The story begins four years ago, when the debonair duo attended the same event, in the same outfit. We were wearing the same Gucci belt and loafers to the event and just instantly clicked, Jenn Lam, 26, recalls. Two months later, Tawnia [Lai, 23] invited me to Australia to visit her and we’ve been best friends ever since.
From a chance meeting to the best of friendships, the pair took their relationship further in 2017 and became business partners. Both infatuated by the world of beauty and with an eye for business, they founded Woke Up Like This (WULT), a clean beauty brand that promotes self-love and positive energy without hurting the environment.
Watching their beauty-therapist mother experimenting with the latest products and blending her own recipes, Lai and her sister Christal Leung, 34, who today happens to be the biochemist for WULT and her own independent skincare brand Skin Need, had been primed for a career in beauty at a young age. “I remember my mom would scoop out the insides of a watermelon or crack open a raw egg and use it as a face or hair mask,” says one of the sisters, with a laugh.
With a role model who’d try anything in the name of beauty, the girls grew up with a strong guiding figure who encouraged them to follow in her footsteps. So it was a no-brainer that the two sisters would bring their backgrounds in marketing and science together to conquer the beauty business, and in the process pass on the baton to the next generation.
As for Lam, an inuencer in her own right, she’s been dabbling with skincare and cosmetics since YouTube tutorials were everything young girls tirelessly consumed. “I watched a lot of videos of pretty girls doing their own make-up and sharing their philosophy, and that’s what really inspired me to start my own channel,” she says.
Before WULT came to be, the girls looked to social media to find their brand identity. A few years back, the viral tag #WokepLikeThis took over Instagram, with girls posting selfies of their fully made-up faces that sparked Lai and Lam’s own mission to send positive messages to young women around the world.
It hurt us to see so many girls who didn’t truly accept who they really are and falsified beauty by concealing themselves with make-up and filters. We wanted to deliver the message of self-love through our products.
“The same goes for Skin Need,” Leung adds. “It’s often been said that beauty is only skin deep, but for us it means to push beyond the depth of the skin and use our sense of mission and products as a vehicle to celebrate individuality and promote wellness. But ultimately, confidence is what we want to instil a sense of confidence and security is what we wish to empower our users with; it’s the kind of beauty that no one can take away from you.”
Disciples of green beauty, the trio established their brands using sustainability and clean ingredients as their building blocks. Taking a 360-degree approach to developing and creating their products, everything from the manufacturing to packaging is thoughtfully designed to tick all eco-friendly boxes.
“Everything that goes into WULT and Skin Need is vegan-sourced, unlike the petrochemical ingredients from non-renewable sources that most legacy brands use,” explains Leung. “For example, for WULT cosmetics, by adding fruit and plant extracts, we can actually give users the instant gratification and results they look for in colour products, while still being cautious of what we’re doing to the environment and what we’re pumping into our skin.”
“By replacing the usual chemically produced culprits used for beauty manufacturing, both brands are disrupting the industry with their use of alternative raw materials that are organic and meet USP-grade approval. We must emphasise the purity of the materials, because brands out there will claim they’re eco-certified, but in reality the purity of it is so insignificant, because during the production process it’s contaminated with heavy metals in the water,” Leung says.
“Being a beauty influencer,” says Lam, “I’ve had the privilege of trying out a lot of products. But I slowly realised that it’s not about what you put on, but what you put in [your body] that’s real beauty.
How they treat the environment is another key pillar of both brands. Being a smaller brand means that we produce on a different scale and carefully monitor the demands of our clients. We don’t want to overproduce and create unnecessary wastage.”
While both WULT and Skin Need are still in stages of relative infancy, the girls are proud of their accomplishments. “All of our products are our babies,” the co-founders agree. “We’re looking to add more to the WULT arsenal, so keep your eyes peeled for some colour soon,” Lam and Lai hint.
The first to debut for WULT is Lip Dab, which is available in four colours. “We wanted to give Lip Dabs fun names. It was imperative to us to send positive female-empowering messages,” says Lai. “I Got Your Back is my favourite — I can wear it sheer or layer up for more pigmentation.”
Then there’s the Sunfluff trinity, three products for those who despise the sticky feeling of sunscreen. WULT’s formula is a silky liquid potion that provides a barrier against , but doubles as a part-serum/part-moisturiser concoction that filters impurities while that tones, balances and calms the skin simultaneously.
“We came up with this concept as an answer to our environment. Hong Kong’s hot and humid climate makes thick skincare uncomfortable to wear and can even cause breakouts,” says Lam. “WULT is for Hong Kong girls by Hong Kong girls.”
The formulations are also a response to the one-size-fits-all skincare approach. “Hong Kong is our home. By birth, it’s an important market because it’s a place that we and the people we know can relate to,” Lai adds.
Similarly, Skin Need has developed its own variety of unique products. “Contrary to the common market strategy of creating a ‘hero’ product, our Skin Need range offers more than 40% carefully formulated products that allow users to mix, match and blend, based on their skin condition,” explains Leung. “We’ve devised a system as simple and direct as possible, and with three essential items the user is able to adjust texture and function to meet varying needs.”
For WULT, giving back to the community is just as essential as saving the planet. The most recent product to join the WULT family is the Better Together P’Lessed Lip Oil — a waterless, natural, anti-oxidising lip repair — that Lam and Lai have chosen for their collaboration with non-profit organisations such as Make a Wish Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Cancer Fund. “We’d love to do more to give back to our home. And this is one of the most direct ways we can show love to our city.”
Meanwhile, Leung’s heart is set on fostering young female talent and thus has joined the Entrepreneur’s Organisation Hong Kong, a network for businessmen and women with a thirst for learning and who are eager to make a mark in their respective industries – which has given her the opportunities and peer support support to build Skin Need. “I believe together we can create a flourishing garden of beauty potions where everyone can find something that aligns with their own version of beauty,” she says.
These two emerging indie beauty brands, Woke Up Like This and Skin Need, are a result of three young Hong Kong dreamers. Beyond cosmetics and skincare businesses, Lam, Lai and Leung have worked towards the city’s – and their own generation’s — first steps in encapsulating the core values of modern women in beauty, as well as sustainability, health, wellness, friendship, self-love, girl power and philanthropy.