Indie Beauty Profile

Susan Im, ATEM / Fifteen Degrees

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

ATEM founder Susan Im is a member of the Female Founders Collective
ATEM founder Susan Im is a member of the Female Founders Collective

Related tags Indie beauty profile k beauty R&D clean beauty refillable packaging

ATEM is where modern-day entrepreneurship and K Beauty converge. In her Indie Beauty Profile Susan Im, founder of ATEM and co-founder of the skin care brand’s parent company Fifteen Degrees, talks candidly about indie beauty as a consumer-led movement and the potential the movement has to build a new business model in the cosmetics and personal care industry.

ATEM promises to be a leader in collaborative innovation and product development. The new brand shows only 3 SKUs on their ecommerce site but has the benefit of a larger research and development venture behind it. SO while, the future of K Beauty has yet to be written, there’s no doubt that globally conscious and actively curious brands like ATEM with help write it.

Here beauty entrepreneur Susan Im shares a profile of herself and the ATEM brand. 

Name: ​Susan Im, CEO and Founder

Indie Beauty Company: ​ATEM / Fifteen Degrees

Launched: ​September 2018

Headquarters: ​New York City. Our parent company and laboratory are in Seoul and Anseong, South Korea.

Cash flow: ​ATEM / Fifteen Degrees is self-funded, with help from friends  and family.

Indie how? ​These days, I personally acknowledge a brand as an indie beauty brand if it operates independently in the sense that it has the relative autonomy to pursue growth and the development of its brand on its own terms: for example, defining and meeting growth milestones without an undue influence or obedience to interests from external parties beyond that of its consumers.

Team work: ​We have 3 team members: myself, 1 full-time, and 1 part-time.

Distribution: ​ATEM operates in South Korea and the United States primarily DTC through ecommerce site​ and through select brick and mortar, ecommerce specialty shops, and premium spas that we feel are strongly aligned with us in our wellness mission, in our values of marrying East x West, in excellence, or in progressiveness . Kbanana is a good example of a retailer we recently partnered with because its founding team is very passionate about introducing more of Korean innovation into the West.

Years in beauty: ​3

Years at ATEM/Fifteen Degrees:​ 3

Entrepreneurial experience: ​This is my first company. I have startup experience with a luxury sustainability oriented fashion retailer, where I curated and oversaw 400+ of our brand and designer partnerships across 6 continents while working with the founding team in developing and launching our app. Throughout my entire career, I’ve explored the ceilings of good product and quality around the world, what consumers are looking for, and how far or little we’ve come merging innovations across the globe, particularly in the CPG space.

The business: ​ATEM is a wellness inspired skincare brand that is the brand-child of cosmetic R&D startup Fifteen Degrees (which I am a co-founder of) that was created to broach the bigger conversation on self-care, wellness, and mental health.

All our products are fully formulated and manufactured in South Korea, and we are looking to utilize the research that we conduct in house through Fifteen Degrees and in collaboration with other innovators and chemists in South Korea and ultimately introduce those innovations and cosmetic solutions to the world at large in real-time.

On the brand ideation side, ATEM is developed with the intention of growing into a stage and community that promotes global and cross-cultural collaboration, so our name and branding is intentionally not Korean, or Asian, despite our hard roots in South Korea and being a fully Korean team. ATEM, translated in German is breath or the air you breathe—backwards it spells out META, aptly aligned with our company mission.

The wow-factor: ​We are harnessing raw and comparatively excelling strengths and findings of Asia-originated research, technology and nimbleness to develop and grow a brand that is truly innovative and progressive—befitting a customer in desperate need of high quality products and businesses that will cut through the noise caused by the hyper-democratization of commerce in the past couple decades. Whether it be through serving the customer by offering a previously financially unattainable product at a fraction of the average market price or offering the most clean and efficient solution to a cosmetic-product category, that’s what we’ll be doing.

We’re incorporating innovative, efficacious ingredients such as Colostrum Filtrate, which is locally and sustainably sourced from a farm in South Korea, and finding ways to bridge the gap in accessibility between luxury and the average household. At Fifteen Degrees, the primary aim is in developing formulations and concepts that fit the lifestyle needs of our generation to come, so a focus for us right now is sustainability and developing sustainable solutions both in relation to formulation and packaging for the personal care industry-- we already have some very exciting developments and new cosmetic delivery methods created (think refillable, all natural, biodegradable), which are currently patent pending. These are things I’m looking to imbue directly into ATEM’s DNA too more fully as we grow in age as well, of course.

The consumer: ​My target customer is 25-45. ATEM’s customers are males and females who are active with their self-care and are fairly informed and discerning in regards to their purchasing decisions. They are skeptical of the marketing behind a brand touting miracle benefits for the skin, and seek honest, authentic brands. Our customer is looking for honesty, intelligence, and value centered products. They are interested in purchasing from and aligning themselves with businesses that are mission-oriented or have purpose behind their products.

Milestone moment: ​As we celebrate our one-year anniversary, we are proud to offer our products to customers across the USA and South Korea, and are excited to offer new products that you’ve never seen before in the next year.

Advice for fellow beauty entrepreneurs: ​Do your research, regardless of your technical or non-technical background. Move forward with gravity and under the premise that you ought to be an entrepreneur in the indie beauty space (or any selling a product) with the certainty that you will provide value to the end-user in a product-misinformation bombarded consumer space.

I think in this field there are many founders that either lean heavily on the science and research portion of cosmetics or the emotional, transformative, marketing, *magic* portion of cosmetics. It would be great to see more indie beauty brands taking both [approaches] and building a strong community business off of a marriage of the two instead of building empires solely founded on one. It would make for more additive businesses.

Just one: ​I live by Anastasia’s brow pencil​ (although if someone from the company is reading this, I hope the packaging for the applicator improves.) Otherwise, it’s the ATEM First Milk sheet mask​ - it’s the most sustainable, effective solution out there in the face mask category-- and it’s a reflection of some great innovation as well.



Deanna Utroske, Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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