Skip to content

Boss Babes: Sophia Hong, founder of Mask Moments

As a company created by two women, we know how important it is to celebrate women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. That’s why we’ve started our Boss Babes series. Each month we’ll highlight one woman who’s leading the way and is absolutely crushing it, in business and in life. Here, they’ll answer questions on everything from how they started out and advice they think every woman should know, plus their beauty routines and how they take care of themselves. This month: Sophia Hong, founder of Mask Moments.

Sophia Hong, the founder of sheet mask brand Mask Moments, didn’t initially set out to be a beauty entrepreneur. It was only after living in Asia, where she saw the thoughtfulness and care with which her peers treated their skin, that she set out to disrupt the industry. And she’s doing just that with a line of sheet masks that are equal parts elegant, accessible, and effective. Here, she chats with Glow Recipe about the nitty-gritty of sheet mask formulations, the message she hopes to share through her brand, and why she’s a big believer in Clubhouse.

Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before launching Mask Moments and was starting a skincare brand always a goal of yours? 

I didn’t necessarily set out to start a skincare brand, but I always LOVED skincare. I was one of those girls that could stand at the beauty counter at CVS for hours, reading every label, being fascinated by the claims on the products and experimenting with how good habits affect change on the human body!

I’m a former NYC media executive turned beauty entrepreneur, and from my experience at Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, MTV, and Li & Fung, I witnessed how powerful a property or brand could be. I knew that one day I wanted to create a brand with content, a message and influence, but most of all, I knew I wanted to lead a company with a different kind of culture – one of kindness, compassion, inclusion, lifting self-esteem and redefining beauty. I believed in creating a brand that stood for a meaningful cause. 

Mask Moments sheet masks are special because they’re made of a biodegradable material. Why did you decide to make your masks this way, and do you think it’s important for modern beauty brands to have a voice when it comes to social issues like sustainability?

Ooooh, I love that about our masks! People mostly think of the gauze or fabric masks when they hear “sheet mask,” but the push for sustainability in the industry has required us to come up with a more sustainable alternative for the delivery of active ingredients. We’ve adapted this biocellulose technology for Mask Moments masks, and you can see the difference right away in our jelly-like masks, but I believe there’s a larger potential for application that has relatively been untapped for this technology in the industry overall.

To get nerdy for a minute, biocellulose (also called bacterial cellulose) is biodegradable because it is made of a naturally occurring nanomaterial made from a bacteria. It was traditionally used in the biomedical or pharmaceutical space, most notably in wound or burn care. It was really the search for innovation and approach to mitigate environmental impact that yielded this technology and is praised for its high biocompatibility, skin adhesion, water retention capacity and permeability. The cosmetic application is perfect because it delivers active compounds, increases skin hydration and best of all- relieves inflammation! (I’m a big believer of #antiinflammaging!) For Mask Moments, think of the material as a really thinly sliced piece of jello made from fermented coconut water with microbiomes.

Sustainability is absolutely all of our responsibility.  As an industry we can do a better job of educating the audience by not using fear-mongering tactics of canceling certain ingredients or driving fads with misleading and hot marketing terms, but rather, we have a responsibility to work toward creating conscious brands. Even outside of beauty, we’re learning as a society that we should be better stewards of our planet. We are headed in that direction, but sustainability is not yet as affordable and therefore as practical as we think.  The noise is there (“green-washing”), but customer spending has not caught up. 

“I wanted to remind every person who puts on our beauty masks that their worth, value and validation do not come from mere numbers and optics, but that they are loved and worthy.”

sophia hong

So to answer your question, yes, I believe every brand has a voice. I began Mask Moments with a very clear purpose and mission. I used to work in corporate America and saw many people become a shell of a person in toxic environments, questioning their self worth and identities. Many people put their self worth on what the world tells them like numbers: salaries, how many followers, job titles etc. You get caught up in the rat race, the dominating culture of the “inner circle,” and this is unhealthy. I’ve been there.

I wanted to create a culture of kindness and conscientiousness that countered that – a healthy culture that promotes inner strength, emotional wellness and embraces vulnerability. When people are more emotionally whole, they are more powerful at whatever capacity they are in. This gave me a purpose and the motivation to start Mask Moments. I wanted to remind every person who puts on our beauty masks that their worth, value and validation do not come from mere numbers and optics, but that they are loved and worthy.

So that’s how the model came about – we ask people to “subscribe to glow” by getting on a plan and stick to the practice of intentional self-care by way of Mask Moments, regularly and consistently: once a week, twice a week, or every other day.

“I knew I wanted to lead a company with a different kind of culture – one of kindness, compassion, inclusion, lifting self-esteem and redefining beauty. I believed in creating a brand that stood for a meaningful cause.” 

sophia hong, founder of mask moments

What was one of the most unexpected challenges you faced as you launched your brand? How did you overcome it? 

Wow – hard to pick one, because I’m challenged everyday! We started as an unknown “nobody” in a world full of giants. Who would give me time of day? I mean, I knew that I had a superior product but I’m not an “influencer.” Where would I have an audience? How would I get the word out? Who would listen to me? Who would even care? A lot of “what if’s” and questions like: What if I can’t make ends meet? What if I fail?  

I was also scared of public failure and criticism. I’m not the shameless, bold type to push or plug myself either. I didn’t have the confidence to be the face and voice of my brand. And to be honest, I was also scared of not making money, after living with a stable salary. There were a lot of fears and insecurities, but being an entrepreneur meant starting from zero, having the humility to not think about my past accomplishments but rolling up my sleeves to literally lift my own boxes (yes, I do that). I’m still living with risk, but I also learned how to tolerate it and persevere, which requires a shift in mindset.

The message behind Mask Moments of maintaining emotional health, self-esteem and self-care really is applicable to me personally as an entrepreneur and hopefully encourages anyone else who can relate. Obviously, I still struggle with getting noticed, mattering to big press or influencers, since as a small brand, we lack the capital and marketing capacity. It’s tough to be up against the Goliaths, and it’s hard to stay patient and self-motivated. It takes resilience, grit, a lot of perseverance and a long term POV– even taking part time gigs to make rent sometimes! My personal journey is very much tied to the business journey. Self-care takes intentionality and a regular practice, a routine reminder of positive self-talk and speaking manifestations into your life… while you mask!

Image courtesy of @maskmoments on Instagram

You were an early adopter on the Clubhouse app, and now your clubs, The Skin Enthusiast and K-beauty Club, are more than 31,000 members strong. Do you think it’s important for beauty brands to focus on building a community, and why?

At the heart of the mission is the community that we serve. Community building is one of the most important purposes I had in setting out to build a brand, because I wanted to build a culture of compassion and inclusion, but you need people who resonate to do that! It’s always about people. 

I wanted to open up more discussion about emotional health too as an important factor in the workplace. I wanted to be able to use our energies to lift each other up. I started Mask Moments with that purpose, but I wasn’t that good at standing out amidst a saturated crowd within Instagram or YouTube. I’m also not good at being visible, taking selfies, or styling or even being loud enough. I wish I had design or video editing skills! So in many ways, I may not have had the capacity for success for those platforms, but Clubhouse allowed for engaging, interactive full-on conversation with context and much more depth. It almost forces people to listen. I’m grateful because Clubhouse gave me a mic (literally), and to my surprise, I found others who related, who listened and wanted to create a community of support alongside me. It was very affirming to see others who appreciated the initiative, and whereas this style of leadership may have easily gone overlooked on other platforms (because of the nature of needing to capture attention in 3 seconds), Clubhouse allows for a deeper level of connection and support that I sought to create. 

I was tired of being judged by vanity metrics (not to dismiss the importance, as I do believe there is a place for numbers and analytics). While Mask Moments is just one voice and I can take a leadership role, it takes a community of people to affect culture. I applied that same philosophy to Clubhouse and constantly look to spark conversations about this in The Skin Enthusiast and K-beauty Club, and I believe we grew because the message resonated.

What’s one of your goals for 2021? If you were to reach it (or have already), how would you define that success? 

Hmm, I feel that I’m so far from “success,” as we have such a long way to go to get our name out there and grow as a business.  In that sense, I would love to get press, get recognition from influencers, and eventually get into retail! Gosh, my dream would be to get into Costco, or Sephora or Ulta! And obviously, I want to continue to grow our beauty communities on Clubhouse: the Skinthusiast and the K-beauty Club. I’d love to grow Mask Moments, maybe get investment and grow partnerships and a team as well. 

Image courtesy of @maskmoments on Instagram

After living and working both in the US and Korea, what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen in the respective approach to skincare?

I love this question, because it’s something I talk about all the time! I grew up with K-beauty my entire life, but I got a closer look when I got to Korea. Everyone had AMAZING skin, and I recognized that a lot of it came from the approach to skincare and routine skincare habits that was built into the culture.  My 94-year-old grandmother still insists on getting body scrubs once a week at the public bath house and makes sure she never runs out of her multi-step skincare products. Concepts of deep cleansing (exfoliation) and moisturizing is engrained in her habits.  K-beauty is centered around constant hydration and calming inflammation. We took those principles to apply to Mask Moments. 

The dermatology/Western approach is more treatment and cure focused.  That’s why acids and retinols are so popular, and you see so many “oil-free” products that can be stripping for acne products. Many K-beauty experts might consider that approach “too harsh,” whereas K-beauty products pride themselves on being gentle and good for sensitive skin. I got my esthetician license in Korea and we learn that the cosmetic approach is achieving the right oil-to-water balance. As I always remind everyone in our community, skincare is about a multi-disciplinary approach and very much a personal choice. There is a place and a purpose for it all whether you approach skincare from a dermatological holistic wellness, cosmetic, or esthetician viewpoint. It’s important to be educated, respect and learn from all the different approaches! Our skin is fascinating!

Best skincare advice you’ve ever received?

“Never give your skin a chance to dry – sheet mask every day!”

I had a lot of friends in entertainment and when I asked what they were doing for their skincare, I learned a very simple but eye-opening truth: NEVER give your skin a chance to dry! The brilliance of it struck me, and I learned that sheetmasking wasn’t just a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of occurence, but rather, a very regular practice in the skincare routine.  Our whole business model came from asking how do we help people build regular, consistent skincare habits of deep nourishment and relieving inflammation?  We thought, what about A Dollar Shave Club, but with the most advanced, high-quality, biodegradable masks? It  made so much sense to me to make sheetmasking a habit.

What’s your favorite self-care ritual or indulgence?

Obviously, my Mask Moments! My general rule of thumb is to wear Mask Moments on the days I exfoliate. We encourage our customers to take routine moments in their schedules to care for skin with Mask Moments: to give ourselves a break, a moment, to lift ourselves (while lifting skin!) and lift up others. It’s a nice reminder to be kind to ourselves. I wanted to redefine beauty as more than skin deep. I want to encourage people to adopt better skincare habits, learn the benefits of masking often with us, and also take that moment as a reminder to take some time for self-care.  When you subscribe to better habits, you commit to growth and being better and that consistency rewards us and shows on our skin.  

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.

No comments found

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.