Ever since she was young, Ning Chao has been obsessed with makeup. “I always wanted to be a makeup artist,” said Chao, who is currently the beauty director of social-networking site Beautylish.com. “I would do my mom’s makeup, I would do my friends’ makeup. But I never had a really steady hand, and my parents, being Asian, made me go to college. That was the end of the makeup artist dream.”
In college, at Columbia University in New York, Chao was introduced to the magazine industry, though the initial idea was met with skepticism from her family. “Because there weren’t any Asian American role models in the editorial world, my parents weren’t convinced that it was a field I could crack,” she recalled.
When she graduated from college and accepted her first job at Glamour, she knew that she was taking a huge risk. “I learned early on that I could not talk to my parents about work,” Chao said. “Their solution was always to go to grad school for engineering, even though it didn’t make any sense.” But it was a risk that paid off well. Chao rose quickly through the ranks, moving through a variety of positions at top fashion magazines in the nation—among them InStyle, Vogue and Elle—before landing as the Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire.
Despite the senior-level position she had reached, Chao continued to push herself and eventually left the somewhat cushy magazine lifestyle for the online world at Beautylish.com, an up-and-coming beauty-based social networking site where members post reviews, tutorials and pictures of beauty products and comment on other posts.
“It’s hard to ignore that our whole world is shifting in a digital direction. No matter how much I love magazines, I knew it was time to learn about online media,” Chao said. And when it comes to online media, Beautylish is a community that is pushing the frontier of social networking in respect to beauty.
“Other sites have a little of this is and a little of that. Beautylish is an online beauty portal where you can find everything you’d want to know about beauty,” she said. “I think the Internet has replaced the traditional makeup counter as the go-to destination to learn about beauty. There’s so much beauty information at your fingertips, and Beautylish makes it even easier to find exactly what you’re looking for.”
Rather than being just a place for beauty forums or a blog for reviews, Beautylish focuses on building a community of members who both contribute to and gain from the site, offering a rich array of multimedia. A post might be as simple as a photo, or a link might lead to a set of short reviews on the same product from different members. When it comes to beauty products, people naturally want to share what they think and what works for them. That, Chao explained, is the backbone of Beautylish.
“Being the first of a kind is a hard position to be in,” she said. “Because there’s nothing like it, people have a hard time understanding what it is. It’s like when Facebook, iTunes or Twitter first came out. But you’d be surprised how fast people come around.” And for a company that was founded in 2010, Beautylish is growing and making a name for itself quickly. The site currently holds over 70,000 user-posted videos, and its Twitter account alone has over 200,000 followers.
As a beauty maven who understands the industry like the back of her hand, Chao is quick to explain the difference between her old and new jobs. She describes magazines as a one-way relationship, where there is little chance for readers to interact with what they are reading. Beautylish, on the other hand, is built on the idea of community. “Our stories are a jumping-off point for stating a conversation,” she said. “The story is the catalyst for the conversation, as opposed to the whole conversation.”