Ashley and Jo Yong (Photo: Two Halves)

Mother knows best – and so beauty entrepreneur Ashley Yong roped hers in to start her beauty brand.

The 29-year-old founder of vegan skincare label Two Halves says growing up with a mother in the beauty industry nurtured her own love of skincare and cosmetics.

Mrs Jo Yong, 60, was formerly a brand manager for Estee Lauder and Tom Ford Beauty at Estee Lauder Companies and had worked in the beauty industry for more than 25 years.

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“As a young girl, it was very fascinating to go into her room and find so many products – it was like a department store,” says Ms Yong, who did holiday internships with Estee Lauder Companies when she was an undergraduate.

Since her days in university, she had known she wanted to start her own beauty brand. But her parents were uncertain about entrepreneurship and advised her to get a full-time job first. A business management graduate from The University of Manchester, she took up a job as a relationship manager at a local bank, but left after a year to pursue her dream.

Ashley Yong (Photo: Two Halves)

At the end of 2017, she booked a flight to Hong Kong to attend a cosmetics trade show. She spoke to formulators, cosmeceutical laboratories and suppliers to create her skincare brand from scratch, eschewing buying ready-made factory formulas.

It kicked off a two-year-long process of product development.

Ms Yong, whose husband works in his family’s packaging business, says his sensitive skin was her main inspiration. Although he was unbothered about his skin, he often received remarks from others about it growing up. “He said he doesn’t want fantastic or smooth skin. He just wants it to be calm,” says Ms Yong.

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“I realised there is a market for people who are not looking for perfect skin. With how beauty has progressed globally, people want high potencies of an ingredient and fast results. I wanted a skincare brand that takes things slower and encourages people to practise a balance between good skincare and good self-care.”

In October 2019, she launched Two Halves with a single product – the Better Balance Soothing Hydration Essence ($85) – online and in home-grown beauty retailer Novela.

Its somewhat gender-neutral packaging was intentional to tap the men’s market, although Ms Yong jokes that “the way to get men to use your products is to convince their partners”.

She named it Two Halves to represent her and her mother, who is a co-founder.

But it took some convincing, says Ms Yong. “Initially, my mum was very resistant. She played devil’s advocate and gave me 101 reasons why this would not work. Coming from a big brand, it was difficult for her to take me seriously.”

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From left: Better Balance Nutrients Networking Water Cream & Soothing Hydration Essence (Photo: Two Halves)

Only after Ms Yong presented a solid game plan detailing her niche – vegan skincare made for sensitive and sensitised skin – did Mrs Yong concede. She matched her daughter’s investment and lent her industry expertise in the brand’s founding.

Mrs Yong, who left Estee Lauder Companies in 2015 and is now human resource director for Henatenn Holdings, remains a silent investor. She continues to advise Ms Yong, who runs the show.

Their weekly business meetings can get heated, but Ms Yong’s new nine-month-old son helps to keep the peace.

Despite pandemic-related disruptions in its production line, the brand is on track with its plan to release one product a year. It launched its second, a moisturiser “packed with a lot of skin-nourishing ingredients”, in February this year. A night product is planned for next year.

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In June, Two Halves launched on iShopChangi, a milestone Ms Yong had chased for three years.

“Before the whole launch of the brand, I told my mum I was going to get our product on iShopChangi and she told me ‘good luck’,” she recalls with a laugh.

“The next milestone would be to earn back whatever capital we’ve spent and reinvest it into our next product.”

This article originally appeared in The Straits Times