Toni Ko has a background that sounds like a movie plot—at the age of 13, she moved to the U.S. from Korea. She didn't know any English, and threw herself into learning everything she could (step one: language). At the age of 25, she started a makeup company from a 600-square-foot space in California after realizing there was a gap between high-end brands in department stores and mass cosmetic brands. That company was NYX cosmetics. In the beginning, she sold one product—eye pencils—and generated $2 million in sales in her first year *alone*.
Now 42, Toni Ko sold her business to L'Oreal (in a deal rumored to be over $500 million) and is ready for the next thing. Here, Ko shares her strategy and tips that can help anyone in any business—to guarantee you a spot at the top as HBIC.
Marie Claire: Were you always interested in makeup growing up?
Toni Ko: Makeup has always been a huge part of my life and I love everything about it. In junior high my mom wouldn't let me wear it, but that didn't stop me! I used to sneak makeup and a bar of soap under my backpack each morning and would apply it first thing when I got to school and wear it throughout the day. Of course I scrubbed my face in the school bathroom before going home each day.
There's nothing better than a bit of mascara and lipstick to boost a woman's confidence and happiness. I always say that happiness is a byproduct of makeup. When we look good, we feel good; and when we feel good, we tend to be much nicer. I think this positivity has a domino effect upon those around you. What I love most about makeup is that it's a feel-good medicine.
MC: What is your earliest memory of beauty and makeup?
TK: The lipstick and powder fragrances of La Femme, Jordache, and Jordana. My family was in the beauty supply business and I grew up constantly surrounded by the products. That's why it's ironic that my mom didn't let me wear makeup until high school.