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Koreans Don’t Actually Like Tony Moly

Beauty

So why is it so popular in America?

Dayoung Bak, a 24-year-old, tattoo-dappled, platinum blonde makeup artist, can’t believe Tony Moly is in Sephora.

“This is the cheapest brand in Korea,” Bak tells me in a cafe near Hongdae, a hip neighborhood in Seoul. Even though Bak doesn’t like to spend too much money on her skin care, she still steers clear of Tony Moly. 

Such is the sentiment of most Koreans past puberty. Tony Moly is one of the most name-dropped Korean brands on U.S. beauty magazines and blogs, but the situation is totally different in Tony Moly’s country of origin. 

You would be hard-pressed to see Tony Moly on any Korean YouTube beauty channel. According to Korean online beauty community Powderroom and Korean beauty magazine Beauty Talk, the top-selling products at Korean drugstores and departments stores tend to be brands like Mamonde, CNP, and Hanyul, or Western favorites like M.A.C, Nars, or Yves Saint Laurent. In fact, Tony Moly’s popularity is so low in its home country that Euromonitor, a leading provider of market research, couldn’t quantitatively specify its share of the Korean beauty and personal care industry. 

When I mention Tony Moly to my close friend, a 27-year-old Seoulite who is wont to spending her evenings watching beauty YouTube channels, she sneers: “That brand is so dorky.” 

Not everyone feels that way, though: Korean-American YouTuber Joan Kim, who lives in Seoul, tells me Tony Moly is popular—but for the much younger crowd. Even her college-aged cousin wouldn’t touch it.

Coco Park, who runs The Beauty Wolf blog and lives in Montréal, was more blunt: “Their sheet masks are trash.”

It’s mysterious, then, how this brand became the first to be featured under the K-beauty trend at Sephora and Urban Outfitters and is now sold at upscale retailers across America. 

K-Beauty’s Beginnings in the U.S.

Practically every retailer with a beauty section, from CVS to Bergdorf Goodman, has a K-beauty section today. The drive for that began in 2012 or 2013, according to K-beauty consultant Ju Rhyu. “K-beauty was getting a lot of media play and press airtime,” said Rhyu, who owns K-beauty consultancy Inside the Raum, in an interview.

At this time, K-beauty was totally novel. Retailers were charged with educating people on how to use sheet masks and why their beauty routine ought to be more than just wiping makeup remover pads all over their mugs. “There wasn't much awareness about Korean beauty, so it was talking about what Korean beauty was all about,” said Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily, an e-commerce website that curates Korean beauty brands.

Much of that marketing and media coverage concerning K-beauty focused on its unique design, innovative formulations, and appealing packaging. It often bordered on what Park calls “othering and mystic exoticism.” There’s frequent oohing and aahing over “weird” or “gross” ingredients, like snail mucin and donkey milk, and squeals about how it’s so darn cute! Those expectations from the American audience positioned Tony Moly as an ideal brand to feature. 

But Why Tony Moly? 

Tony Moly, with its banana-packaged hand cream, donkey milk face cleanser, and all-snail everything, fit what retailers were looking for. (Urban Outfitters did not respond to requests for an interview. Sephora declined to comment.)

Alice H. Hyun, vice president of operations for Tony Moly USA, didn’t address why Tony Moly targeted the U.S. market several years ago, but she said American consumers associate the brand’s unique aesthetics as being typical of a Korean beauty brand. “We believe the brand's widespread demand has been part of setting the tone to what Americans now understand as ‘K-beauty’—fun, innovative skin-care products at an affordable price point,” Hyun wrote in an email.

“Tony Moly is so unique and new and different,” Rhyu said. “It’s nothing like the other products Americans have seen before. The fact that it’s a Korean product gives it a sort of exoticism, I suppose. Cultural differences can make an unknown product big in a different country.”

There’s also the fact that Tony Moly, and the dozens of other K-beauty brands you’ve seen in the past few years, didn’t make the leap to American retailers simply because of their high quality. Jude Chao, editor of W2Beauty, explained to me that if you’re a brand who signs up to be with a certain retailer, that retailer might demand to be the only store who can sell your product. They might want to market it in a different way than you imagined. And they might want to sell your entire line, or just a few products.

Often, the Korean products that appear online or on department store counters are not necessarily there because they’re the highest quality. “It comes down to business decisions in the end,” Chao said—and friendly marketability in an ultra-crowded market.

Red Wine, Avocado, Broccoli… for Your Face

Tony Moly’s “I’m Real” masks were perhaps how most American women were introduced to sheet masks. You know them well by now—the brand’s bright packaging advertising natural products like avocado, tomato, or aloe is ubiquitous. The product debuted in 2015 on the shelves of Sephora and Urban Outfitters, and have since moved into Macy’s and Ulta. (Sephora has apparently removed them since then.) They sell for 89 cents each in Korea, according to Tony Moly’s Korean website, but Ulta sells them for $3.75.

“Nobody knows that, in Korea, Tony Moly is like CoverGirl,” Park said. “It has the reputation a low-end drugstore brand would have here in the States. It was like when a really unpopular person transfers high schools, and then they come in and can be the cool kid.”

It seems that, despite the deluge of better products that have arrived Stateside since 2015, Tony Moly is here to stay. This year, British Vogue named “I’m Real” one of Earth’s best sheet masks, and Refinery29PopsugarMarie ClaireInStyle, and Bustle have also recently paid their respects. There are more than 10,000 reviews of the sheet masks on English-language YouTube, compared to just 2,500 reviews for Dr. Jart’s sheet masks, 1,800 for Mizon’s, and 8,800 for Etude House’s. Hyun of Tony Moly told me that the brand is one of the top-sellers at Ulta and is “rapidly growing at Macy's as well as other retail partners.”

“There’s always a market for people’s ignorance about skin care,” Park said. 

Still, Park and her fellow K-beauty adherents are overjoyed to see other long-loved products trickle into the mainstream consciousness. “If someone is super-happy with the K-beauty they get from Sephora, and those brands get to stay, that’s a good thing,” Chao said. “At the end of the day, it’s crazy to see how the beauty industry of one pretty small country has had a global effect.”

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

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Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.


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