Categories: People

Startup Life: Karen Neo on the unexpected success of her brand, June Silk

Nobody said having maskne is a good thing, but Karen Neo might disagree.

On the recommendation of her aesthetic doctor, Neo was looking for silk masks to minimise breakouts, but couldn’t find one that’s affordable. So she went straight to the source – in Suzhou, the silk capital of the world – and made her own.

June Silk launched with just one product – its signature mulberry silk face mask. In just two short months, the e-commerce site sold over 1,000 pieces and has been growing steadily since. An advocate for self-care, Neo soon added silk pillowcases, eye masks and scrunchies into her product range, extending the benefits of the prized fabric to other aspects of home life.

Ahead, the founder shares how her business surpassed expectations and what’s in the pipeline for her brand.

Name: Karen Neo
Profession: Entrepreneur
Industry: Beauty
Startup since: 2020
Company size: 5

Tell us about your business. What do you do and why did you start it?

June Silk began organically. I was looking for silk face masks for myself and my friends as we were struggling with maskne. Since reading about the benefits of silk for the skin, I was eager to get my hands on some. After a few Google searches, I couldn’t find what I wanted. So I expanded my search to silk factories in Suzhou, China and brought in various samples. Friends of friends were interested, co-workers were interested and I started a website! I really thought my customers would only be friends of friends but it grew further than I expected. I realised that I was organically creating a product because I wanted it, and that resonated with a lot of people. There was a gap in the market as most silk brands offered “mature” colourways and premium pricing. I wanted Junk Silk to be a one-stop hub for affordable, on-trend silk goods.

What is the message behind your brand?

June Silk is big on self-care and self-love so we design our products to have skin, hair and overall health benefits. With this extra time we have in our homes, I hope June Silk encourages people to slow down, live in the moment and take care of themselves.

What are you doing on the sustainability front for June Silk?

Generally speaking, silk is considered a more sustainable fibre. It is a renewable, biodegradable resource that uses less water, chemicals and energy than many other fabrics.

June Silk strives to make the ethical choice when it comes to materials. We’re constantly communicating with our suppliers to ensure the silk is being ethically produced, consistently. I do a silk quality test with every sample before proceeding to launch. This includes wearing the product, throwing it in the wash 20 times, being rough with it and adjusting measurements and specifications until I am satisfied. Only when I’m positive that the fabric is perfect, mass production by hand then begins in Suzhou.

Founder Karen Neo

Looking back now, what would you have done differently?

As most people within the textile industry know, silk is not cheap. This was a huge obstacle for June Silk when it first started because I was in no position to purchase silk in bulk. If I had known I’d be selling out, I’d have purchased in bulk to take advantage of price breaks.

Tell me about your best and worst days at work.

One of my mantras is to be consistent. There are good days and bad days, but what’s important is I continue to show up every day, stay motivated, and work hard. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to bring my business to where I want it to be.

I love seeing and interacting with customers and seeing their satisfaction with the products and how it’s changed their hair, skin and sleep quality for the better.

What has been your biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?

Self-doubt. That has been the biggest thing to me. I think it kills more dreams than anything else. How do I learn to trust myself? How do I learn to hear myself and then make the decision to trust it?

I used to make decisions based on consensus and other people’s opinions. I wouldn’t pursue things unless I think they’re not going to fail. But what has worked for me is to connect with others that are going through the same journey so we can support one another.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There’s a saying from Tom Rath, author/employment consulting expert: “You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.” I think this idea about igniting our light again starts with just asking ourselves, “Am I living my life to my fullest?”

For a lot of people, the answer is no. I feel like most people never actually break through barriers of self-doubt and make decisions to become everything that they can be.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

You’ll probably find me at the gym. I love trying new workouts, from barre to spin to boxing to resistance training to reformer pilates. On the weekends, I take long walks without my phone to fully enjoy nature’s beauty. I spend a great deal of time looking at screens during weekdays so it’s nice to have a digital detox every now and then. I’m slowly picking up my reading habit again, too.

As a child, what did you aspire to be?

I’ve always been very creative. I was good at slogans, marketing, ideas and campaigns. So I wanted to be in an advertising, Mad Men-type room coming up with interesting concepts. I remember also wanting to be on TV at some point, so perhaps a host or a news anchor.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?

I’ll most likely be working in a marketing agency. (I turned down two agency roles earlier this year.)

How do you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?

When I first launched June Silk, I described my company as a retail brand, based on the narrative that my company specialises in hand-sewn silk accessories. I had assumed that was what I needed to be as a retail brand owner. But as the brand developed, I realised that we are a marketing company. June Silk owes its success to content creation, SEO, SEM and social media strategies. For the past few years, I’ve been working in digital marketing growing my clients’ business so it’s really rewarding to put my skills and knowledge into my own brand. I’m also proud to have created a community of like-minded people who love our brand and are enthusiastic to share their experiences.

What’s next for your brand?

The goal for June Silk is to be a one-stop-shop for luxurious, ethically sourced silk goods complete with sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging. In the coming months, I’m working to launch a collaboration with a Melbourne illustrator, Alina Cioaga, for a range of silk scarves and robes.

The future is unpredictable, so the focus is pushing current products, expanding production, retaining flexibility and seeing where that leads us in the next year.

Shop here

(All images: June Silk)

Crystal Lee

Prestige Singapore's Digital Editor wonders if she's better with words or numbers. Some days she thinks she's terrible at both. But most of the time, she's pretty good at eating, drinking, admiring beautiful things, and exploring new worlds.

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