Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
If you haven't heard of Cocokind before, let me fill you in. The conscious skincare brand is changing the relationship between a company and the consumer by dispelling the murky waters that can exist between the two. Behind the brand is a dedicated team led by founder Priscilla Tsai, whose personal relationship with beauty inspired her to change the industry from within. Over the past seven years, Tsai has built a cult community that has rallied behind her mission to increase transparency in skincare. Ahead, Priscilla discusses Cocokind's unique positioning, her day-to-day duties as a beauty founder, and so much more.
Tell us about your background.
It certainly wouldn’t be the most conventional. I grew up in Michigan, and I went to school for finance. Then, I worked in finance in New York for a couple of years after school. I always struggled with my skin personally and had a lot of acne and sensitivities. However, during this time, I was on both internal and topical medication. Because of this (and not using the right product strength on my skin), my skin increased in sensitivity. I even had to put moisturizer on in the dark because my face would sting so badly. I then would cover it up with foundation and rinse and repeat this cycle every day.
How did this then grow into your idea for the brand?
So, I grew up with a mom who is a small business owner, and I always wanted to start a business but never thought it would be skincare because it was my biggest insecurity. I felt compelled to do so when I started researching what ingredients I was using, what I was paying for (the packaging that we are paying for), and the beauty industry's contribution to waste. The aspirational marketing that was still so omnipresent in beauty was making me feel so alone. I didn't like it, so I convinced myself that I could be the behind-the-scenes person for this, this product, and this brand.
What was it about the traditional approaches to skincare that you disagreed with? What did you want to change?
A couple of things—one is the burden of ingredient education being left to the consumer to find out. That is something we are trying to change and lead with. We recently put our formulas on the boxes and strive to explain things like emulsifiers and preservatives constantly. It is so important that we educate. I also don’t want to be a part of the disparity of pricing and lack of transparency. Consumers are paying for fancy packaging and branding and are still left digging for all the information. We also pride ourselves on the relationship we have with our community. It’s not about telling you what products to use or what steps you need to have in your routine. It’s about showcasing comfortability and confidence in your skin. We want you to realize you’re not alone when it comes to your skin and remove the exclusivity around skincare.
Tell us more about your sustainable approaches.
Ah, being sustainable is so hard to define today but, for us, it’s about continuous work and education. You can have sustainable packaging, but you're back to square one if your consumer doesn’t know how to recycle it properly. It’s also about understanding that while glass may have a lower carbon footprint than plastic, it’s heavier, so it causes a lot of carbon emissions when transporting it. We are very open to changing and adapting our philosophy as a brand. It's pivotal in this climate, and that’s our goal—to constantly improve our supply chain and sustain our sustainable efforts.
How does Cocokind differ from other skincare brands on the market?
Our community. Many people throw that word around as a marketing tool, but we have a community that we feel truly understands us because we put so much out there. Yes, we do that knowing we stand to get criticism, but there’s more education that we feel we need to be responsible for. People recognize authenticity, and we do that.
What are your day-to-day duties as a founder?
My day-to-day is different every single day, and some moments are more hectic than others. I often switch gears from one subject or department to the other. My day is often filled with back-to-back meetings either with my team or externally.
Could you share the most rewarding and most challenging part of your experience so far?
The most rewarding would be our social media. It was only two and a half years ago that I stopped responding to every single comment and DM! I love seeing the community converse and interact. If it weren’t for social media, we wouldn’t be here today. The most challenging? Every day, there is some problem, either with something on the website, product selling out, or working with third parties. It looks super glamorous on the outside, but it really is this coordination and organization of an insane number of details.
Is there a Cocokind project you're most proud of?
I'm proud of our efforts around our updated packaging. We updated our formula facts and our sustainability facts. I think it's unique and innovative. We continue to be a brand that is on the consumer’s side, and we like to put our money where our mouth is. It’s something everyone on our team is proud of.
What is your mission in the industry?
Our mission is to challenge the status quo in the beauty industry, and that really takes form in so many ways. Whether it’s the product, pricing, marketing, or being an anti-marketing beauty brand, we aim to lift the curtain and share behind the scenes.
What has it been like navigating this past year?
I think it's been an incredible year of change, learning, growth, and vulnerability. Starting with the Black Lives Matter Movement and being reflective and questioning how to create true change. Then, dealing with a pandemic and being pregnant the whole time. It was a crazy time with huge shifts in the company, going from the office to working remotely. Then, being Asian American and witnessing the racism [against our community]. I began reflecting on embracing my heritage and realizing how out of place I felt and my struggle to constantly try to fit in. It all increased my consciousness and surfaced a lot of feelings I hadn’t known before.
How would you say your heritage has inspired or influenced your approach to beauty and wellness?
So many of Cocokind's ingredients are Asian-inspired ingredients. But personally, a significant amount of the steps in my routine are inspired by my culture. Being super aware of the sun, applying SPF, and nourishing my skin are things I learned at such a young age. Cultural traditions such as understanding barrier protection are also passed down through Cocokind.
What do you wish the industry and world would do to increase equality and fairness in the AAPI community?
The biggest thing is recognition and giving credit where credit is due. It’s also about realizing Asian culture is not monolithic, and we’re not all the same. Don't just recognize us as Asians but Asian Americans too. We also deserve a seat at the table.
What does beauty mean to you?
It's about celebrating everybody as individuals and not having a monolithic approach to anything as we all are unique. We are all individuals, and all our experiences ultimately contribute to how each one of us defines our own beauty. It should be defined by yourself for yourself.
What are your favorite products from the Cocokind range?
It’s hard to choose, but the product I use every day and can’t be without is my Matcha Moisture Stick ($9). Even when I was in labor, I had to tell my husband if we forgot it; he would have to head back home and worry about getting into the delivery room later. I love our Daily SPF ($24) and recently launched products—the Probiotic Acne Serum ($18) and Ceramide Barrier Serum ($20).