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How Former Power Ranger Star, Jennifer Yen, Built a Beauty Empire

People

Way back in the mid-1990s, long before people were taking online quizzes to determine which Friends or Sex and the City character they related to most, an entire generation was eager to declare themselves one of the five Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In case anyone's unfamiliar, the iconic TV series — which is now in its 25th season — features five badass teenagers who transform into alien-fighting superheroes that must work together in order to walk out of the ring victorious.


It goes without saying that no superhero-based TV show would be complete without its despised villains. Enter Vypra, a demon who donned slick serpentine armor and wasn't afraid to employ evil magic against her colorful enemies. In the early 2000s, Vypra was played by Chinese-American actress Jennifer Yen, who has swiftly gone from powerful villainess in the fictional world to a kick-butt female entrepreneur.

Interestingly, it was Yen's time spent on set that inspired her to start a skincare brand you're likely familiar with, Purlisse, which has since blossomed into a major player in the beauty space. We spoke to Yen about her Power Ranger years, what triggered the founding of her company, and how she's grown it over the years into a flourishing business.

“Being a Power Ranger villainess was an amazing experience. I loved channeling myself through acting, and it quickly became an outlet for emotions"

That Power Ranger Life

Yen was a spokesperson and model for many years before she took up acting. When she heard about auditions for the Power Rangers Vypra role, she seized the opportunity and headed to the casting call where, among other things, she was asked to give her best “side kick." It was that killer kick that landed her the role, which was also her first major acting gig.

"Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face"

Being a Power Ranger villainess was an amazing experience. I loved channeling myself through acting, and it quickly became an outlet for emotions. Also, it was a lot of fun working with so many creative and passionate individuals. There will always be a little bit of Vypra in me — in a good way." -Yen

The thing with acting, especially if you're playing a role that requires a dramatic physical transformation, is that all that makeup application and removal can start to wreak havoc on your skin.“Being on set meant being in full uniform, and that included makeup," she says. “Wearing heavy makeup for hours and days on end really took a toll on my skin. I started noticing more and more irritation, itchiness, and redness on my skin. This irritation was being sparked by the daily makeup use, as well as my lack of an efficient skincare routine to address my sensitivity."

The Birth of a French-Asian Skincare Line

After an ongoing battle with her skin, Yen made the decision to start her own skincare line in 2008 with a focus on products that were nourishing, gentle, and effective. And that is precisely how Purlisse, which means “pure and smooth" in French, came into existence. In addition to being born out of personal need and a recognized gap in the market, the line was also inspired by Yen's grandmother's Asian beauty recipes.

Today, products are formulated with the help of French, Korean, and American chemists with Yen's oversight. The line utilizes carefully curated ingredients including calming and antioxidant-rich blue lotus flower extract, skin-bolstering seaweed and white tea, nourishing lupine peptides that strengthen the barrier and impart a healthy glow, and soy beans, which are packed with micronutrients and lock in moisture.

Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face and home-brewed white tea was used as a soothing antiseptic on childhood cuts and scrapes. Blue lotus, which is a hero ingredient throughout the line and one not commonly found in other skincare products, was a DIY beauty recipe favorite of her grandmother's as well.

Growing a Brand in a Saturated Market

Over the last decade, Purlisse has remained a niche brand that's dedicated to its original tenets of providing gentle, effective, high-quality products to discerning consumers. It's relatively small in size with roughly 30 SKUS, which includes both travel and full-size products. Products are sold primarily online through the brand's website, as well as at Dermstore.com, Nordstrom, and Amazon. Another way Purlisse has reached new customers is via subscription boxes, such as IPSY, Birchbox, and Fabfitfun.

The brand also has a robust celebrity following with Jamie Chung, Michelle Phan, Desi Perkins, and Whitney Port expressing their love for Purlisse products. Makeup artists also swear by the line. For example, Cardi B's makeup artist uses the Green Tea + Ginger Sheet Mask, Blue Lotus Seed Mud Mask + Exfoliant, and BB Tinted Moist Cream on the singer, and Denise Hooper, lead makeup artist for Scandal, often reaches for the Blue Lotus 4-in-1 Eye Adore Serum on set.

"Many of these ingredients have back stories involving Yen's grandmother. For example, she would use leftover homemade soy milk to cleanse her face"

Yen says that she's truly enjoyed watching Purlisse grow over the years and spends a large portion of her time overseeing the brand. Taking the leap certainly required some faith and a relentless drive for success, but all that hard work has been worth it.

“While starting new businesses can be risky, the risk is much more bearable when you're supporting a product that you truly love and believe in," says Yen. “Women are so unbelievable, capable, and inspiring when it comes to starting businesses. I advise other women to delve into ideas and concepts that they're truly passionate about, and to give it their best shot. If it's something you're passionate about, then it's worth the risks."

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.