Cecily Pan: “Confidence is the key! When you’re confident in yourself, you will feel the beauty shines through from within”

Embrace the passion for sharing — Only make the products that you want to use and share with people you love. Customers can feel your authenticity. I often tell my team that we are not trying to ‘sell’ things, we are simply sharing products we ourselves genuinely love and that are good for our planet […]

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Embrace the passion for sharing — Only make the products that you want to use and share with people you love. Customers can feel your authenticity. I often tell my team that we are not trying to ‘sell’ things, we are simply sharing products we ourselves genuinely love and that are good for our planet and our health. A lot of people would claim their products to be the best, but very few of them can actually convince customers to choose them over others. I think the key lies in whether they have a tremendous amount of passion in sharing their products with the world.

Asa part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cecily Pan.

Cecily Pan is the co-founder of Inna Organic, a Taiwanese premium clean beauty skincare brand that sells across Asia, Europe and the U.S. She is a serial entrepreneur and plays an active role in the Taiwan startup and e-commerce arena, serving in the executive committee in SLP Taipei (Startup Leadership Program) and speaking in prestige organizations such as Facebook Taiwan (Shemeansbusiness forum), Girls in Tech Taiwan, and Women Startup Salon host by the Taiwanese government.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In2012, my first born was diagnosed with severe atopic dermatitis, a chronic form of eczema characterized by itchy rashes and painful dry, cracked skin. As a new mother, it absolutely tore me apart to see him experience painful reactions to so-called “gentle” cleansers and lotions.

I tried everything available on the market — big brands, small brands, local brands, international brands — nothing worked and many actually made his condition worse. At the same time, I also noticed many of my friends having to say “no” to sheet masks due to the allergic reactions triggered by the masks they tried — even though they love masking. That’s when I began researching skincare, and I was shocked by the widespread use of unhealthy chemicals and preservatives in the industry and their harmful effects on the body and the environment. So, I teamed up with Jimmy Wang, a chemist and organic advocate, to co-found Inna Organic.

We wanted to create skincare solutions potent and efficacious enough to satisfy me and my friends, yet gentle and safe enough for those with the most sensitive skin, like my kids.

Not only do we want our products to be organic, we also emphasize on using only ingredients that are safe for our bodies and the environment. That’s why we insist our products to be certified by COSMOS AND verified by EWG (Environmental Working Group), even though this increases the difficulty and cost of product development immensely.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

We started our brand with face sheet masks because we saw a white space in the market. At that time, an organic face sheet mask was never heard of. The international face sheet mask market was dominated by brands that were engaged in a cut-throat price war. Cost was the industry language. Under that market ambience, it was a struggle to find a manufacturing partner that was willing and capable to comply with the high standards regulated by EWG and COSMOS that we were committed to.

After vetting more than 20 factories, we finally landed on one who promised to comply with all our requirements. Little did we know that sometimes being too trusting can lead to catastrophe. Our first mass production was a total disaster and during the internal product try-out, one of our team members had a skin reaction to the mask. We decided to destroy the whole batch despite being passed by the standard QC from the factory. As a start up without much funding, it was a huge blow.

To make the process more “enjoyable” we hosted a “mask terminator party”. My co-founder Jimmy and I scissored the whole batch while masking ourselves during the party. We even made a video as a souvenir for ourselves. Looking back, it was a good laugh and definitely a story to pass on. Needless to say that we stopped the collaboration with that factory immediately.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

From the start, we knew the power of influencer marketing. We scouted this well-know influencer who wrote about EWG and invited her to review our masks in hope to bring more awareness to the importance of safe ingredients. Unlike the conventional influencers, she requested to test the masks for three months and would share nothing but the truth. The result proved to be a game changer for the brand. Not only did she approve of our products, she genuinely fell in love with it. Her article brought us the sales that allowed us to breakeven within three months after launch at the same time attracted our first batch of loyal fans.

Interestingly, nobody supported the idea of certified-organic sheet masks when we founded Inna Organic. So, if there were any takeaways from this story, that would be to insist on doing what you think is right, even if others don’t see it yet.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are too many! Let’s take our manufacturing partner for example. There are more than 1,000 professional skincare manufacturers in Taiwan and a lot of them have worked with world-renowned brands. But, before the inception of Inna Organic, none of them had tried making organic sheet masks, let alone giving up on the chemical preservatives they commonly use in the industry. We are grateful to work with our current manufacturing partner, who shares the same vision and high standard with us. Together, we made the impossible possible including adapting the first natural preservative systems in a face sheet mask.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

First of all, we are the first in the world to make certified-organic face sheet masks. We are also the first that applies organic acid preservative systems on sheet masks. Recently, we also released our first hair product line that is designed to transform people’s negative impression on organic shampoos — our shampoos foam easily and nicely and don’t strip the moisture of your scalp and hair!

As a brand, not only do we provide environmentally-friendly and health-friendly products, we also want to bring positive energy to our customers through our brand. By changing the minutiae of everyday life gradually, we can achieve our better self and a better future for the next generation. We wish our customers to ‘glow from within’. And we believe it starts with making more conscious choices when shopping for beauty products.

During pandemics, many people are stressed, anxious or having trouble sleeping. As a brand that advocates physical and mental health, we wish to become a source of wellness, helping customers to keep their peace of mind and, eventually, glow from within as their true selves.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

Green products have been a trend in the modern beauty industry. As someone who works in the green industry, this is very exciting. I’m also excited that Inna Organic has become the brand that represents organic skincare in Taiwan, leading more people to make conscious choices when shopping for skincare products. Now, we pay more attention to the ingredients in skincare products. We see that customers don’t just stop at price and efficacy when it comes to skincare. They also care about the environment and society.

With more customers choosing certified-organic products, the whole industry will move toward a more eco-friendly direction. There will be more manufacturers and brands that are willing to invest in protecting the environment.

For example, COSMOS just renewed its regulation last year that all palm oil used in COSMOS-certified products must be RSPO approved. This is a huge deal! Because palm oil is widely used in cosmetics, this change of regulation is undoubtedly a big step forward and a wake-up call in the beauty industry.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

It’s great that the industry is more aware of environmental issues and the ingredients used in products. However, I am very concerned that some brands might take advantage of this trend and ‘greenwash’ their products. In Asia, there are a lot of brands that claim to be organic even if they only use very tiny amounts of organic ingredients in their products — let alone being certified-organic. I’m also concerned of misleading claims on eco-friendly products and packages. Biomass packaging is trending but it is easy to break. As a result, it is often mixed with traditional plastic. This makes the whole package un-recyclable and it loses the meaning of being biodegradable at the same time.

If I could implement 3 ways to improve the industry, they will be:

  1. Instead of free paper boxes and bags, implement a user-pays policy (We have started with our gift box.)

2. Offer a package recycle program or up-cycle tips (We have held workshops to teach our consumers how to make organic candles using our cream jar for example.)

3. Educate consumers to avoid being fooled by the green wash tricks.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

Confidence is the key! When you’re confident in yourself, you will feel the beauty shines through from within. I myself and most of our coworkers rarely wear makeup to work. I think using natural, organic skincare with potent ingredients has definitely increased our confidence in our skin condition.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

1. Embrace the passion for sharing

Only make the products that you want to use and share with people you love. Customers can feel your authenticity. I often tell my team that we are not trying to ‘sell’ things, we are simply sharing products we ourselves genuinely love and that are good for our planet and our health. A lot of people would claim their products to be the best, but very few of them can actually convince customers to choose them over others. I think the key lies in whether they have a tremendous amount of passion in sharing their products with the world.

2. Being truthful to customers.

Maybe because I myself have been a customer, I find myself numb to marketing gimmicks such as celebrity endorsement. I chose to communicate with our customers in a genuine way: explain to them why we develop a certain product, why we chose a certain ingredient, etc. This way, I realized that there are many customers out there who are just like me — who purchase rationally and examine the products attentively. Most importantly, many of them are knowledgeable about ingredients too! Sometimes, it’s hard for natural or organic skincare to be as texture-pleasant as its conventional counterparts. But with truthful explanation, customers can understand the meaning behind this little inconvenience, which is a more eco-friendly, more health-friendly option.

3. Don’t leave the aesthetics aside!

We prioritize the ingredients used in our products, but our brand aesthetic is also very important to us. After all, we want our products to create the time and space for our customers to rewind and reconnect with themselves. So, it’s important that they are not an eyesore for customers to use on a daily basis. We’ve always been working on how to keep our products eco-friendly yet beautiful.

4. Give back to the society

I often tell my team, “No one would buy our products simply because we support NGOs or are eco-friendly. After all, it all comes down to product efficacy.” Nonetheless, giving back to society has always been at the heart of Inna Organic since founding. We are the first Asian skincare company to join the 1% Pledge and donate 1% of our annual revenue to childhood education in rural communities. I am grateful that our customers get to know and connect with some of the most pressing social issues through our CSR projects. This has made my entrepreneur journey much more meaningful.

5. Spread positivity

The potential of brand power is numerous. We don’t just want to make great products. We want to contribute to a great life by modeling a positive outlook for our customers. Life is full of ups and downs. While the support of family and friends is essential, we, as a brand can also be a force of positivity through carefully crafted brand experiences and interactions. Our relationship with customers is beyond transactional — we become friends and allies. I’ve always been a positive person that shares my positive outlook in life with my friends. I also wish to extend this influence onto our customers and shape a better version of “us” together.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would say Conscious Beauty. It reflects in our brand philosophy: “Glow from Within. Clean Beauty. Clean Conscious.” Conscious Beauty doesn’t mean doing yoga or meditation while having a mask on! It means being mindful about every choice we make when taking care of ourselves.

When you choose Inna Organic, you are also choosing a healthier planet. You can have total peace of mind our brand has zero tolerance for toxic chemicals on our skin or in the ecosystem, and we never test on animals.

On top of that, we have been educating our customers that choosing organic and clean skincare is a lifestyle — a lifestyle that allows us to live in harmony with nature. Skincare isn’t just skin deep. It can have a tremendous impact on your personal health and the environment. It’s been a challenging task to shift the traditional mindset and convince customers to choose organic lifestyles and clean beauty. But, it’s also exciting to see more consumers resonate with us and our fan base growing rapidly over time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The French proverb — “Ce n’est pas possible, m’écrivez-vous; cela n’est pas français” — really resonates with me. The best English equivalent to that is, “There’s no such word as can’t” (the word impossible doesn’t exist in French). This might sound quite naive because there are always going to be setbacks and challenges in life, but I remind myself not to let this thought bother me. Instead of “Oh my god, this is going to be really hard”, I replace that thought with “How am I going to overcome this?”. Here’s a little story on how the mindset of “I will overcome this” helped me get over the anxiety of failures.

During the first few years of Inna Organic, the stress of raising two kids without stable income and the peer pressure from comparing myself to others’ success often made me doubt myself. But then, I chose to focus on my own journey, and that made me realize how meaningful Inna Organic was to me, to the environment and to the society. I became proud of myself for starting my entrepreneur journey and that tremendously boosted my confidence in facing setbacks and failures.

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