May 2024

Pureseoul chain to ramp up expansion

A tiny bell constantly pings during the Zoom conversation with Leslie Tang. Sitting in the back room of the recently opened Pureseoul Oxford store, Leslie is taking time out to talk about the fledging K-Beauty chain he co-founded, but a slight nod of his head still registers each chime announcing another new customer walking through the shop door. 

Out managing the front of Pureseoul’s third bricks & mortar store, which started trading before Christmas, is Gracie Tullio. Along with Wing-Sze Tang, she completes the trio of co-founders, who have grand ambitions to convert the UK to the growing phenomenon of K-Beauty – the South Korean cosmetics trend sweeping the globe. 

Defined as the achievement of luminous, or ‘glass’ skin, K-Beauty shirks overused foundation, putting an emphasis on multi-step skincare routines of toning, clarifying, and hydration. Organic materials like rice water, green tea, and ginseng are used to form the basis of the products, which range in their thousands. 

Social media, influencers and celebrity endorsement have played a massive role in pushing the sector to become a multi-billion-pound industry that according to expertmarketresearch.com, has reached around USD $12.39 billion in 2023. Predictions are that the market will grow at a CAGR of 8.4% between 2024 and 2032 to nearly double, hitting a value of around USD $23.62 billion by 2032. 

It was in 2007 that Leslie, Gracie, and Wing-Sze, who shuns the spotlight, first started talking about K-Beauty and the idea of launching their own fascia, having learned about the routine, and concept through individual connections with South Korea.  

A point of difference for Pureseoul was to be the dedication to how products are curated, and descriptions written. “Every single one has been tested and approved by us,” says Gracie. “We take our curation very seriously and there’s popular brands that have popular products we didn’t like and didn’t take. We just don’t stock anything.”

As the start-up plan was being formulated, and website created, Leslie came up with funding, while still working at Bloomberg. “It took us six months before we had enough product and brands before we could [launch] the website,” he says. 

That finally happened on August 1, 2019, followed by the first off-line store in London’s Soho on April 14, 2022. Two GCW secured sites, Westfield White City, and Oxford Westgate, followed suit, and started trading in December 2023 - the 20 months gap between the sites launching being deliberate to let the company bed in.

This year will see openings gather momentum, with another five UK sites, being added to the portfolio, with GCW on board as appointed sole property agents. A central London flagship store is also on the cards. 

Pureseoul online data pinpoints geographically where product demand is, leading the company, and GCW, to look in those strategic locations across the UK, like Brighton, Cambridge, Manchester, and Birmingham, home to the brand’s second largest customer base.

International sites will eventually be on the cards with Italy a prime choice, due to Gracie’s Italian family background. “I know, on a personal level so many Gen Z who want K-Beauty in Europe where it’s not readily available to them. So, the potential to expand there would be a natural step for us,” she says. 

Social media is also playing a large role in Pureseoul’s marketing. “At the opening of their Oxford store, there was a real mix of people, but a lot of British university students who would know them through social media,” says Octavia Wyatt, graduate surveyor, GCW. “TikTok is also huge for the brand: their shops have a whole display section saying, ‘as seen on TikTok.’ It’s a major driver for customer visits.” 

While there is a 40% customer return rate, with shoppers travelling from across the country to shop offline, there is still a certain ‘education’ to do to bring K-Beauty to the older, wider UK population, which is happening slowly. “We’re not just dependent on the university crowd, we also know a lot of the parents are converted by their kids. It’s daughters who are shopping, and bringing their mums,” says Leslie. 

With the success of the chain, Leslie is not only drawing on his background at Bloomberg to help prepare him to run the business side of Pureseoul, but also his ‘dream team’ with Gracie and Wing-Sze: “I’m used to fast paced, problem solving, managing resources, and getting things done. This is a different type of work, and leadership, but I’ve applied a lot of the leadership skills I’ve had working all over the world to this business. 

For Gracie there is pride in people buying into their idea: “A surreal thing for me, is when I’m on the street and see someone with a Pureseoul bag. That really throws me. And it never fails to give me that [gasps] feeling.”

Will Mabbett, director, GCW, who was instrumental in finding the Oxford and Westfield Pureseoul sites, believes the chain are here to stay. He adds: “Lots of brands come and go, and lots of brands do the same thing, but it’s particularly interesting to work with brands that are totally new concepts.

“The growth of the brand and outlook for the next phase of expansion highlights the strength of the opportunity for Pureseoul in the beauty sector.”