How Savor Beauty Founder Angela Jia Kim Went From Concert Pianist to Skincare Entrepreneur

savor beauty founder angela jia kim

Angela Jia Kim has never missed a night of washing her face. Seriously — not once. It seems impossible, sure, especially considering how many of us can’t even go a week without at least one night of falling asleep with makeup on, but for Kim, it’s just another byproduct of the fierce discipline and focus that has run through every facet of her life since the day she was born.

Kim grew up in Ames, Iowa, as the first-generation American daughter to immigrant parents. However, her early years were far more informed by her Korean roots than by her Midwestern surroundings. “My parents value education very highly, so my childhood was very structured,” she recalls. Every day, she’d wake up and practice an hour of piano before elementary school, then after school, get a 15-minute break before practicing violin, doing all her homework, practicing piano again, cleaning the house, and then going to bed. All those hours playing “Moonlight Sonata” paid off, though, when Kim wound up pursuing a career as a concert pianist. “I lived a very artistic life, where I would just practice all day, go on tour, and sometimes, I would zig-zag from town to town up to 8,000 miles in a month,” she says.

One night, while getting ready for a performance, she reached for a bottle of “natural” lotion and applied the cream all over her face and body. Within minutes, Kim — now onstage in front of hundreds of people — started to break out in hives from head to toe. “I’ve always had very sensitive skin — rashes, eczema, itchiness — and breaking out was kind of normal for me,” she explains. This time, though, her bumps had an audience. When she looked at the ingredient list to determine what she could be reacting to, she was shocked to discover how many chemicals were in the formulation. “It was supposed to be natural!” Kim exclaims.

She started doing some research on making her own organic anti-aging cream, and began experimenting in her kitchen, whipping up over 1,000 different formulas. “Being a concert pianist really gave me the skills of excellence, perseverance, discipline, and the idea that if you fail, you keep going,” she says. That hard work paid off: she started giving out her creams as gifts to friends and family, who quickly started asking for more for their own friends and family. After one friend requested 13 jars of product, Kim decided to create a website so that people could continue to buy her products even when she was on tour.

Shortly after Kim’s daughter was born in 2010, however, she decided to stop traveling and start a new chapter in entrepreneurship. “I felt such a creative force when my daughter came into my world,” she recalls. “A month after, I just said to her, ‘Let’s do something together, Sienna.’” Kim called up the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park and booked a kiosk, where she and her one-month-old daughter began selling her handmade products. She noticed that a lot of her customers were from the West Village, so when she decided to open up a small store a few months later, she knew exactly which neighborhood to look in. “I went on CraigsList® and saw someone asking for a subletter on West 11th Street, so I sublet the store there,” Kim recalls.

Yet, despite expectations of being packed — her storefront was sandwiched between two Michelin® star restaurants — no one was coming in. “I had just signed this two- or three-year sublet lease, so when someone came in and asked if we did facials, I looked at her and said, ‘Yes! Come back in two days,’” she remembers, despite the fact that they were only going to be a retail location. Two days later, the West Village shop was offering facials. “The first three months were rocky, but we started to get really amazing Yelp® reviews,” she says.

Now, nearly 10 years later, Savor Beauty® has expanded to three brick-and-mortar spas in New York (the original West Village location, the Upper West Side, and the Hudson Valley, respectively), and has grown into a globally-recognized brand with over 40 employees. From cleansers and toners to masks and peels, the Korean-inspired, organic beauty line is sold in stores around the country, and Kim has established herself as an industry pioneer and leading businesswoman. The path to success hasn’t been easy, but a decade on, Savor Beauty and its founder have big plans for the future — and even Sienna (who is now 10) has some ideas! Read on to hear all about Kim’s journey to the beauty biz, how she balances motherhood and entrepreneurship, and how she turns a shower into her own personal spa.