With so many beauty and cosmetic brands popping up on a daily basis all championing inclusivity, it’s hard to fathom why Yu-Chen Shih would spend years researching and building Orcé Cosmetics, a skincare-infused, performance-driven brand with a focus solely on creating products that deliver the best complexion for Asian skintones.
“I’ve always been passionate about beauty,” Shih tells me. Southeast Asian by descent, Shih says she would spend years combing through drugstore aisles and makeup counters as a young adult, on a mission to find a foundation product that matched her skintone — only to find that mainstream products had tones that were either too pink or orange” whilst Japanese and Korean brands “carried very narrow shade ranges that catered exclusively to those with fair skin,” meaning those with Southeast Asian complexions were far outside of that range.
A few years on and a lot of technology-based research later, Orcé was launched in 2019 with its hero product Come Closer Serum Foundation, powered by research-proven ingredients that improve the appearance of bare skin with every wear, while delivering a flawless second-skin finish in 12 shades that perfectly cover the full range of different Asian skintones. I speak to Shih and dive deeper on her journey to skin excellence, all inspired by her Asian heritage.
How did you start the journey to establishing Orcé?
While finishing my advertising and marketing degree at Pepperdine University, I was working at an advertising agency in Los Angeles where I handled media strategy for a global Japanese beauty brand. I was incredibly proud to be working with the beauty giant—one of the very few Asian brands that had established itself as a household name in the United States. However, as a young Asian woman, I felt like the brand did not resonate with someone like me, who would sooner reach for a bronzer than a whitening product. This inspired my capstone project at Pepperdine, which involved creating a brand with a unique product or service and building a 360 marketing plan with go-to-market strategy.
For my project, I wanted to create a brand that challenges the colorism that exists in traditional Asian standards of beauty, while addressing the unmet needs of Asian consumers – who have long been forced to settle for shades and formulations that are unsuitable for them. This was when the idea behind Orcé was conceived! However, I never thought I had it in me to start my own business, so my campaign book from the project was repurposed as a coffee table book in my apartment.
A year later, while my parents were visiting me in L.A., my father stumbled upon my campaign book. The following morning, he woke me up and told me we were going to meet with an attorney to create an LLC. I was confused and terrified, but he was determined that my idea was worth turning into reality and practically shoved me onto the path of a start-up founder. After almost 2 years of research and development, Orcé Cosmetics launched in February of 2019.
What’s unique about Orcé’s products?
Despite the beauty industry’s recent efforts towards inclusivity, Asian consumers continue to be an afterthought for most mainstream western brands. Even top-selling foundation lines with dozens of shades only have a handful of options (if any) for those with yellow or olive undertones. Most foundation shades are created with the Caucasian consumer in mind and tend to be too pink or too orange for Asian skin tones. Some brands attempt to create shade options for Asian consumers simply by adding yellow pigment to existing shades. However, Asian skin tones are not “just yellow”—we typically share a golden undertone but some can be more neutral or olive. In terms of formulations, many products tend to cause negative reactions in Asian skin, which is more sensitive and prone to breakouts than other ethnicities.
At Orcé, we develop skincare-makeup hybrid products specifically for Asian complexions. Each product is infused with our proprietary serum made of Tahitian pearl extract, Chinese herb wú zhū yú (Evodia Rutaecarpa), and clinical levels of hyaluronic acid, which holistically addresses all of the most common skin issues faced by Asian consumers, including sensitivity, hyperpigmentation, oiliness, and dehydration. Every formula is also put through rigorous dermatologist testing to ensure compatibility with blemish-prone and sensitive skin types. Our foundation line features shades created by and with REAL people. We work with professional makeup artists and models of varying skin tones recruited from our community to develop shades that are a seamless match to Asian skin and ultra-flattering on all others.
What was the most challenging in establishing Orcé?
Competing with performative inclusivity. The beauty industry’s response to the push for inclusivity is pivoting from “one-size-fits-all” to “as many sizes as possible”—the more shades you have in your collection, the more inclusive you are. As a result, the industry is rewarding big brands that have the financial backing to launch 40-50 shades. Despite the abundance of options, many Asian consumers are still left settling for products that are not suitable for them. I believe that no one brand can cater to everybody, and the best approach to diversity is specialization. Orcé is created by and for Asian beauty consumers; because we understand our needs the most, we are best equipped to create solutions for our community.
Orcé is currently sold on orcecosmetics.com and Neiman Marcus is our main retail partner. We can be found on neimanmarcus.com as well as 8 Neiman Marcus stores around the country: Beverly Hills, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Honolulu, Dallas, Houston, Boston, and D.C. My vision for Orcé is to be in every city in the world that has a significant Asian community, so we are looking to expand our retail distribution while continuing to build our DTC.
How do you distinguish and gain identity for your young brand?
At Orcé, we value authenticity over trends. More than just selling cosmetics, we are a voice for the Asian beauty lovers all over the world and we push for the change that we wish to see in the beauty industry – better representation, because we deserve better than the bare minimum.
We’ve built (and continue to build) the Orcé community through social media, so it plays a crucial part in our marketing strategy.
As a founder (assuming also CEO), what would you say is your most important role? What’s your typical day like?
Yes, I’m not only Orcé’s founder but I also wear many hats including CEO, CMO, brand director, product developer, logistics coordinator, event planner, translator, copywriter, content creator, and more.
I currently have a team of five and I am intimately involved in all aspects of the business. I’d say my most important role is setting the overall vision, direction and strategy for Orcé, but I pride myself on learning what everyone on the team does and you’ll see me doing anything and everything for the brand.
I typically start my day with checking my email while I do my morning skincare routine and start responding to emails and Slack messages while brewing myself a pot of tea. Then, I dive into meetings with each department, which takes up most of the day. In between each meeting, I spend time researching on TikTok, Instagram, and Milled for product innovation, marketing, and content ideas. I meet with my head of product development in person to review packaging and formulations for new products that we’re working on, or travel to the lab to work with our chemists. I also often meet with other founders in the beauty space to discuss trends, innovations, and help each other troubleshoot issues that we’re facing.
What’s next for Orcé? Any plans to expand into other cosmetic categories?
We’ve established Orcé as a complexion expert and will continue to innovate in the complexion category. However, we are also working on some exciting new products that marry skincare and makeup in revolutionary ways. Let me just say, next year is going to be a colorful one. (wink)
For more information and products of Orcé, visit www.orcecosmetics.com.