wild animals,” Wang recalls. “It had lots
of lush green landscaping like trees, grass and flowers. It was the
perfect setting to start our natural cosmetics company because
everything around us was so inspiring. Plus, we sourced a lot of
ingredients—like grapeseed, wine, grapes, botanical oils, lavender
Wang had also been concerned about photos she had seen in
some of the booklets that came from the cosmetic testing labs.
They showed rabbits with blisters around their eyes, among other
disturbing images, and included reports on tumors and other medical
problems. “The pictures were enough to horrify me,” she says.
When she told others in the lab about what she had seen, she
was appalled by the reaction.
“I spoke with my supervisor about the lab test results showing
that the chemicals we were using caused cancer cells and tumors
in rats. I also, of course, showed everyone the wreckage from the
chemical spill on the lab table, but nobody was fazed by it one
bit, and they made me feel foolish for ‘overreacting,’” she recalls.
That was the last straw for Wang, who knew there must be a
better way. She decided to leave her coveted cosmetic industry job
and think about her next steps.
Wang has always been good at figuring out new ways of doing
things. In fact, that’s how she got her cosmetic job in the first place.
Years earlier, as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, she bought an
expensive Vitamin C serum and was disappointed when she noticed
it had turned brown soon after the purchase. She knew that meant
it had oxidized, a process that reduces the potency of the vitamin
and releases free radicals that damage the skin.
“I didn’t understand why a billion-dollar cosmetic company
couldn’t figure out how to stabilize Vitamin C, so I intentionally
sought to create a solution,” she explains.
Wang knew that Vitamin C required two elements to oxide:
air and water. Since it was impossible to completely eliminate air,
she eliminated water, putting the Vitamin C in oil, which coated
and protected it, “because oxygen cannot penetrate through oil
like it can water.”
Not a bad discovery for an 18-year-old communications major
with no prior chemistry knowledge.
The 100% Pure
TORIN NIELSEN (2)