Eliana Cardeno was born in Colombia, but spent the past two years living in South Korea. And now, the 32-year-old Hartford resident is bringing Korean skin care and beauty products, with a nod to her Latin American roots, to the U.S. through a subscription box service.
Kiyomi Beauty Box is delivered to customers’ homes four times a year with five to seven products that are otherwise unavailable in the U.S. Cardeno first developed the idea when she was working with skin care and beauty companies as a model in South Korea.
“I was really starting to appreciate Koreans’ way of thinking about their skin, and I started to implement it into my lifestyle,” she said. “When I was coming back to the U.S., I thought, ‘well, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to have access to these products that I have here, right next door to me in Seoul.’ And I said ‘well, if I’m feeling this way, there’s got to be other women in the U.S. and maybe across the world who want these products, too.’ ”
So Cardeno resettled in Hartford last year to further develop her business. She worked with the business accelerator program at ReSet Enterprise Trust and released Kiyomi’s first box in February of this year.
“I came back to Connecticut because I wanted to develop it here, knowing there was help from ReSet and all these cool working spaces with other entrepreneurs that I’ve met in the past,” Cardeno said. “In my mind, it made sense to do it in the Hartford area, having a really wonderful base for growth and for resources in the area.”
The quarterly beauty boxes are curated by Cardeno herself, and are catered to what our skin needs each season.
“The thought was, the best way to get women to learn more about these products and these brands is through subscription methods,” she said, “because there’s so many options to choose from and they’re all very innovative and constantly coming up with new ingredients.”
Cardeno launched a kickstarter campaign to expand Kiyomi’s product line. Her hope is to offer a wider selection of products in the quarterly box, launch a smaller “Kiyomi Beauty Pouch,” and provide a la carte shopping on a new company website.
If seven products seems like a lot to add to your skin care routine, Cardeno’s Beauty Pouch will have just four face masks — so customers can use one each week.
“Even a sheet mask a week can add such a big difference,” she said. “You’re adding that extra layer of hydration to your skin, and what’s better than a Sunday night, you’re tired, you’re having a glass of wine and watching Netflix, you put on a face mask!”
Cardeno says, although she is not Korean, her Colombian heritage makes her feel close to the Korean lifestyle and culture. Cardeno and her family immigrated to Hartford in 1999 when she was 12 years old.
“I was afraid of the fact that I’m not Korean and I’m putting out these products that are not from my background,” she said. “I was really fascinated to have learned that Korean culture reminded me a lot of my Latin American culture: family-wise, food-wise, and skin care-wise. From a very early age, skin care is a huge part of Korean women’s lives, and for Latin Americans it’s the same thing — from very early on your mom teaches you, ‘you have to put on a moisturizer, you have to wash your face before you go to bed, you have to make sure that you don’t get wrinkles early on.’ So it was very close to what I had grown up with.”
The Beauty Box and Beauty Pouch both come with informational cards in English and Spanish, instructions, and links to educational posts and videos on Kiyomi’s website.
Kiyomi, which means “cutie” in Korean, is the manifestation of Cardeno’s wish for women to embrace skin care as part of self care.
“We should be taking care of our skin the way we take care of the rest of our bodies,” she said. “For example, when your hands are dry, the first thing you do is get hand cream. But when our faces are dry, people’s thought isn’t, let me go get moisturizer for my face; they’re just like, ‘ugh, it’s the winter …’ No! Your skin works the same way on your hands as it does on your face. But because we don’t have that taught behavior, we think it’s normal. So it’s about changing those beliefs.”
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