Text by: Farrah Darma
In the dynamic landscape of beauty and skincare, where trends come and go like the seasons, Handmade Heroes has emerged as a brand that is not only standing the test of time but is reinventing the very essence of clean beauty. Founded in 2015 by the dynamic duo of Bella Kuan and Cai Jin, Handmade Heroes has quickly earned its stripes as a pioneer in the realm of natural skincare.
At its inception, Handmade Heroes set out on a mission that challenged the conventional norms of skincare. In a market inundated with chemical-laden products and synthetic formulations, these co-founders envisioned a brand that hinged on the principles of purity, quality, and accessibility.
The founding ethos of the brand can be succinctly captured on their website, which proudly declares “Handmade Heroes is committed to making quality, natural, and effective skincare affordable and accessible to everyone. We are one of the first truly natural skincare brands in the region pioneering clean beauty.” This commitment to inclusivity and affordability sets Handmade Heroes apart in an industry often associated with exclusivity and high price points.
As we explore their evolution, signature products and the impact they’ve made, it is evident that Handmade Heroes is a brand built on challenging industry norms and has been prompting the re-evaluation of skincare standards. Their success has become a testament to the growing demand for products that align with ethical and environmental considerations.
Nurturing a Passion
The journey of Handmade Heroes didn’t begin in a glamorous boardroom. It started with a shared passion for natural beauty and a commitment to making a difference. Alongside this, Cai Jin also believes in divine intervention and meeting the right people at the right time.
As one of the founders of Handmade Heroes, Cai Jin was always raised to be a go-getter, having a strict mother who instilled in her the concept of earning something if she wanted it. This naturally transpired into her early career. Writing adverts for brands which she found helpful as a side income for college. She began her blogging days as early as 20 and gradually pivoted into social media. The stirring journey into the world of social media empowered Cai Jin to start a beauty business, having been exposed to multiple beauty brands and engaging in their product reviews. Despite having graduated in music and initially thinking she would pursue a career that was music-related, Cai Jin met her partner, Lynsey, back in 2015.
“I met my partner, Lynsey at the right time. Handmade Heroes started off in the back of Lynsey’s kitchen in Singapore. At the time, she made incredible artisanal body scrubs and face masks – I used it, I loved it, and I was always a huge fan of natural products.”
Handmade Heroes Entrepreneurial Start
During the early days of Handmade Heroes, Cai Jin found herself struggling to find scentless and clean skincare. She found this unique gap in the market and thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce it to her growing social media audience in Malaysia.
From there onwards, Lynsey, Bella and Cai Jin embarked on an entrepreneurial odyssey fuelled by the desire to offer skincare solutions that were not only efficacious but also harmonized with the rhythms of nature. Their story is one of resilience, innovation, and unwavering dedication.
In the early days, Bella and Cai Jin often found themselves faced with a myriad of challenges. Though it’s easy to now look back with a heart full of gratitude, crafting and building a brand that prioritized natural ingredients required meticulous research, relentless experimentation, and a commitment to transparency.
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“Not getting paid for the first few years was tough. We had to keep pushing and believing. This meant just having a lot of patience and working on the reformulation of the products due to climate changes and the humidity. We had a few failed batches and that was a tough period. Thankfully, our customers were on this journey with us, believed in us and were willing to repurchase.”
Simplicity of the Finest Ingredients
Their brand and product portfolio has always been carefully created for the niche market of clean beauty. Nearly a decade on, these founders of Handmade Heroes recall how clean beauty wasn’t always as big as it is today. Typically, when people think of natural skincare, it would be associated almost instantly with something holistic, luxurious or expensive.
“Our goal was to break that perception and make Handmade Heroes into something eclectic, fun, modern, yet affordable and accessible to both men and women of all ages.”
This intention has since come to fruition with their latest range of Bestsellers – the Oat Mighty Cleansing Balm, Cocolicious Luscious Lip Scrub and Bakuchiol Boosting Bundle. This is of course alongside their signature range of other products and serums crafted for the lips, body, face, hair, babies, and mothers.
“In a highly competitive market, what differentiates us is the production side of things. Our products are researched and developed in-house by our chemists, and everything is made locally here in Malaysia. I’d proudly say that we are one of the very few brands that do that. We are also very selective with our ingredient suppliers because we practice ethical sourcing, ensuring that the ingredients we import are produced ethically. We make skincare how all skincare products should be made.”
Local Roots, Global Reach: Handmade Heroes Goes International
After gaining traction locally, what began as a local venture soon blossomed into an international project, resonating with beauty enthusiasts in the region and beyond. The brand’s popularity coupled with accessibility played an important role in this global expansion. They have now expanded beyond the shores of Asia to the United States and Europe and won multiple skincare awards since their humble start over nine years ago.
International success of Handmade Heroes can be attributed to not only the effectiveness of their products but also to their ability to tap into the global shift towards conscious consumerism of skincare aficionados around the world.
The motivation to bring Handmade Heroes onto the international stage came from their existing customer base, who are never shy to share how effective their products are and how it genuinely transform the skin.
“After hearing how much our products actually work for our customers, we knew we should share the good things outside of Malaysia too!”
Handmade Heroes Goes International
In doing so, Cai Jin admits that understanding cultural and lifestyle differences in different countries is key.
“Some of the approaches I’ve found most effective in expanding our brand internationally would be knowing that it’s about narrowing it down and finding the right target audience, then deploying the right strategies for them.”
Reaching a diverse global audience without diluting the essence of a “Malaysian brand” can be tough. Hence, Handmade Heroes has always been firm on their stance of not just being seen as a skincare brand – instead, they incorporate elements of lifestyle and emotion.
“We try to promote a feel-good-feeling and that doesn’t mean one should be perfect. It’s far from that idea. Instead of promoting perfect, flawless skin, we prefer promoting healthy skin. At the end of the day, that is core to preserve the Malaysian brand and at the same time, adapt to international consumers. We are also proud to be a diverse brand, which you can see from our socials that we encourage local talents and models.”
With all-natural, free from preservatives and parabens, vegan and cruelty-free products behind them, Bella and Cai Jin consider every product launch a milestone. This is especially because the formula process takes an average of one to two years to be developed and tested, ensuring each product is stable before being introduced on the market.
“Two of the biggest and unforgettable moments were being featured by Lily Collins in her Vogue Get Ready with Me video (which you can watch on YouTube)! The second would be opening our first store in the year 2022. However, the proudest I’d say is when customers come to us and tell us how our products have helped with improving their skin tremendously, and how they’ll continue to support us throughout our journey. It really means a lot.”
Close friends and other brand owners in this community were foundational in inspiring and guiding the values that Handmade Heroes hold dear to them today. Rather than viewing them as competition, Cai Jin and Bella believe it’s this very same network of entrepreneurs that make them constantly want to better themselves and their brand.
Impact on the Beauty Industry
“It’s amazing to see how local brands have grown and it only pushes us further to grow together as a community. As for values, we just want to make an honest skincare brand that provides the best ingredients. We place awareness and education at the forefront of that.”
At the same time, being empathetic and continuously seeking transparent feedback from their employees have helped Bella and Cai Jin see new angles to their ever-evolving company.
“We always encourage our team to have a sense of ownership in their work and give them creative freedom on what they do. Always encourage questions. As a leader, we might not have everything figured out but it’s important to figure it out together as we grow.”
Looking Ahead: Handmade Heroes in the Future of Beauty
Moving forward on their journey, these inspiring Handmade Heroes founders would like to continue seeing their company as more than just a beauty brand. They would like to elevate it more as a people-first company that brings individuals together. This means spreading positive vibes and messages through the company’s brand and making customers feel they are a part of something nice.
Hoping for Malaysia’s beauty industry to have more ingredient-focused products, they strongly advise aspiring beauty entrepreneurs to understand their target audiences well. Though the journey can be lonely at times, they remind that it can also be very exciting and rewarding at the same time.
“The top three qualities an aspiring entrepreneur should have without doubt should be values, grit, and flexibility.
A true success story of “beauty revolution that once started with a vision,” Bella and Cai Jin encourage everyone to keep an eye out for Handmade Heroes’ new product launches that will be announced soon on their social media platforms.
For Bella and Cai Jin, they are proud to continue developing products that echo their passion to create a skincare range that is sustainable and allow customers to experience the transformative power of clean, natural skincare.
Offering an alternative to mass-produced skincare products that saturate the market, they are excited to continue making their mark in an era where consumers are increasingly seeking sustainable options.
Digital Editor: Lira Jamaluddin
Photographer: Bibo Aswan
Clothes: Alia Bastamam
Hair and Makeup: Aida Jasmeen