The founder of clean skincare brand Rooki Beauty, Hayley Teo, is hardly a skincare rookie. At least, not now, as the “mother hen” of an eight-month-old label that’s growing fast. That twinkle in her eye when she speaks of superfoods, the stars of her brand, says it all. And we’re not talking about just any superfoods — the 28-year-old is keen to explore the use of underrated Asian superfoods in skincare, which she feels is best represented by an Asian brand.
ELLE Singapore: What exactly are Asian superfoods?
Hayley Teo: Superfoods are ingredients with high levels of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and vitamins. When used in skincare, they’re able to protect the skin by neutralising environmental stressors while boosting collagen potential. We know of Western superfoods better, like acai and kale because they’re well-marketed. There is actually so much untapped potential when it comes to Asian superfoods that are so rich in skincare benefits. In my new serums, I’ve sourced for seaweed from the coastlines of Japan, peaches from the Yamanashi Prefecture, and Chardonnay grapes from an award-winning vineyard in Nagano.
You’re very well-versed in Japanese skincare ingredients.
That’s because all our products are formulated in Japan. The lab we work with is more than 60 years old, and has a rich history of producing high-end Japanese skincare products. Japan is a country with strong beauty principles, and there, they prioritise having superfood ingredients as the heart of our formulas, instead of being treated as add-ons.
Everyone wants to be an expert in this field. How did you come to name your brand Rooki Beauty?
The name Rooki only came to me after the thrill of leaving my first job waned. I was putting in long hours at an ad agency, but struggled with finding meaning in my work. I wanted to do more — so I set out to create my own clean skincare line. Rooki is actually a pretty accurate reflection of how I felt when I first started; I was a total rookie who knew nothing about starting a business, and I was an outsider to the beauty industry. Naming my brand Rooki felt like a fun, slightly subversive choice, but a truthful one. There’s no shame in being a rookie. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Why did you choose to venture into skincare?
Having my own skincare line allows me to address my own pain points since I have sensitive skin that get inflamed easily. I guess, helping women with the same skin problems (as myself) is extremely satisfying, because I can relate to how your skin looks can have a huge impact on your self-esteem. Plus, I love the science behind skincare. It’s nice to have a front row seat the latest development in skincare — I recently visited a lab in Japan that focuses on fermentation; that made me feel like a kid in a candy store.
It’s all about looking and feeling great these days. What do you think has changed in the beauty business?
The business of beauty today is very different from that of our mothers’ generation. Consumers now care more about the psychological aspects of beauty, more than [the] superficial aspects. When you help someone with their skin [problem], the psychological change you see in them can be very rewarding, people with troubled skin tend to have an adversarial relationship with it. It’s almost as though you’ve helped them lift their emotional burden. That is something that really inspires and drives me.
What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I think the hardest part about building a business is that, you’ll feel like you’re going into it blind. In our early days, even getting the right people to come on board was a challenge. I knocked on lots of doors and got turned down more times than I can count. It took me months and endless convincing before I had my first formulator working with me. Then, countless revisions, and trial-and-error before I settled on my first formula. Even shipping skincare globally — which in theory, seemed easy — proved to be a logistical challenge.
How do you convince people to come on board with your brand?
Brand awareness is something that we struggle with. Even with the right formulas, it’s so easy to get overlooked since consumers have lots of choices, and a short attention span. We started off with a capsule collection of easy-to-use products, and built on that. The majority of our products, like the Green Pulp Paste Masque, and our serums, can be seamlessly added to an existing skincare routine. Consumers today are also very versed about what goes into their products, and these people tend to be some of our best advocates.
What’s the most rewarding moment in these eight months of business?
I finally got to see the brand being stocked in a retail outlet at Design Orchard, and I’m so immensely proud of that. But at the end of the day, it’s knowing that Rooki Beauty has transformed our customers’ skins for the better that makes doing this feel so meaningful and tangible.
Hayley Teo is featured as one of our Beauty Game Changers in the March 2020 issue of ELLE Singapore. Pick up your copy at selected newsstands and bookstores today.