International Beauty: A look at how Umma is bringing K Beauty startups to the US

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

International Beauty: A look at how Umma is bringing K Beauty startups to the US
Relocating an emerging cosmetics or personal care brand from its comfortable, original market to stores and consumers an ocean away is no doubt challenging. But companies like Umma represent a new generation of beauty distributors, accelerating and investing heavily to help startups reach new markets.

At Cosmoprof North America, Daniella Jung, chief curator at Umma, sat down with Cosmetics Design to discuss how the new distribution platform is discovering, curating, accelerating, and (of course) distributing distinctive K Beauty startups, helping Korean brands gain entry into the US beauty market.

Building a global business

Umma got its start in 2014 as b2link, a sort of tech-forward distribution platform that helped K Beauty brands find a home in the Chinese marketplace, Jung tells Cosmetics Design.

Since then, with the Western interest in K beauty rising, the company has become a venture that identifies compelling and/or innovative emerging Korean skin care and beauty startups, partners with those brands, and accelerates their international expansion.

The brands that Umma works with are “undiscovered” ​and often have “no resources to globalize,” ​explains Jung.

Nurturing a local brand

As Jung explains it, Umma (pronounced ah·mah) is a word used for mother in Korean. And the company specializes in nurturing undiscovered brands. “We want to be their mom,” ​she tells Cosmetics Design.

The company is working with more than 150 brand now, according to Jung, but will be bringing only 10 to the US for Umma's formal debut in the States. The company did a soft launch just over one year ago, according to Jung, but will arrive here in earnest before the end of the year.

Jung tells Cosmetics Design that the pace of beauty innovation in South Korea is swift. There are, she says, more than 5,000 beauty brands in the country and a new K Beauty brand can come to life in as few as 3 months.

Developing regional partnerships

At Cosmoprof North America, Umma had a stylish booth tucked in the corner of the Discover Beauty section—a place where new and unique beauty brands were exhibiting their product portfolios and engaging with buyers, press, and other attendees seeking out trends and innovation.

Jung used the event as an opportunity to connect with buyers and channel partners—department store buyers, big box retailers, etc. Her colleagues at Umma headquarters in Korea have got new brand discovery covered, she explains, saying that their job is to “catch the latest trends and newest brands.”

Sometimes Umma takes exclusive distribution of a brand (an on occasion invests in K Beauty startups), when it seems like a particularly good fit for the US market, Jung tells this publication. But the company’s main revenue comes from channel partners; and that’s what incentivizes her work.

“We want our channel parteners to have a great experience working with us,”​ Jung says, adding that any “sales person can get the first sale, but that a second and third order comes from consumers.”

Which is where Umma’s brand nurturing comes in. The company helps K Beauty startups with market-ready branding, regulatory issues, and marketing;“especially social media marketing like YouTube and Instagram, and [establishing] partnerships with influencers,” ​Jung tells Cosmetics Design. ​Accordingly, in the run up to Umma’s official debut in the States later this year, the company is hiring business development managers and PR talent with regional expertise.  



Deanna Utroske, Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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