Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong

Take a moment to connect with people, and your beauty products.
Published: May 21, 2024
Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong
Photo: Courtesy of Then I Met You

Have you ever finished a K-drama feeling inexplicably drawn to the characters, invested in their relationships, and craving more? It’s not just the addictive storylines or swoon-worthy actors. There’s a deeper magic at play—a uniquely Korean concept called jeong (pronounced “chong”), which goes beyond simple love or friendship. It’s a multifaceted feeling that describes a deep serendipitous soul stirring connection forged through shared experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and an almost familial bond.

Jeong must be the reason why the whole world is so captivated by Korean stars and their way of life. Just ask Charlotte Cho, a Korean-American beauty entrepreneur whose first visit to South Korea changed her whole perspective on life, thanks to this simple philosophy of connection.

“I think all Koreans know what jeong is; it’s a big part of their culture. If you watch Korean dramas, they reference jeong all the time. The characters will literally mention it in conversations, like ‘Oh, I have so much jeong with her, or ‘I lost jeong with him’,” describes Cho, who is the co-founder of Soko Glam, an e commerce business that specialises in Korean beauty products. “I think that’s why K-dramas are so globally popular because jeong is something that resonates across all cultures and geographies. It’s not superficial at all.”

Born in the US, the Californian native grew up with very Western values, where people were always rushing everywhere, taking lunch at their desks, and limiting social interactions to their phones. That was life as she knew it—until she found herself in South Korea in 2008 working in the marketing and communications department for Samsung. There, she developed a kinship with the country, one that changed her life for the better.

“When people ask me ‘What did you learn in Korea’? I say two things: One is skincare and the other one is jeong. Being there was a meaningful turning point for me and it impacted my life in so many ways,” attests Cho.

When she first arrived in Seoul, she had no skincare routine, at all. She had acne, never wore sunscreen, and removed her make-up with a bar of soap (horror!). “People barely cleansed their faces or moisturised. They just cared about covering their flaws with make-up and skincare was something to do when you’re old,” she shares.

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Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong

Soothing Tea Cleansing Gel, $62, Then I Met You

You can imagine the typical response from her Korean colleagues. “They were shocked that I was in my twenties and didn't know anything about skincare. I mean, these people were cleansing and exfoliating since they were yay high. Almost immediately, they taught me everything I needed to know. And once I started to double cleanse, my acne cleared up!”

Jeong also led her to meet her true love-now-husband, US Army Captain David K. Cho. Together, the couple co-founded Soko Glam in 2012, bringing the world of K-beauty to the West.

Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong
Photo: Courtesy of Then I Met You

Cho is credited for popularising the 10-step Korean skincare routine to clueless Americans. “When I first started Soko Glam, I was speaking to beauty editors telling them about how my Korean friends used a whole line-up of 10 products for the skin.

A former editor at ELLE US picked up on this and ran an article about adopting a 10-step beauty ritual and that became a viral sensation,” recalls Cho. “Other beauty editors started to do a deep dive into the world of K-beauty, tried the 10-step routine for a month, and reported glowing reviews. And just like that, people started to pay more attention to Korean brands!”

Understandably, a 10-step skincare routine is not at all sustainable, and Cho, who is a mother of two young children, understands this all too well. But even if you just increased your one-step routine to two-or three products, you will be better for it. “It’s like working out—if you put a little discipline and consistency into it, you’re going to see results.”

The media attention not only bode well for Cho’s business but really turned the traditional beauty model on its axis. Five years ago, Americans were stuck on legacy beauty brands choosing to buy a whole skincare set from the same brand. But what Soko Glam did, as well as other indie beauty brands, was to usher in discovery and democratise skincare. “People started to realise that you don’t have to stick to one brand your whole life, or compromise quality for price. Now if you get a recommendation about a hydrating product with snail mucin or a pimple patch with hydrocolloid, you're gonna believe it. It’s been really exciting to see this transition where perceptions about beauty are changing,” expresses Cho.

Today, Soko Glam is regarded as one of the most prominent and comprehensive platforms carrying over 90 Korean beauty brands such as stalwarts like Etude, Missha and IOPE, including Cho’s very own Then I Met You, which launched in the US in 2018.

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Soko Glam’s focus on education and inclusivity has also helped build trust and loyalty with its online community. “People started to associate Soko Glam as their skincare best friend. I wanted to be able to answer all their questions and skin concerns so I went and got an aesthetician licence,” shares Cho. By having this breadth of knowledge, she was also able to pen helpful advice and share her beauty philosophies in her first book The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin (2015). Years later, she published The Little Book of Jeong: The Korean Art of Building Deep Connections – and How It Changed My Life (2021) which was inspired by Then I Met You. A self-help book and memoir, Cho talks about the need for deeper connections in today's fast-paced world and how you can incorporate jeong into your life. “This concept is something that impacted my life as a whole. I wanted to write about it because I felt like it's a very great quality of Korean culture that isn't really talked about,” she says.

“One of the ways to develop jeong is making time to connect with people in-person. It sounds so simple but the reality is face- to-face interactions are so few and far between. You actually have to work at it. I make it a point to put an hour block on my calendar every day to make connections; to simply reach out to people that I haven’t talked to in a long time or reach out to new ones.”

Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong
Photo: Courtesy of Then I Met You

Wholly rooted in the concept of jeong, Then I Met You (which sounds like the title of a K-drama) currently only has nine products in the line—all made in close collaboration with some of the best chemists in Korea—and Cho is more than okay with that. “The whole idea for the brand is very intentional: I don’t want to rush into anything unless I’m absolutely certain it’s perfect. In fact, one of the taglines for this brand is ‘I used to rush … then I met you’, or ‘Ï was so dull … then I met you’.”

Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong
Photo: Courtesy of Then I Met You

Each great-smelling product works synergistically with the next to brighten and hydrate the skin to give you dewy and luminous Korean skin. As much as possible, skin exfoliating ingredients like glycolic acid are added to remove dead skin cells that are preventing you from achieving maximum radiance.

I highly recommend the duo of cleansers—a mustard-coloured balm and honey-textured gel—that work in unison to effectively remove waterproof make-up and daily build-up. After that, sweep on some birch milk toner infused with AHA to slough away dead cells, and pat in the hydrating essence filled with niacinamide and fermented ingredients to decongest the skin, shrink pores and offer four times more hydration than hyaluronic acid. Finish with the ultra-lightweight Bong2 Bounce Cream infused with ginseng and bright orange Jeju hallabong.

Charlotte Cho, Creator of Skincare Brand Then I Met You, Wants You to Embrace the Art of Jeong

Bong2 Bounce Cream™, $74, Then I Met You

Created with purpose beyond superficial skin care benefits, Then I Met You delivers a positive and uplifting message to take time and jeong with yourself and your moment of self-care. Cho is hopeful that when people hear the brand name, they will instantly feel an emotional connection to it. I know I did.

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