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Cocokind’s Priscilla Tsai Is Challenging the Beauty Industry's Messaging That We’re ‘Not Enough’

There’s a Korean saying that roughly translates to “you can know ten things about something by looking at just one of them.” It’s an imperfect translation, as these things often are, but it’s the exact phrase that came to mind after I spoke with Priscilla Tsai.

Tsai is the founder of Cocokind, which has quickly cemented its status as one of the buzziest skincare brands to emerge over the past few years. Known for its affordable and effective formulas, Cocokind, which launched in 2014, is heralded by its loyal community of users for championing self-acceptance, no matter what’s happening with your complexion. As stated on the brand’s site: “We know from experience that skincare goes way beyond our physical skin. We want to help you strengthen that voice in your head that reminds you that you are enough, just as you are.”

After talking to Tsai about her own journey to this point, I can see her imprint throughout every aspect of the brand. To understand Tsai is to understand ten things about Cocokind.

Let’s Start From The Beginning, Priscilla. I’d Love To Hear About Your Childhood And What You Were Like Growing Up.

Anyone who has known me since I was younger would say I’ve always been a little stubborn. I was always passionate, a bit sensitive and very much a doer. Even as a kid, if I didn’t see something was happening for me, I’d go and try to make things happen for myself. I’ve always been very determined that way.

I grew up in Michigan with an older sister and my parents, who immigrated from Taiwan in the ‘80s. Throughout elementary, middle and high school, I was always one of few or one of the only Asian people in my class.

I remember trying to live an “American” life outside of home, but very much living a Chinese and Taiwanese life at home. At that age, I just wanted to be like the rest of my classmates. I remember feeling embarrassed about a lot of things and trying hard to blend in. This continued throughout college.

It wasn’t until my mid-20s, when I moved to San Francisco, that this started to change for me. Many of the new friends that I was making as an adult were Asian and I never really had that experience before. I realized that I could relate to people on a totally different level and that felt so comforting.

Whenever I talk to my Asian friends about their childhoods, I often find similarities in our experiences. Like this ingrained work ethic of always needing to try harder, to be better. I recognize how it’s helped me in some ways, but I’ve also realized the other side of that coin, which is this underlying feeling of “not enoughness.” Does that ring true for you, too?

For sure, and it shows up in many aspects of my life—at work, in my personal relationships, in my physical appearance. This feeling of “you’re not enough” is something that I’ve been working through as an adult.

You can see this in my work with Cocokind. That feeling of constantly striving for something that you’re not and feeling like you’re not enough as you currently are...a lot of people feel that way when it comes to beauty and their physical appearance, which is something we really try to acknowledge and address in our messaging.

Were you always interested in skincare?

I struggled with hormonal acne for many years, and it really affected me. My skin was always red and inflamed, and I spent a lot of time trying to cover it up. I wouldn’t leave the house without wearing a full-face of makeup and I’d avoid wearing certain tops because I didn’t want to expose my bacne. To keep things clear, I used prescribed treatments from my dermatologist. They worked, but they completely stripped my skin of moisture and gave me digestion issues, so I started exploring more holistic remedies using natural oils and superfoods. Once I created something that worked and that I felt good about, I wanted to share it with people, which eventually led to the beginnings of Cocokind.

You recently shared a post from a potential retail partner in the early days of launching Cocokind captioned: “Sometimes you have to ignore advice and go with what you believe is right.” Where does this conviction come from?

For a large part of my adolescence, I felt like I had to do the best, be the best and always try to make other people happy. Through a lot of the work I’ve been doing as an adult and in therapy, I’ve been able to grow more confidence in myself and in the things I believe in. I don’t think this is something I naturally have, but it’s something that I’ve cultivated over time.

This is not to say that I won’t change and try to learn and challenge myself to new perspectives as I go. You can and should do those things, but at the same time, you’ve got to have conviction in the things that matter to you the most.

We’re here, in part, to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month during an especially difficult time for the Asian American community, as we’ve seen a surge in hate crimes around the country. How does this make you feel?

When I look back on my life prior to the last couple of years, I was lucky. I very specifically remember someone making fun of the way my dad spoke when I was younger and that’s a moment that stuck out to me. It was upsetting, but it was never about feeling fear or danger, which is a feeling that’s present for me and for my friends and family today. I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared and unsettled by recent events. I’ve become extremely alert in a way that I never was during all my years living here.

When non-AAPI friends or colleagues ask how they can help us and support our community, what does that look like to you?

One thing I’ve realized is that social media is an amazing tool sometimes, but the content that I’m consuming can be very different from the content that some of my friends are consuming. They might not even see some of these headlines about anti-Asian sentiments or hate crimes that are happening because they aren’t showing up on their feeds. To start, I think it’s important to have more exposure to these things, to actively try and learn about them so you can understand what we’re experiencing.

Who are some AAPI creatives or brands you’d like to shine a light on?

We just launched a beauty collaboration with seven other AAPI brands including Glow Recipe, Live Tinted and Tower 28, and every single one of those founders are incredible leaders. The things they’ve done have had a ripple effect beyond their own companies and they’ve truly created change by disrupting the status quo in the beauty industry.

It’s been a beautiful couple of years where I’ve been able to come together with a lot of AAPI peers and collaborate on different projects. In doing so, I’ve realized that many of us grew up with this competitive vibe. Like there can only be one successful Asian in the room. But in actuality, it’s like, look at how amazing we all are.

What brings you hope these days?

All of the collaboration. The coming together. I feel like the community itself has never been stronger, and at some point, that has to ripple out into the rest of the world. So many people are being vocal and showing up and showing care, supporting each other to put each other in better positions. That makes me the most hopeful.

What mark do you want to leave on the beauty industry?

Going back to our earlier conversation about not feeling like you’re enough…that is something that’s deeply rooted in the beauty industry, and we really hope to change that.

At the end of the day, we’re selling skincare, and they’re amazing products, but we also hope to have an impact on people psychologically as well. We want to create a space where people don’t feel like they have to change who they are or what they look like in order to fit in. That’s a message that we always try to convey to our consumers. We want them to know that we’re standing right there with them. No matter what size we currently are or become in the future, I hope we can have a much bigger impact that goes beyond just us.