2 Millennials on Building a Skincare Brand in Singapore

Welcome to Young Ambition, a column in which young adults share their passions, grand plans and pipe dreams with Wildchild. In this interview, the co-founders of Cactus + Glass talk about why they took the leap of faith to create their own skincare brand. They answer our questions with refreshing candor and exhibit fluency in millennial speak. Make a cup of tea and get cozy, you’re in for a real treat.

Editor’s note: For privacy sake, the co-founders will be referred to as Cactus and Glass. 

What inspired you two to build a skincare startup together?

Cactus: Skincare has always been one of our passions and we have tried a myriad of products, from indie brands to upscale ones that almost cost us a kidney. We decided to create a brand with highly effective and aesthetically pleasing products that will make consumers feel a certain way—priceless—without them costing an arm and a leg.

Glass: Well, we are young and these days, young adults aren’t afraid to go after something that they want. Even if we fail, we’ll learn from these mistakes and become a better version of ourselves. So far, it has been a rewarding experience to learn on the go as young business owners who are in charge of everything.

I’m sure it’s a source of pride that your brand is vegan, cruelty-free, environmentally friendly and ethically produced. Why is it important for your team to meet these standards?

Cactus: We did a lot of background research on our manufacturing company and how the products are made, as well as the process of getting the ingredients. We want everyone to have great skin, of course, but not at the expense of animals and nature. We believe that with advances in technology, animal testing should be a practice of the past. We want our product to be environmentally friendly as there is often quite a substantial amount of packaging as well as product waste in skincare products—so we try our best to not use plastic. Our products and packaging are a reflection of our beliefs.

Glass: As with any industry, there has been an emerging need for sustainability, transparency and cruelty-free practices. Incorporating our beliefs into our brand proves that great skincare doesn’t have to include wastage and animal testing, and only then can we be proud of the work we create.

What’s the story behind your brand name, Cactus + Glass? Why did you decide to follow a similar format for your product names?

Cactus: A cactus plant thrives in the harshest environment while retaining its beauty. The “+ Glass” reflects how our product is transparent and more importantly, gives our consumers glass skin. We decided to adopt the same format for our product names because it is easy to understand and does not confuse our consumers when it comes to the ingredients and the efficacy they promise. 

Glass: We took a while to come up with a name—it isn’t as easy as you think, guys—that is in line with our values. Like Cactus said, we wanted to espouse the idea of transforming one’s skin from that of a cactus to glass, a transformation that is understandably sought after these days. And of course, we did it for the aesthetic.

Tell us more about your products as well as your favorite parts about them.

Cactus: Having incorporated botanical active ingredients that are seldom found in clay masks in Seaweed + Quenched, we received many reviews from customers saying that our clay mask feels different from those they have tried before. While it does not dry completely, the user’s skin appears cleaner and brighter upon the first application.

Glass: Fellow skincare addicts can relate when I say that nothing is worse than the disappointment that arises from learning that a highly-raved product does nothing magical for your skin. Most skincare works with my skin but I’m still always searching for products with that wow factor—visible difference from the first use. That happens to be the encouraging feedback that we get from most Cactus + Glass users. My personal favorite would be the AHA + Rejuvenated mask as AHA peels are relatively new to the Singaporean demographic and it is something that just works for everyone.

What spurred you to create face masks first?

Cactus: We believe in providing the oomph factor that everyone’s skin needs. Masks are also seen as an immediate remedy for emergency situations. Have a ball to attend tomorrow but your skin is looking dull? No worries, our masks are here to save the day. Launching masks as our first line of products also fits into our vision of treating quality skincare as part of a lifestyle, not just as a necessity.

Glass: If you take a look at the skincare industry, a lot of brands tend to start with cleansers or moisturizers. We had the idea of a skincare line a year ago but it was only during the circuit breaker that we carefully deliberated about what we wanted to launch first. People were spending a lot of time at home because of quarantine. For me, I was often online with friends, having a glass (or an entire bottle) of wine while catching up with them. Everyone wanted to feel bougie and to indulge in self-care. If you think about self-care, face masks instantly come to mind and we were like, “Voilà! That’s exactly what we want people to do in a year that is otherwise depressing for most.” Dress to the nines, have a great time listening to your favourite playlist or watching Netflix at home, put on some Cactus + Glass masks and enjoy being yourself by yourself. 

In the “About” section of your website, you state that “the skincare industry is truly a scam”. That’s a bold claim to make. What compels you to say that even though you’re also a part of the industry?

Cactus: After doing extensive research on other brands, you start to wonder why consumers are paying so much for products that actually do not cost that much. Of course, a lot of money is pumped into research and development. But looking at how many skincare lines fail to deliver the results they promise, the origins of their products and the ingredients that go into them, we realized that consumers are easily bought in by great marketing.

That being said, we still wanted to make a difference to the skincare industry in Singapore. There are plenty of great skincare brands in Singapore—support local, y’all!—and we wanted to change the way people view local brands. Great skincare is not necessarily just something you find in S****** or something that is imported from a foreign market. Just like how South Koreans are passionate about their local brands, we want Singaporeans to be proud to have fantastic products on our shores too. 

Glass: It is indeed a bold claim but many high-end skincare brands upsell products made with low-quality or extremely basic ingredients. Our entry into the skincare industry is motivated by this purpose: to improve cost-effectiveness. 

Tell us more about the operations that go behind creating a skincare brand online. Which is your favorite aspect of running the business? 

Cactus: So, we love TikTok and we’ve seen TikToks by small business owners. It’s crazy how much we actually relate to and learned from them as well. We never truly have a day off because we are always pushing our creativity beyond its limits and thinking about ways to improve the brand—how to get better results and create products that consumers can enjoy. My favourite aspect is the control we have over the branding of our business. To have our signature all over our products, social media and packaging is truly marvellous. Oh, another great part of running a business is sharing the fruits of our labor with our friends. Having their support and knowing that they love the products is truly special; we are so grateful for them.

Glass: We love everything about running a skincare startup. We are creative people by nature and we love to see our designs—products and social media—being enjoyed by people we’ve never met in our lives! We often receive DMs about how amazing the layout of our social media and packaging are. We also love exploring new business concepts and learning about startups along the way. 

I love the product shots on your site! Were they created by you both?

Cactus: Yes! We do everything in-house as we believe we are the best creatives for the brand we envision. We do not want our website to be cliche—minimalistic, monotone, and boring. 

Glass: Absolutely. However we want it, the way we want it. In the words of Donatella: “My House, My Rules”.

What’s your skincare regimen like? Do you plan to incorporate your favorite ingredients into your products? 

Cactus: I used to have an extremely complex skincare routine i.e. Korean 10-step skincare routine. However, as time passed, I realized that so many steps are needed because the products are greatly watered down. So I started to look for skincare products that are more effective and take less time. During our R&D phase, we tried different types of products every single day to ensure that what we launch is truly the best for our customers.

Glass: As for my current skincare regime, think: hyaluronic acid serums, oil blends, probiotic serums and lots of SPF. I’m a huge fan of interesting concoctions, so snail serum and fermented essences are pretty dope to me. We are currently testing our future launches on our skin. We do that for many months to gather feedback and if we aren’t pleased with the results, we won’t release the products. They have to be something we are proud of. That being said, we do have some secret formulas up our sleeves and we cannot wait for you guys to try them!

If you are itching to get your hands on Cactus + Glass’ products after this interview, you’re in luck. To get in the spirit of giving for the festive season, Cactus + Glass is hosting an international giveaway from 7 to 20 December 2020. Two winners will be selected and they will each receive a Cactus + Glass Bundle+, consisting of the AHA + Rejuvenated and Seaweed + Quenched masks, that is worth USD84.

To stand a chance to win, simply follow the steps below:

  1. Follow @cactusandglass and @wildchild.sg on Instagram.
  2. Like our Facebook pages @cactusandglass and @wildchildsite.
  3. Leave a comment in the comments section below with your Instagram handle—be sure to include your email address in the private field provided as well.

Want to double your chances of winning? Follow the separate instructions on our Instagram post here. Remember to check this space on 21 December 2020 to find out if you’re one of the lucky winners!

The giveaway is now closed; congratulations to @chowbowwow and @explodingpeanut!

All images by Cactus + Glass

Sherryl Cheong

Sharer and carer of wildchild

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