HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 2016 WOOOOO!!!!!
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s continue reflecting on the best that 2015 had to offer. The awards I’ll be giving out below are my picks for the best shops in various categories–and my pick for the brand of 2015.
You may notice that my winners overlap pretty closely with my sponsor and partner list. Yes, this list is biased, but not quite in the way one might think. I didn’t pick my Best of 2015 because they’ve sponsored my blog. It’s the other way around. As my blog has grown and my opportunities have increased, I’ve gotten pickier about my partners. I always want to feel confident in whom I talk about and recommend, so what’s happened is this: my Best of 2015 shops and brand are among my sponsors because I wouldn’t have chosen to work with them in the first place if I didn’t think they were the best.
Without any further ado, let’s hand out some more Fiddies!
Affiliate links and referral links are marked with an asterisk(*).
Best K-Beauty Shop (Korea): Jolse
No matter how popular or how commonplace K-beauty becomes outside of Korea, you’ll always get the best selection and the most reasonable prices if you buy from a Korea-based etailer. It just makes sense. And there are plenty of well-stocked and trustworthy Korean etailers to choose from, all with different advantages: some offer significantly lower prices, others are the exclusive sellers of certain brands, and so on.
For the first part of 2015, Jolse was just another of those well-stocked and trustworthy etailers. But in late April, the shop took its game to the next level by engaging cheerfully with customers who were charmed by the “Bae” signature on the Jolse shipping labels. In Korea, “Bae” is just another family name; for Jolse’s international customers, it quickly became shorthand for the shop’s friendly, responsive staff and famously generous sample service.
Of course, those aren’t the only reasons I picked Jolse as the best Korea-based shop of 2015. As a customer, I appreciate their wide variety of brands, products, and price points. I’m also a fan of the way they’ve built standard shipping costs into their prices. I prefer this practice to that of the shops that price everything as low as they can, only to hit you with the kimchi slap of shipping costs at checkout. I’m generally too lazy and mentally drained to fuss with spreadsheets, item weights, shipping tiers, and all the calculations and machinations required to game the shipping system to my advantage. I love knowing what I’ll actually be paying as I shop. And even with standard shipping built in to their prices, I’ve never found Jolse’s prices unreasonable. On top of that, in my extensive experience as a Jolse customer, I’ve never had any issues with order processing speeds (unlike some shops that have been known to take upwards of a month to ship out an order).
Jolse gives me an affordable, fuss-free, and frequently fun shopping experience. That’s exactly what I look for when I shop from Korea, and that’s why I’ve chosen Jolse as the Best Korean K-Beauty Shop of 2015.
Best K-Beauty Shop of 2015 (US): Memebox
There’s a reason I work much more closely with Memebox US* than I do with any other shops, and it has nothing to do with the sacks of sponsorship swag that we bloggers are sometimes assumed to be suffocating under.
I give Memebox US the majority of my attention and my product and box curation ideas (and money) because when I look at K-beauty’s future in the US, I think Memebox is the shop that’s closest to doing it right.
I don’t want AB to remain a novelty to non-Asian audiences, and I don’t want it to be seen primarily as a special-occasion splurge. My entire everyday skincare routine is made up of Asian products, as you know, and that’s where I’d love to see K-beauty end up: in medicine cabinets, on bathroom counters, a normal everyday part of life, one that people stick with for the long term.
The strategy of specialness that many other K-beauty retailers have adopted (often executed as insane markups on mundane items or as narrow selections of interesting but often impractical products) isn’t really conducive to that. For long-term normalization, I’d rather see a shop that offers a wide selection of reasonably priced products that customers already know they want, rather than one that tells its customers what to want.
That’s why my Best US K-Beauty Shop of 2015 is Memebox and why I’ve been happy to partner more closely with Memebox than I have with anyone else. No shop is perfect and Memebox has made its share of missteps, but I think this etailer is around for the long haul, with a lot to offer to the US-based AB audience.
Best New Asian Beauty Shop: Beautibi
It’s not just about Memebox and the Big Three NYC K-beauty shops (Glow Recipe, Peach & Lily, and Soko Glam) anymore, though. Those early leaders paved the way for a cascade of competitors, some of them keeping the scene fresh by bringing over brands unheard-of outside (and sometimes even within) Asia, others peddling tried-and-true brands first pioneered by others. My Best New AB Shop of 2015, Beautibi*, belongs to the first category.
Beautibi’s business is focused on beauty boxes and sheet masks, but not just any sheet masks. The owner, Jennifer, curates a gorgeous selection, many of them from Taiwan, with a focus on beautiful design, unusual ingredients, and local flavor. Every mask I’ve tried from Beautibi, whether purchased, sponsored, or gifted, has been a pleasure to use from the moment I touch the packet to the moment I peel off the mask to marvel at my skin. When shopping domestically, we often pay a premium for the elegant presentation, superior customer service, careful curation, and faster shipping that a typical domestic etailer provides. Sometimes a shop’s products don’t justify the extra cost. With Beautibi, they do.
A mask haul from Jennifer might be more of a splurge than a mask haul straight from Asia, but her wonderful product choices make this shop my new go-to #treatyoself destination. The bag of confetti, comically tiny sample sheet masks, and overall wild sample service that come with Beautibi orders are the finishing touch.
Accidental Entrepreneur of the Year: Holy Snails
This award’s a little different, because it’s for a commercial venture that actually has no direct connection to the Asian cosmetics industry. Rather, it’s one that was inspired by AB products and started by an AB blogger: my good friend Chel, the blogger behind Holy Snails and now the owner and product formulator behind Holy Snails, the store!
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know Chel was a skincare DIYer when we first got to chatting. That’s how humble she was about the things she was whipping up for herself. But when you’re amazing at something, it tends to become known. The Shark Sauce brightening serum she concocted for me became an instant favorite that I’ve been using every day since I got my first bottle. Word spread. Others wanted in on the action. Chel hadn’t had any plans to make skincare for anyone but herself and some friends, but she eventually set up a co-op and then the shop (where those SOLD OUT products demonstrate how well-loved her inventions have already become).
There are a couple of things that make the Holy Snails handmade skincare products so special. The biggest is the fact that I actually trust Chel to make things I put on my face.
Ingredients suppliers don’t ask for credentials before selling customers their vats of sea kelp bioferment and canisters of niacinamide and n-acetylglucosamine. Anyone can buy what they need to make themselves a serum or lotion or any other beauty product. The only barriers to entry in DIY are budget and time. Making things for others to use? That’s a whole different story.
Chel’s degree and professional background are in science. In my opinion, that’s critical. There’s a reason cosmetic chemists are called cosmetic chemists. Making good skincare involves a hell of a lot of chemistry. Not only do you have to understand what each ingredient does (on a deeper level than looking up the ingredient description on a supplier website or in the free abstract of a paywalled research article), but also how it interacts with all the other ingredients in the formulation as a whole, how much of an ingredient is ideal, which ingredients are incompatible, how to put the ingredients together, and–maybe most crucially of all–how to put those ingredients together in a way that is safe for others to use on their faces or bodies. Formulating good skincare involves a long and painstaking development process. Recipes must be tweaked and refined to improve not only effectiveness but also other attributes like texture and smell. Products have to be properly preserved and able to withstand lengthy and rigorous stability testing. Quality has to be consistent from bottle to bottle and batch to batch. I love Chel to death, but I wouldn’t use her products if I didn’t trust her to do all that, and to do it all well. She does.
In the months since my first bottle of Shark Sauce arrived in the mail, Chel’s gone from quietly DIYing for herself and friends, to pretty much instantly selling out of products that rival those from big cosmetics brands. She focuses on known concentrations of proven ingredients, with a remarkable absence of filler. She makes AB-inspired skincare, and the amazing thing about her stuff is that it often works better for me than commercial equivalents. For all those reasons, she’s the Best Accidental Entrepreneur of 2015.
K-Beauty Brand of the Year: COSRX
And now we come to the Fiddy that I’m most excited to hand out: K-Beauty Brand of the Year! It goes to a brand that most of you already know I love: COSRX.
This was definitely the year of COSRX. At the beginning of 2015, the small (and still online-only) brand wasn’t particularly well known, either in Korea or beyond. Word had begun to spread about their acid exfoliants, though. And then something seemed to happen within the company. COSRX originally seemed a very basic, bland, clinical brand, but at some point in 2015, the company was apparently taken over by the best kind of wacky cat people. Mr. RX and COSRX stickers infiltrated the AB community’s consciousness. Then came the sleeping packs, followed with a bang by the low-pH cleanser that proved the company listens to its customers and actually cares about their input.
By the end of 2015, COSRX had developed a distinctive aesthetic, legions of die-hard fans, and a portfolio of consistently excellent products, all showcasing the brand’s dedication to clean and simple ingredients whose results speak for themselves. I use products from many different brands, but there’s no brand that makes me as comfortable to try something new as COSRX. For me, pretty much everything they make is a win. That’s what makes them the K-Beauty Brand of the Year.
And that’s it for the first annual Fiddy’s Choice Awards! Now it’s on to a new year and, I hope, lots of new discoveries, new favorites, and new adventures in K-beauty and skincare.
What were your favorite shops and brands in 2015, and what do you hope to accomplish for your skin in 2016?
© 2015 unless otherwise noted (copyright and sharing policy)