When we were first pitched the story of a 23-year-old fresh-out-of-school millennial who had just launched her own not-cheap skincare label (products range from $38 to $62), our first thought was, "How does a 23-year-old have money to start a legit skincare label?" Our second thought was, "Wait, would someone who is only 23 know enough about skincare and anti-ageing and all that to make a product and charge me $62 for it?"
Turns out that Xenia Wong knows plenty, and is serious about her skincare. The soft-spoken, very shy and fair-as-a-maiden girlboss is a hardcore beauty junkie who has been experimenting with products since she was very young, in a bid to deal with her troubled skin, which also burns very easily. She reads up on ingredients, knows what goes into each product, and has taken a six-month course at a make-up and art academy in Korea to learn about make-up and skincare. "Seeing Korean actresses on TV inspired me to go to Korea to learn how to achieve flawless skin," she tells 8 DAYS.
The K-beauty obsession may be skin-deep, but fortunately, Xenia's fixation with creating skincare that really works involves more than just going to a Korean lab, telling them that she wants a cream, then slapping her name on it. Along with her partner, Vanessa Low, Executive Director of Sigi Skin, she took trips to Korea whenever she could (including a graduation trip after she finished her a Marketing degree from NUS) for research. Determined to create products with fewer chemicals, she replaced chemicals with superfood ingredients, then trawled Korean labs until she found one that could make what she wanted — a physical sunscreen (this means no chemical ingredients that can cause allergic reactions) that was hydrating and offered high protection of SPF 50 and can block UVA and UVB rays. She was turned down by at least five labs that told her what she wanted was too difficult, and urged her to just do a half chemical-half physical sunscreen, or to use their pre-set formulas.
"They told me, 'Don't bother making your own formulation,' but I insisted," she smiles. All this research, trips to Korean and lab-trawling must have cost a pretty penny? We ask. "I had substantial investment from my parents," Xenia says. "We started the business with a mid six-digit sum." Before you dismiss her as another rich kid whose parents are indulging her vanity project by handing her at least a large part of half a million bucks (she says the rest is money saved from her allowance and internship pay, with some of Vanessa's savings and cash borrowed from Vanessa's parents), know that she had to present proper business proposals to her mum and dad, show that she's done her research and knows her market and her competitors, convince them about their return of investment, and sign a contract. "I didn't want my parents to give me money, and they expect returns!" she laughs.
Still, lucky her, and she knows it. "If we had worked with investors, they may have set certain conditions or targets, and we'd have to make our products more commercial. With parents, I can tell them we need more time. The family support is really great too."