Last updated on February 29, 2024

avatar
Liz Stack
Sr. Brand Manager @ Yotpo
February 29th, 2024

 

I recently spoke with Sabbatical Beauty Founder Adeline Koh (Amazing Woman in eCommerce Honoree, 2020) as part of our Conversations @ Yotpo series: where we talk with ecomm Founders about important topics including entrepreneurship, representation, equity & of course, all things ecomm. Adeline clued us in on her unexpected journey to entrepreneurship and openly described what she’s learned from running her indie skincare brand for the last 8 years. 

Just a few days after we spoke, Adeline’s cleansing oil was featured in an Elle Beauty roundup. I love that even though her brand continues to reach new heights, Adeline keeps Sabbatical’s ethos grounded in her beliefs. Read on to learn more about how authenticity and community drive this incredible Founder & her brand.  

Unconventional Beginnings

Adeline, originally from Singapore, transitioned from being an English professor to the founder of Sabbatical Beauty. Her skincare line was born out of personal necessity during her time in academia. Moving from the tropical climate of Singapore to the cold winters of Michigan, Adeline experienced skin issues she had never encountered before. Frustrated with conventional skincare options, she turned to Korean skincare, finding inspiration in the herbal ingredients reminiscent of her upbringing.

Adeline’s journey took a creative turn when she went on sabbatical. Instead of focusing on her book, she delved into cosmetic chemistry, experimenting with formulations in her kitchen. The success of her homemade products among friends led her to start Sabbatical Beauty in 2016.

Lessons Learned in Authenticity

Reflecting on the brand’s evolution, Adeline candidly shared lessons learned. She acknowledged moments where external pressures influenced the brand, but over time she learned to protect her vision and authenticity. Adeline highlighted the significance of remaining genuine amidst the expectations of the competitive, high-velocity beauty industry.

She consistently focuses on skincare as a form of self-care. Rooted in the ethos that self-care is political, she emphasized the need for individuals, especially those marginalized by societal systems, to prioritize their well-being. She told us, “I want my product to make you feel more in love with yourself and who you are, rather than to change who you are.”

The Ecommerce Landscape

Navigating the e-commerce landscape, Adeline acknowledged the challenges and uncertainties that come with technological advancements. Sabbatical Beauty, having thrived in the “golden age” of ecomm when targeting was much easier than it is in 2024, has adapted to changes in platforms, algorithms, and consumer behaviors. Adeline remains open-minded about the future, adapting her tech as it suits her while always keeping her customer top of mind.

Embracing Smallness and Real Connection

We spoke about the incredibly fast pace of the beauty industry. We talked, in fact, about how Adeline is enamored with a brand like Glossier and has struggled with the fact that her brand has not charted a similar course. She shared: 

“I still struggle with it sometimes. I’m like, maybe I should have gone to those big things, and maybe I would have the next Glossier or something. But I also honestly know if you’re asking, would that have made you happy? I think I would just be a lot more stressed out.”

Beyond skincare, Adeline told us “[she’s] trying to actually make a good contribution to the community that [she] lives in.” Sabbatical consistently engages in community-driven events in South Philly. 

I am in utter admiration of Adeline’s ability to share her authentic self with others in person and via Sabbatical Beauty. This, to me, speaks to the immense staying power of this made-in-South Philly skincare brand. Adeline gifted me their Donkey Cream and I can share that it smells amazing, feels beautiful, and it is really brightening my skin.