Last time we interviewed Jina Lee, Urang was just getting started. It's been amazing to see the response to and growth of this skincare brand. There's rarely a moment one of their products isn't part of our daily routine.
We wanted to catch up with Jina again and dive into the business of building a brand, what it's like to source such high quality ingredients, and where she sees things headed in the future. If you have yet to try this brand for yourself, this conversation will quickly convince you!
Ohlolly: What is one of Urang’s proudest accomplishments since our last conversation in 2017?
Jina Lee: In 2017, we started our first overseas sales with Oholly (yeah!) and that was the start. We are now selling in about 19 countries total. We also expanded in Korea a lot, especially in department stores (we entered three main department stores as an individual brand store) and despite Covid-19, we are doing well.
We are a small business, but we have made great progress and I can see light coming for the future of Urang. The biggest accomplishment is that we are still here and that we are growing step by step.
You started Urang out of a passion for skincare, not necessarily with the intention to start a business. What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
What you said is so true. I started out of passion for skincare and for ingredients and I didn’t really have an in-depth knowledge about the jungle environment of the cosmetic business. I remember saying during a Master Class in 2018 in London, “If I had known about this hectic environment from the start, I don’t think I could have started this business.”
I think I was able to start my own brand because I was naïve and I was just doing something that I loved to do. I wanted to deliver this passion to customers. But as I look back, I think I still would have started my business anyways despite the industry being a jungle, since it's my passion and my love.
Now, with a broadened vision, there are some things that I could have done better if I knew at that time. For one, I would have taken time to learn more about the cosmetic industry and marketing. I went through a lot of trial and error to promote the brand. Eventually this became an asset, but it was the hard way and it can be exhausting sometimes.
...I think I still would have started my business anyways despite the industry being a jungle, since it's my passion and my love.
Two, especially for a small brand that is growing, capital can always become an issue. You see that the brand is growing and more capital is coming in, but you realize that you are still struggling financially because you always need more finances for the increasing growth. If I were to go back to that time, I would carefully measure the use of capital.
And lastly, similarly to the second part, I think it takes more than three years to stabilize a brand. Seed money is crucial to circulate the business for at least one year (more is better). So, I think I would have calculated at least three years of seed money and then gone from there.
For anyone who wants to create a brand, you really need passion to stay motivated because, due to many occasions and obstacles, there are times when you just want to stop. I also had those times but, as our products started to receive love from people all around the world, that got me more motivated. And, of course, my family is a motivation. I made this for myself and my family. I will try my best to make the best out of this. It is a tough thing for sure, but you can do it, and I can do it.
Find something that you like, know a lot about and can do well. I think that is the key. If you have passion for what you do, you will go all the way and will be able to endure the harsh times.
We love the new ampoules (Yuja Vita, Blue Power and Cica Soothing) that came out last year. How do you decide which product ideas to pursue?
Thank you so much! It was such a long process to release those three ampoules into the market. The Cica Soothing Ampoule was made because many of our customers asked for an ampoule version of our LOVE CICA x OPUNTIA MASK (sheet mask). So we upgraded the ingredients and made an ampoule version.
As for the Yuja Vita Ampoule and the Blue Power Ampoule, I had been wanting to use Korean farmed ingredients so I searched for them for quite a time. That’s when I met the locally-farmed Yuja and fell in love with the scent and the quality. I just had to make a product out of it. The Blue Power Ampoule’s story is similar. It contains organic Opuntia (Korean cactus), which is a native Korean cactus breed that has such wonderful and strong properties. It can survive even in Korea’s coldest weather and has similar properties to ginseng, which has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties.
When I create new products, I don’t necessarily follow a trend but try to find unique ingredients. These days, I am trying to find more Korean-farmed ingredients. Also, when I go through the creation process, I try to find products needed for Urang. For example, currently we don’t have SPF or make-up products, so I am trying my best to make sustainable, safe and Urang-like products.
Which products are currently in rotation for you right now, and how are you using them?
Currently, I am in love with the Yuja Vita Ampoule. You will be overwhelmed when you try it due to its marvelous Yuja scent.
After cleansing with Urang’s Natural Cleaning Oil, I spray the Organic Rose Mist immediately for pH balancing, pat one time, and spray one more time to provide more hydration. Then I immediately apply the True Rose Repair Essence -- this is a mandatory routine for me because it helps improve my skin tone and texture -- and then apply the Yuja Vita Ampoule.
When I create new products, I don’t necessarily follow a trend but try to find unique ingredients.
This is my daily routine nowadays, and according to my skin condition, I apply the Rose Ceramide Cream and finalize my routine with the Brightening Blue Oil Serum. Or, I apply the Brightening Blue Oil Serum individually and go straight to the S.O.S. Multibalm on the whole face.
If someone is new to Urang, which products do you suggest starting with?
For newcomers, I would recommend our signature items: oil serums and our ampoules. I think it is an easy combination because the customer can use them separately but also blend the oil into the ampoules which gives double efficacy and a non-greasy touch.
Or I would recommend a simple Urang routine. 1) Natural Cleansing Oil 2) Organic Rose Mist 3) Rose Ceramide Cream. This combination can never go wrong.
What sets Urang apart from other natural, plant-based K-Beauty brands?
I'm careful to say what sets Urang apart from other natural brands, because every brand has their own kind of pride and ego.
At Urang, we try to put a lot of value and energy into the things that don’t show. For instance, 114 ingredients are used in our total products and we directly source about 90 ingredients (more than 90% of the total) from all over the world to maintain the quality. We are not an ingredients distributor, so we directly source these ingredients in small batches by air (if they come from overseas), which increases the price.
At Urang, we try to put a lot of value and energy into the things that don’t show.
For example, we could have gotten a much cheaper version of the Camellia Sinensis Seed Oil (Green Tea Seed Oil), which is a main ingredient for our star product Brightening Blue Oil Serum, but we use a 7-8x more expensive oil that comes from UK due to the quality. Also, there are many rose water manufacturers out there, but we picked one that provides us pure, one-time distilled organic rose water with about 0.1% of rose oil present in the water, so the price is much more expensive. We choose quality over price.
There is a personal story behind each product, so you can say that we have our own unique style of recipe blending. We don’t rely on the recipes of cosmetics factories. We put a lot of love into our products, the same amount of love we would put in as we would make for our loved ones. Our products are made with music because we believe that all matter has vibe and energy. A product produced in a good environment will undoubtedly affect the person who uses it with positive energy.
Can you share about any new products that are in the works? What is coming up next for Urang?
So many! The 2021 harvested Organic Rose Mist is confirmed to be released in July.
I have so many products that I have been wanting to release. To name a few, there is a Lip Care Balm, sunscreen, a light water-type Cream, Flower Mask, shampoo bar, neck cream, and BB Balm. Nothing is confirmed as of now, because as I've experienced before, it's not easy to release new products into the market. But I hope to release some of them this year. When I think about new products, I get so excited, and I hope it happens soon.
Thank you, Jina! We've loved catching up with you and will be so excited to see what comes next! Shop Urang's full collection of cleansers, oil serums, masks and more here.