In Conversation with Chloe Kwak of 107
Describe your business in a few words?
107 is a carefully crafted line of skincare products combining artisanal tradition with modern innovation, centered around a unique and special core ingredient: aged vinegar. We integrate our exclusive 7-year aged vinegar with other proven, synergistic ingredients to create clean formulations that are gentle, but effective.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
For a long time, I personally dealt with eczema and numerous health issues. I tried battling it with different remedies, including boiled onion water. I took advice from everyone who would give me one, but nothing worked until I met Seyong Shin who is a co-founder of 107. He introduced me to the amazing inner and outer wellness benefits of his family’s proprietary aged vinegar. Within days of drinking the vinegar and applying it to my eczema, my skin started to heal, and within another week or so, my eczema was completely gone. Needless to say, I became obsessed with the vinegars Seyong and his family produced. The more I learned about them, the more obsessed I became. Their vinegars were all handmade using 100% natural, peak-harvested ingredients, including 3 types of rice and up to 21 different Asian herbs and local ingredients. They used centuries-old secret recipes and methods derived from traditional Asian medicine remedies – secrets that had been passed down for 36 generations within Seyong’s family. Their vinegars were brewed only once per year, then aged and cared for like the finest of wines – tended to every day, all by hand, for up to 30 years. There was no other vinegar like it, and I knew I had to figure out a way to share it with the rest of the world. And that’s how Seyong and I came to start 107. From then I took a holistic approach to my wellbeing and focused de-stressing my skin and my life in general.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I’ve worked in the global cosmetic industry for a little over 15 years especially in the travel retail sector. I’m also a Certified National Aesthetician in Korea because I suffered from severe eczema and I wanted to learn more about my skin.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, I majored in Fine Art when I was in college. I thought I would be a curator for a gallery.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first launched our brand, I approached skincare influencers and built a strong relationship with them. Not just about the product but overall wellness. They have been promoting and spreading the word throughout their social media channels. And they have become our valuable customers as well. I highly value authenticity and genuine relationships with our supporters.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Yes! We always learn most from our mistakes. When I first started the business, I wanted to execute all different types of marketing, so when someone approached me, I just agreed without being well prepared. As a result, our messaging was not focused. Now, I always coordinate with our internal teams to ensure that we are utilizing our core message in all areas of our marketing channels.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m most proud of building special relationships with our customers! We are still in a process of building community where we can talk about holistic beauty including both inner and outer wellness. We highly value and support each other’s opinion.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
My go-to interview question is where do you see yourself in 3 years. From my experience I love working with people who would like to learn and challenge themselves even if they make mistakes. Like your previous question above, we do learn from our mistakes. But you’ll never find out what you have done wrong if you don’t make any movements.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 has created stress for many business owners, including myself. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our rebranding process took longer than what we expected. We were supposed to launch 2020 Spring, but it got shifted to 2020 Fall. Most of the manufacturing companies wanted to focus on making sanitizer containers rather than cosmetic containers, which we understood at the time.
Also, we couldn’t meet our customers in person. We usually create in-person experiences every year, similar to a high school reunion. Due to COVID-19, we had to do everything online. It was a learning process and it wasn’t easy but I was very thankful that everyone stayed healthy.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are always innovating on the past for the future. Our lab team is improving and discovering new things every day. Our current product line-up is focused on foundational essentials, like hydration and nourishment. Our product roadmap is predominantly focused on high-performance efficacy products. We are also hoping to improve our ‘green’ initiatives (more sustainable packaging/materials, waste-free, etc.) as well as philanthropic initiatives.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Balancing! We went through so much in 2020 and we did it! We just need to balance our life for any current given situation. We just need to accept what we have at this moment and find different ways to balance our life.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I knew how to ask for help. I tried to do everything by myself because I was afraid to ask. I worried that I would bother them for asking them too much. Now I’m asking for their help and opinions and have specialists in each department in our company.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
We started small and we still think we are a young company. We step back and try to understand what our customers/supporters really need and to listen to the market. It really helps to open my mind and to keep improving.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Absolutely! I created my office space to feel very cozy, so I am comfortable which helps me to focus more. I start my day early at work because I tend to focus better in the morning.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I sharpen my pencil and write most things with a pencil.
(my pencil shows my stress level as well ^^)
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Set your list of goals of the day and clear it out!
- Smile/laugh as much as you can!
- As you speak, listen carefully as well.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means to give inspiration to other women who want to join the adventure of being an entrepreneur.