Amy Liu, the founder and CEO of Tower 28, put years of frustration and product sampling into creating clean, high-performing and affordable beauty products that are guaranteed to check all the boxes on your list.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the beauty industry.
I've been working in the beauty industry for around 19 years now and I’ve always loved makeup. When I was in business school, I went through what I consider to be my quarter-life crisis before deciding that I wanted to work in either beauty or fashion. I always felt like beauty was a little bit more objective rather than subjective. Fashion, on the other hand, heavily relies on trends so there’s more cyclicality, seasonality and data involved.
Because I’ve worked in the industry for some time now, most people assume that I just love makeup. I don't necessarily love makeup, but I love the way that makeup makes women feel. I appreciate the way that it changes a person’s confidence in the way they walk through the world.
What motivated you to start Tower 28?
Tower 28 was created out of wanting to find something for my own needs. I've had eczema my entire adult life and even though I worked in beauty, one of the hardest things was when the eczema manifested itself on my hands and face which wasn’t easy to cover up. I remember wanting to wear makeup to cover it up but felt guilty about it making my skin worse. So I started using higher-end clean beauty products but found that a lot of them were labeled ‘clean’ but weren’t any better for my sensitive skin because they contained ingredients like essential oils which can be aggravating. At that point, I was starting to get frustrated that I couldn’t find an intersection between products that were clean and safe for sensitive skin. I also wanted them to be affordable and high-performing because there’s this notion that if you want clean beauty, you had to sacrifice something and I just thought there was a better way to do it.
We invest a lot of time and money into the goop, formula and testing to make sure that our products are compliant with the National Eczema Association and Sephora’s clean list. Because we choose to spend money on those things, we try not to spend as much on the packaging, although I still think it looks nice!
What were some challenges you experienced throughout the process?
I think one of the biggest challenges I faced is having so many different voices in the room. People will always tell you their opinion whether it’s meant with the best intentions or not. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be true to yourself and your brand. When I created the logo of Tower 28, I shared it with my brother who has a strong eye for design and he didn’t like it. That’s the same logo we have today. So sometimes it’s good to go to people you trust for advice but you also have to feel good about your own decisions.
What advice do you have for someone who’s looking to start a beauty brand?
Stay in your lane and say no more often. It’s easy to let fear motivate you. When I was raising money for Tower 28, I had a few people who were interested in investing but only if I hired their wife or son in return. I think if you operate from a place of “I don't know if I can get money from somewhere else” and you don't feel confident that there's another way, you can make a lot of concessions early on that can hurt you. So the goal is to be true to yourself and not jump on a bandwagon because everyone else is doing something. There will always be ingredients that are trending like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide but sometimes it’s good to go back to basics.
What is your favorite Tower 28 product? Why?
My favorite Tower 28 product is the SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray because ever since I started using it, I haven’t used any steroids, topical or oral creams. It’s been a game-changer for my skin. The products that bring me the most joy are BeachPlease Luminous Tinted Balm and the SunnyDays Tinted SPF, which I’m proud of because it’s the first complexion product to ever receive the National Eczema Association seal of acceptance. SunnyDays also has 14 shades that don’t leave a white cast and work on a range of skin tones.
How did the pandemic affect your brand?
I think in some ways it sort of leveled the playing field. We’re living in a crowded environment, especially when it comes to the beauty industry, there's a new brand that pops up every single day. Pre-pandemic, there were only so many ways to speak to a customer but smaller brands couldn’t afford the luxury of having a physical space and hiring employees. So in some ways, the pandemic helped streamline where our customers were—online. Plus, people were trying lots of at-home skincare routines which made them realize that their skin is sensitive so they started using our products. TikTok was (and still is) A huge platform for consumers who are interested in learning more about their skin. During the pandemic, videos of how to cure maskne or other skin issues went viral which started the conversation about sensitive skin. Overall, I think some beautiful moments came out of the pandemic.
What is one thing you do every day to feel your best self?
I try to wake up before my kids every day. It's the only time during the day when I'm alone and not working so I can spend some time with my thoughts. I also like to start every day with a cup of coffee and I wish I could tell you that I always drink lemon water but that’s just not the reality.
What’s next for Tower 28?
At this point, we’re trying to work on our brand awareness, as well as, some exciting product launches that are coming out. We’re also working on building the team which is exciting so just doing more of everything. Finding more ways to connect with our customers and meet their needs is also on our radar. I think we're just trying to slowly check out and celebrate where we're at.
Let’s get into some rapid fire questions… Who are you inspired by?
My daughters. I read once that a girl’s confidence peaks at the age of nine and I can see that it’s true. They’re so pure hearted, confident and honest.
How do you unplug from work?
I go on walks with my husband, take my dog on walks and limit my screen time.
How many unread emails do you have right now?
4,714 (Update: we’re down to 4,711, making progress?)
What do you look for in an employee?
Curiosity and a desire to learn. I think those are important because the world is changing so quickly and it’s important to keep up. I also look for passion, I want someone who believes in the same things I believe in whether that’s inclusion, diversity, etc.
Best piece of advice you ever got?
To bet on yourself and to bet hard.
Worst piece of advice you ever got?
To never hire any of my friends or anyone I know.
Meet Jordan Karim, Whose Halal Skincare Brand Pairs Inclusivity with Innovation
Tefi Pessoa Is Exactly What Social Media Needs Right Now
Remi Turned Her Fascination With Freckles Into a Cult-Favorite Beauty Brand