Karuna Honors AAPI Heritage Month
May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and your skincare besties at Karuna & Avatara wanted to pull back the curtain and invite you into the world of our fabulous Founder, Linda - proud Taiwanese-American, Minority-Female Business Owner and Asian Beauty Aficionado!
In this interview, Linda shares her story of immigrating to the U.S. as a kid, the experiences (both good and bad!) that impacted the way she runs her business today and how Karuna, Avatara and YOU can help make a positive impact in the AAPI Community. Put on a sheet mask, grab a snack and let’s chat with Linda!
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND KARUNA/AVATARA SKIN!
Linda: Hi Everyone! I’m Linda Wang, Founder and CEO of Karuna Skin and its sister brand Avatara. A fun fact about Karuna is that we’re known for being the first to bring Asian sheet masks to the U.S! Before I started the brand I spent 11 years in fashion merchandising, which made a big impact on shaping my instincts for spotting trends. Something that’s been a huge help in the ever-changing world of skincare!
On a personal note, I’ve struggled with allergies, rashes and eczema since I was a child and that’s really where my interest in skincare came from. These types of conditions have as much of an emotional impact as they do physically - especially at a young age when you’re already overthinking everything! So, as I matured and learned more about my skin and skincare in general, I made it my mission to try and resolve these deeply personal issues that not only affected me but affect so many others around the world.
I launched Karuna in 2009 just KNOWING that these revolutionary, time-saving masks I loved using and had major results from, would be a hit among American beauty aficionados. By 2017, I launched our second brand Avatara, inspired by my teenage nieces. It was important to me that we also had a brand that wasn’t just fun and exciting for a younger group of beauty lovers, but also high-quality, clean, and affordable!
WITH MAY BEING AAPI HERITAGE MONTH, CAN YOU SHARE WITH US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
Linda: I was born and raised in Taiwan and moved from Taipai to Wisconsin at the age of 10. To say it was a little bit of a culture shock and change of scenery is a major understatement! I didn’t speak a word of English when I first moved to the states because I honestly never had to, but that definitely made the first 2 years pretty challenging since there was such a learning curve. I can joke about it now but I remember kids at school thinking I was mute because I didn’t speak!
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BEST PARTS OF GROWING UP IN AN ASIAN AMERICAN HOUSEHOLD?
Linda: So many things! We’re such a close, tight-knit family. Nothing is ever left unsaid and all of us know about each other’s business. Some of that closeness really had to do with my Dad being super adamant about eating together as a family to keep us connected. Like many kids in the community, I remember being forced to play piano and violin during my childhood years, even through high school. These activities were non-negotiable for my parents. I probably wasn’t the most thrilled about it at the time, but now that I’m older, I appreciate these disciplinary actions from my parents. They didn’t anticipate us being a professional pianist or violinist one day but they were character-building traits they wanted us to have and are values I hold true to this day professionally.
DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY CHALLENGES GROWING UP AS PART OF THE COMMUNITY?
Linda: Unfortunately, yes, many, especially growing up in Wisconsin. I think I was one of 10 Asians in the entire school. When I was in 7th grade (only 2 years after moving from Taiwan), a set of twins known to be troublemakers in school humiliated me in the cafeteria before school started. They asked if I had a quarter and when I answered “no”, they started to speak slowly and hand signaling what a quarter was. If that wasn’t rude enough, after school, they took my mittens and threw them back and forth at each other, eventually losing one of them. I remember walking home and crying the entire way. We all know how kids can be at that age but it was especially hurtful because I knew a lot of it had to do with me being different.
Another incident was when we first moved to the states, my dad was at K-Mart and the checkout clerk was very rude toward him because his English wasn’t great. Even as an adult when I was living in Pittsburgh around the early 2000s, my coworker and I were harassed by two guys telling us to go back to our country and calling us… I’ll let you fill in the blank but let’s just say it was a slur.
DID ANY OF THEM FOLLOW YOU INTO ADULTHOOD, YOUR CAREER, OR EVEN PRESENTLY TODAY?
Linda: I feel like I haven’t experienced as many as other Asians but it’s sad to know that 30+ years after my 7th-grade incident, we are still fighting for our equality. Racism is still something very real and very much something that requires change. In fact, I feel like we are going backward which is disheartening. I guess a silver lining though, is that it allows us to find new ways to help and be a part of that much-needed change.
WHEN YOU WERE STARTING YOUR BUSINESSES, HOW HEAVILY INSPIRED WERE YOU BY YOUR HERITAGE/ BACKGROUND?
Linda: Absolutely! I was very inspired by my heritage/background because it shaped who I am today. The good, the bad and the values instilled in me! After the 7th-grade incident happened, I remembered thinking “I can’t wait to go to high school to have a fresh start”. Normally high school is a merge of many middle schools, so I knew I would meet new people and have new experiences. Rather than only focusing on the challenges and insecurities, I forced myself to be outgoing so I could be seen and not made fun of. It was me who was in control, not them! Doing that made me more ambitious so I wouldn’t be looked down on. Along with the discipline values drilled into me at home, I took a similar approach when starting my businesses - be confident, be dedicated and be unstoppable!
HOW IS KARUNA HELPING MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE AAPI COMMUNITY?
Linda: We are donating a portion of our May proceeds to Stop AAPI Hate so that the money can be used in local Asian Communities to help raise awareness and implement change. We will also continue to do our part to educate our community on what they can do to help! As someone who lived in the SF Bay Area themselves, it breaks my heart to know elderly Asian Americans in the Bay Area can’t even leave the house because of Asian hate crimes. Any time we have an opportunity to help, we will!
FOR THOSE WONDERING HOW THEY CAN HELP CONTRIBUTE OR SUPPORT THE AAPI COMMUNITY, DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS?
Linda: We all need to speak up, not just Asians, ALL Americans. If you witness a hate crime, do something and say something. We need to keep holding these people accountable for bringing fear into the community. Another way to get involved is by researching local and national organizations to see how you can help! Many are in need of volunteers but don’t think that you can’t help if you’re unable to donate funds or time, even just having a conversation with friends or family is doing your part and helping make a change!
LASTLY, FOR OTHER ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN (AND MEN!) OUT THERE LOOKING TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS OR MAKE THEIR MARK PROFESSIONALLY, WHAT'S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AND CAN PASS ON?
Linda: Get ready to work hard and believe in yourself! If you don’t, no one will. My one piece of advice is that starting a business can be overwhelming since there is SO much to do. Start with 10 things on your list and once you’ve crossed a few off, add a few more. This will keep you focused and keep the fear at bay.
Do you have a story similar to Linda’s? We want to hear all about it! Follow us on Instagram @karunaskin and @avataraskin and share your stories - the good, the learnings, the funny stuff… let’s chat!
To learn more about Stop Asian Hate and how how to support the cause, head over to: www.stopaapihate.org