When Liz Kang Yates heard University Village had a popup spot for her Korean skin care store K Banana last year, she was already a full-time key account executive for Vans and had only just become a full-time mom six months prior. But she wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity she had been thinking about for years. “I was like yeah, sure, we can execute,” she laughs. And so, the University of Washing alum became all three: full-time key account executive, full-time mom, and full-time company founder. She even recalls, in the beginning, the time to post an Instagram seemed to always fall while she was pumping because, well, when else was she going to do it?
Fast-forward to now and K Banana—and its entire wall dedicated to sheet masks—is a fully established brick and mortar in U Village. With the trend of K-Beauty swiftly growing in the U.S. (thank you, dear 10-step routine) Yates hopes to bring the natural ingredients and essence behind the industry to her store, and some pure, unfussy joy to accompany it. —Courtney Cummings
I wanted to create a place of happiness and discovery. I thought, wouldn't it be amazing if we created a space that basically looks like you walked into a Korean beauty package or a Korean candy package because the packaging is always so cute. You’d walk in, you’d feel like you're in a Korean grocery store or you just felt that happy experience of everything [being] so cute. I just want to touch, feel, experience everything.
If you go to Korea, you'll go to these streets and it's just full of beauty stores. And the competition is just so massive there that I think that everybody is always looking to innovate and come up with better formulations or new ingredients to try. It’s just been amazing to see what's come out of that. In the last couple of years it's gone from, you know, the basic face mask [to] eye patches and body patches. You can get a butt mask now.
When you walk into the store, we want you to feel that instant happy feeling with all the visuals and the smells that you're feeling when you walk in initially. But then as you're feeling and discovering products, we're hoping that you can find products that will get you to your beauty goals and your skin goals.
My mom always had a ritual at night and in the morning to take off any makeup and to cleanse your skin and then her creams. She was just such a believer and still is such a believer in sunscreen. To this day, I still get a stocking for Christmas and in that stocking, there's always a bottle of sunscreen. If you saw pictures of my mom, you would be so surprised of her actual age.
I do a face roller in the morning, it's part of my wake-up routine. I’ll start my coffee and then I pull my face roller out of my freezer and I just roll. That coldness instantly just makes me feel—I'm like, Oh! It's shocking but it just wakes me up.
One of the biggest misconceptions right now is that clean beauty and that kind of beauty is expensive or that it's very granola. I think that times have changed a lot.