Velvet Pops The Cork On Serious Skincare With A Not-So-Serious Attitude

Kate Lee has a dual professional personality.

By day, she’s busy crunching numbers to evaluate clinical research as a health informatics analyst. By night, she dreams up beauty product formulas and packaging design for her emerging brand, Velvet, a not-so-serious take on skincare that gives her a break from her rigorous regular work.

“When I go home and focus on Velvet, I’m entering a whole new world. I love the fact that I’m able to explore something creatively on my own,” says Lee, who’s not a doctor, but has a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology. “I don’t think I would ever have had an opportunity to navigate something new like this in my field.”

Lee’s desire is to imbue the beauty market with fun, and Velvet keeps its look light as a result. While the brand proffers natural products, she’s not interested in the minimalist trend that’s sweeping natural beauty aesthetics. Developed with assistance from Lee’s designer cousin Christine Lee, Velvet’s packaging has a healthy dose of pink and stickers on its boxes placed askew on purpose. The brand’s Instagram feed, which is honed by Lee’s friend Jess Mendez, is bold and simultaneously super friendly.

VelvetKenneth Munoz

“I have a big personality. I laugh loudly, and I wanted the brand to reflect that,” says Lee. “I imagine it as the rosé of skincare. It’s got an everyday decadence. It’s something you can enjoy that’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. When you drink rosé, you feel indulgent, but it’s not a Veuve, so you don’t have to spend $200 to enjoy it. Velvet is approachable and accessible.”

Out of the gate, Lee assembled Velvet’s products — Plush Hydrating Melt, VIP Treatment Detox Mask and No. 11 Brightening Serum — into sets. The Clutch Collection contains travel sizes of the three products for $39, and the Wonderland Holiday Gift Set contains full-size versions of them for $75. Velvet’s offerings run individually from $24 to $38.

To price the products, Lee factored in cost of goods at around $8 per item and attempted to make the merchandise not an intimidating purchase. “If something hits over $40, it’s teetering on being a luxury item. An important part of this brand to me is for it to feel really inclusive. If someone is looking at our marketing and the product, I don’t want it to be something they would covet, but felt they couldn’t have,” explains Lee. “I don’t want anything over $40 because, personally, I’m wary of spending over $40 on a product.”

Velvet SkincareAlaina Latona

Despite her emphasis on affordability, Lee didn’t skimp on ingredients. She put on her informatics hat in search of skincare compounds that were well-studied and suited her sensitive skin. No. 11 Brightening Serum is a blend of eight plant oils, including meadowfoam, grape and camellia seed oils. “I picked these oils based on medical literature, and because they’re very hydrating, quickly absorbed into the skin, don’t leave you greasy and are high in antioxidant capabilities,” explains Lee.

Talking about the VIP Treatment Detox Mask, she says she picked French pink clay and White kaolin clay to lead the ingredient list due their gentle exfoliation and circulation-boosting proficiencies. “I have used many clay masks and charcoal masks, and a lot of the time I can’t do so too frequently or for too long because my face gets irritated,” details Lee. “Because this mask is powdered, you can change the amount of clay you want to use, and you can mix it with an oil or another mask you already have. I wanted something that works with products you already have.”

Lee’s insistence on fitting Velvet into existing skincare routines stems from a social-media survey she conducted of about 100 people. From survey responses, she discovered people gravitate to products that aren’t complicated or exorbitant, don’t force them to radically change their established skincare habits and are from brands that enable them to engage on deeper levels beyond simply spending dollars.

VelvetAlaina Latona
Kate Lee

Lee invested $12,000 to get Velvet up and running, and took out a small-business loan to help fund the endeavor. Her current distribution targets are online retailers and small boutiques, especially those located in New York, where Velvet is based. “I’m a huge fan of crawling before I walk,” says Lee. “I want to make sure I have the capacity to deliver before I make a promise to a retailer.”

The biggest challenge so far has been to stay fixated on the strategies that are crucial to building Velvet. “It’s really easy to get distracted. People from different festivals and trade shows talk to you, and you have a ton of different influencers who find your products online and want to get involved,” says Lee. “It’s really important to know what you are capable of doing and not overextending yourself for the sake of quick exposure.”

Feature image photo credit: Alaina Latona