Giselle Go Left the Magazine World to Start Japan’s First Clean Skincare Brand
Success stories

Giselle Go Left the Magazine World to Start Japan’s First Clean Skincare Brand

The role of editor-in-chief is arguably the most coveted job on the masthead at any publication. Just ask Giselle Go. She was Harper's Bazaar Singapore’s EIC at just 26 years old. And before that? The fashion editor for Marie Claire Philippines. By definition, Go had “made it”. She finally achieved her biggest dream at such a young age. “I was traveling every month to fashion week, plus different press events all over the world. And that was great in my 20s to be honest. But the older I got, the more I realized that my personal values were also evolving, and I wanted to spend a little bit more time to myself and just kind of cultivate again,” she said. Everyone talks about becoming an EIC—and all of the cool events, glamorous gifts and creative agency that comes along with the fancy title—but what happens after, when you’re ready to move on?

You start your own company, of course. During Go’s seven years at Marie Claire and Harper's Bazaar, she got to test out a lot of products, as an editor does. “Clean [beauty] wasn't even a word yet,” recalls Go. “A lot of the knowledge that we have today about beauty products was not yet there.” One thing she did know? What products worked for her skin—and they always tended to have fewer, more natural ingredients. 

When she moved to Tokyo, Japan, Go was stuck because she couldn’t find any of the skincare she knew and loved. “Even though Japan has a beautiful skincare heritage, I saw a gap in the market,” she said. But that didn’t stop her. She started mixing her own oils in her kitchen and thought to herself, “Maybe I can sell it to our neighbors or on Etsy or something?” It was her life partner (and now business partner), Philippe Terrien, who encouraged her to write a business plan.

And that’s how DAMDAM—Japan’s first clean skincare brand—was born. “It's really our love letter to Japan,” said Go. “I love Japanese products: the consistency, the lightness of their texture, everything is just done so beautifully.” For context: Japanese skincare is the antithesis of Korean skincare. While the latter is all about “more is more,” the former is rooted in minimalism and craftsmanship. “Knowing what ingredients you're putting in your body, how it was made, where it was harvested, how it was harvested,” said Go. “We want you to be connected to the energy of the person making that product.” DAMDAM’s skincare products, which are sold at Sephora, feature Japanese heritage ingredients like shisho (mint), konnyaku (a native root crop), komenuka (rice bran), snow mushroom and white kaolin (clay), and are free from parabens, sulfates, mineral oils and other harmful additives.

DAMDAM, Japan's first clean beauty skincare brand

Terrien’s background in regenerative farming, permaculture and homeopathy from his childhood in France (and fascination with chemistry and scientific innovation) combined with Go’s knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine is really the foundation of the brand. “A lot of these natural remedies were natural for us,” she said. But I had to ask: How do you make it work with your co-founder also being the person you live with and fall asleep next to every night? And they’ve also never been apart since 2015, except for two trips. “He’s so patient and also so creative,” said Go. “I think we just share the same vision, the same goal, so everything is smooth because of that.” Oh, and no work allowed talk at the dinner table.

Go shares even more lessons and values she’s learned along the way:

On the importance of what you eat

“As a way to entice us to eat, my mother would always say, ‘You're gonna have beautiful skin if you eat this.’ And one of my favorites was actually snow mushroom. It's white fungus. We eat it with a sweet sauce. And the other thing that I love is something that we call bird's nest, which is sweet and tasty. It has lots of collagen. So, yeah, what you feed yourself on the inside will be reflected on the outside.”

On Japanese bathing rituals

“When I moved to Japan, one of the things I fell in love with was the onsen culture, so the bathing culture. It's almost like meditation, washing your body and cleaning your skin. We clean our body first in the shower, before we soak our bodies in the bath. And that's like a hot bath, whether it's in your bathroom or in an onsen, which is a natural hot spring. It’s really meant to encourage you to stop and unpack your thoughts. It's also like a big social gathering.”

On giving back to the land

“We're members of 1% For the Planet where we donate 1% of all our sales to different environmental organizations—but the ones in particular that we're donating to are local Japanese organizations that are committed to land rehabilitation and forest restoration.”

On finding a new version of success

“When I was younger, it was really all about achievement. Growing up in an Asian family, and in a very traditional Chinese family, it was all about getting the good grades, getting the right kind of career, making the right kind of salary. And so, those really were the measures of success. Today, it's definitely not. It's really about personal fulfillment and happiness, and just being able to have that balance for myself and my work. As long as I'm happy in my life, regardless of what the social expectations are, that’s how I measure success.”

And now onto the Rapid Fire… Who are you inspired by?

“The Japanese artisans we meet. They're so dedicated to their craft. They have this healthy balance where they live their lives on their own terms. They're finding happiness and making their own art. So that is really, really inspiring.”

How do you unplug from work?

“Long hot baths, even in the summer—which is terrible actually with the heat but I need it. It relaxes the muscles.”

How many unread emails do you have right now?

“Let me check. Maybe in the hundreds? Hopefully not. Oh my god! I’m almost embarrassed. 1,597.”

What do you look for in an employee?

I think just being resourceful and creative. Japan is all about rituals, to the point where it's so regimented that a lot of people are not encouraged to think outside of the box. So, we've always had that kind of mentality where we just have to roll with the punches. And that's the kind of person we're looking for. Someone who can adapt in any kind of situation.”

Best piece of advice?

“Never take anything personally.”

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