The Founder of Asian-Focused Beauty Brand Talks About Her Fight for Equality In The Marketplace

For Yu Chen Shih, the founder of Orcé Cosmetics, fitting into tradition beauty standards is not acceptable, neither is sitting quietly while the beauty world seems to pass you by. Nothing could be farther from the truth for this trailblazer in the makeup industry who created foundations specifically formulated for the Asian complexation. “I have never felt like the beauty business provided options for me. I definitely have felt overlooked whether it is my skin type or skin color,” says Shih. The feeling of being pushed aside, fueled her to build a brand based on the specialized needs of Asian skin which has more yellow undertones as well as structural differences than other ethnicities. 

“Many Asian consumers don’t know that our skin is actually different because the industry hasn’t done the research in this area. They have been feeding us this one-size-fits-all solution, but different ethnicities have different skin types. The cosmetic industry assumes that releasing 50-60 shades is going to solve the problem, but it isn’t. Asian skin reacts to ingredients differently than a caucasian customer or a back customer,” says Shih. “The topmost layer of Asian skin is much thinner, so it is more prone to water loss. At the same time, we have extremely active sebum production, which combined with dehydration is the perfect recipe for acne,” she states. 

Three key ingredients comprise Orcé’s unique foundation recipe— Tahitian pearl extract which promotes collagen and addresses hyperpigmentation, hyaluronic acid to increase moisturize, and a Chinese herb called Evotee fruit which is known to boost radiance, and guard against environmental stresses. The alchemy of these components gives this beauty elixir it’s unique properties that target Asian skin.

Born in the United States to a Malaysian father and a Taiwanese mother, Yu-Chen’s love for cosmetics started with a prized eyeshadow palette at 11 years old. She would insist on making up family and friends in her vibrant shades until one day, her young cousin said she made her look like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. This obsession with make-up prompted her mother to send her to make-up artistry classes to improve her skills, signaling to Yu Chen to excel at all she does. As a teen Ms. Shih recalls watching You Tube tutorials and realized how transformative foundation is for women and how it’s literally the basis to any makeup routine. 

Her quest for the perfect foundation persisted as she matured. “I would go to drug stores and department stores and scoured every lane, every counter and could not find a shade that suited me. It was always either too pink or too orange. Even Japanese and Korean brands tend to have extremely limited shade ranges.” The unconscious message she received from her youthful shopping was that she was not good enough, her skin is not light enough and she wasn’t important enough to be addressed by the industry she loved and wanted to be a part of. This only ignited her passion to fill the void she saw in the market.

Finding a solution to the beauty industry’s ignorance of Asian skin really bloomed while attending Pepperdine University where she studied Advertising and Marketing. It was during her capstone project that she formulated the first rendition of the brand, researching the unmet needs of Asian women. With the help of dermatologists and chemists she developed the formula and launched in 2019. 

Although this Asian beauty made inroads in addressing the needs of women like herself, she has also been accused of not being inclusive by social media trolls and even retailers who have suggested she broaden her approach. But this is counter to the very core of her brand ethos. “Retailers and investors hate my Asian focused approach. I feel like I get penalized because they say I’m not being inclusive. {They say} You’re ‘Asian focused, call us back when you’re not’ or, call us when you expand your shade range. {Or they say} your story is, fulfilling the needs of Asian consumers— how about everybody else?’ So, it’s been hard for us. On the one hand, I’m driven by this mission to fulfill the unmet needs of Asian consumers, but at the same time, I’m being told that I’m not being inclusive to non-Asian consumers. Many times, they complain that we are racist or elitist because we’re only focusing on Asian skin.” For Yu Chen Shih, the hurtful comments only serve to embolden her cause.  

Despite the fight for a race of people who have long been told to sit quietly and accept the status quo, Orcé cosmetics and Yu Chen Shih, march on full steam ahead with the conviction that the needs of Asian women should be addressed in the beauty world. As proof of that path, the brand plans to launch six new shades in September of 2021. One of her most talked about item on You Tube is the Experience Set of minis which allows women to sample three shades before investing in a full-size. Orcé also offers a Perfecting Finishing Powder to compliment the medium coverage foundations. 

“My goal when creating these foundations was to make shades that look like Asian skin—not a pink version or an orange version. We developed each shade based on a real woman and carefully launched the initial six shades. Foundation will always be my star product which I tackled first because it’s the hardest product for Asian women to find.” 

About Mimi Lombardo

Former fashion editor and writer with 20 years at widely recognized magazines. Currently I am self employed, styling, producing and writing for a variety of luxury and global brands achieving engaging solutions to content.
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