Recently, makeup industry legend Toni Ko hosted a dinner at La Mercerie in Soho to celebrate Jason Wu Beauty’s new Tinted Moisturizer Meets CC Cream. The fashion designer’s brand sits within Toni’s brand incubator Bespoke Beauty Brands, one of four she has helped nurture and deliver to the masses since she founded it in 2019. Here, Beauty News dishes on Toni’s career after creating, operating, and selling NYX Cosmetics to L’Oréal in 2014, the art of selecting brands for her incubator, and delivering accessible beauty.
During an intimate Soho dinner held at French restaurant La Mercerie last week, beauty industry entrepreneur Toni Ko and fashion designer Jason Wu unveiled to beauty editors and influencers Jason’s new Tinted Moisturizer Meets CC Cream. The fashion designer discussed how the financial disparity between luxe beauty and what the average consumer could spend pushed him to create products that were accessible to the masses without sacrificing quality. Toni, whose experience lies in approachable beauty brands, was prompted to ask, “Why can’t we bring luxury to the aisles of mass beauty retailers?”
In January 2021, Jason Wu Beauty launched and today it’s sold in Target and JCPenney stores across the U.S. This year the line will expand to Canada’s Shoppers Drug Mart.
Toni made her name by creating beauty brands with accessible price points. In 1999, Toni founded NYX Cosmetics with a lip liner, 807 Cocoa, priced at $2. Within a year, the brand generated $4,000,000 in retail sales.
Aside from creating quality products approachable to a mass market, Toni was also ahead of her time when it came to creating social media campaigns and interacting with beauty vloggers/influencers to effectively promote her brand. For example, NYX Cosmetics launched the Freedom and Artistry for Creative Expression (FACE) Awards in 2011, a contest where beauty vloggers compete against one another for artistry recognition and cash prizes.
In 2014, Toni sold the company for a reported $400 million to L’Oréal. Once her five-year non-compete clause expired, Toni went full speed ahead with the creation of Bespoke Beauty Brands (BBB).
BBB currently operates four companies under its umbrella: Jason Wu Beauty, KimChi Chic Beauty, Liane V Beauty, and Mai Johnson & Company. When looking for brands to invest in, Toni takes a different approach than the average brand incubator.
“One thing that my company does is we don’t build the product first, then go look for a talent/influencer to tie their name to the product. We meet the person first and then we build the products for them and around them. What is their personality, what is their aura, what do they represent, what is the brand narrative? We do extensive studies and then we will build the product after. We don’t try to find the bone for the meat, we build the bone first and then we build the meat on top of the bone.”
Three out of four of the brands under the BBB umbrella happen to be founded by AAPI entrepreneurs. Jason Wu is Taiwanese-Canadian; KimChi, like Toni, is from South Korea, and Liane Valenzuela of Liane V Beauty is Filipina American. In explaining the commonality, Toni stated, “It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t even think about it until somebody mentioned it. I’m really excited about the fact.”
Toni and her family arrived from Daegu, South Korea in 1986 when Toni was 13 years old. She was introduced to beauty by working at the beauty supply stores her parents founded. Toni credits her family for giving her a strong work ethic, and her mother for supporting her with $250,000 in start-up funding for NYX. It was through working with her family that Toni saw first-hand the quality discrepancies between high-end brands and mass brands which inspired her to launch products that every beauty lover could afford.
Toni’s love for beauty and how makeup makes her and others feel is what she attributes to her success.
“The products that we put out in the marketplace really change a person’s mood, their persona. I feel like there’s an alter ego that comes out. I’ve always said that it’s an industry where the products we sell—lipstick, mascara, blush, whatever it may be—what we really sell is happiness and joy.”