BY JOHANNA FERREIRA
Growing up, Emily Rudman, founder of clean beauty brand, Emilie Heathe, knew nothing about her Asian background. The Korean American, who was adopted by white Jewish and Christian parents, was unfamiliar with her culture, didn’t speak a lick of Korean, and didn’t grow up around anyone who looked like her. As a result, she spent most of her childhood, teens, and even early 20s, trying to squeeze her way into fitting the Western American beauty standard mold that society loves to push on women. It was her own identity struggle and feeling a profound need to be heard and seen, that inspired her to break into the beauty industry.
“As an adopted Korean American growing up in the 80s/90s in NYC but mostly surrounded by white family and friends, for me it was about creating a high-quality brand where I could see myself truly represented in a non-stereotypical or token way,” she tells thirteen lune. “At the time, there were not the amount of brands we see today and certainly not in luxury."
“I really wanted to create a brand where diversity and inclusion were at the brand’s core, and that had to come directly from the founder. I also wanted to create high-quality innovative products because I was tired of great packaging and subpar formulas.”
Rudman launched the brand in 2018 starting with a series of non-toxic nail polishes before expanding to everything from lip products to a brow powder, candles, and accessories. Why nails first? Nails held a lot of significance for Rudman, who grew up going to the nail salon with her mom, where mostly Korean women worked. It was the one place where she would see women who looked just like her. She refers to this experience as “a bit of home away from home.”
“Beauty for me was a bit complicated growing up. Some of my first and fondest memories are going to the nail salon across the street with my mom to get manicures. I also recall getting into my mom’s hot rollers and trying to curl my hair, to no avail with my pin-straight, jet-black Asian hair,” she says. “I also recall looking at the TV and ads and not seeing people that looked like me. I remember Grease and Grease 2 being some of my favorite movies and always wanting to look like Olivia Newton-John or Michelle Pfeiffer. Some of my earliest beauty influencers were Kevyn Aucoin, Bobbi Brown and Francoise Nars. I idolized all of them and had all the books and would practice with their products to learn how to apply makeup. My older sister was also a huge influence, as she got into makeup first. I swatched from reading comics to YM and traded in my pencils for brushes.”
Heathe loved expressing herself through makeup and loved the way it allowed her to enhance and transform. It’s one of the many reasons why she looked up to artists like Kevyn Aucoin and Bobby Brown. It was her own beauty journey that inspired her to create a brand that not only allowed women to to feel seen but also one that would celebrate her heritage, rather than hide it to adhere to Eurocentric beauty standards. Everything behind her brand is intentional from the luxury aspect of it, the clean formulations, to even some of the Asian ingredients found in her products like bamboo, rice, and sea buckthorn.
Get to Know – Emily Rudman
Do You have a beauty philosophy?
Absolutely. Have fun with it! I love all beauty and honestly am a product junkie. But I’ve always loved color because it’s a kind of art -- just using a live canvas. I love creating and having fun. I love everything from the no-makeup makeup to enhancing makeup (like Bobbi Brown and really sometimes no makeup), to the full-on transformational looks of Kevyn Aucoin — one of my idols. I’m a makeup artist by trade and I did so to become a brand developer. I took Special FX classes which were some of my favorites. Makeup has such a broad use. But at the end of the day, I think it’s about making you feel great from the inside out.
What does self-care look like in your life?
Like many other working mothers, nowadays self-care is when I take the time to make my beauty routines a ritual. Where instead of rushing to do a 5-minute makeup, I can actually have fun with it and get creative and really disconnect. Self-care is also about making sure to do my best to mentally separate from work and enjoy a beauty service. For example, I just got this amazing Japanese hair treatment at David Mallet salon to help fix my dry, postpartum hair. Worth every penny and a true luxury to turn off the phone and sit in silence for an hour.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
Many things! The creativity that has come out during such a difficult time these past two years has been amazing. It has reinvigorated me and reminded me again of why I love this industry so much. I also am really proud to be a brand that was at the forefront of many smaller beauty movements when we launched in 2018 that have not only become trends but rather standards in the industry, as they should be. This includes, clean + green/blue beauty and making sure diverse voices are heard and celebrated.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business? The short answer: everything. Logistics and supply chain in this current climate is a nightmare. I recently was part of a cohort of Columbia Business School Alumni called CAVA (Columbia Alumni Virtual Accelerator) and in one of the meetings we heard from a very successful entrepreneur who had successfully grown and then exited his company. He shared with us some of the key jobs of a founder that are also some of the most difficult to do.
- Never run out of money
What has been the biggest win thus far?
There are so many milestones and each win feels so big because this has been a lifelong dream I have been working towards for the past 25 years. I think deciding to move along with COVID first hit, not knowing what was going to happen, not having any childcare, re-pivoting our entire distribution and marketing strategy launching in 25+ retailers including thirteenlune and our first physical retailer Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, were some of the biggest to date.
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to inclusivity?
So much. For me, in particular, in the luxury and prestige markets, there needs to be a true 360 shift to D&I and Equity. Part of the reason I started the brand was because I did not see people who looked like me growing up and therefore, I felt like the way I looked was somehow wrong. Add to that, I am an adopted Korean American half Jew, and this made it even more complex. Luxury in particular has always been very Eurocentric and because of that, very white and homogenous in it’s representation. Even Asian beauty standards adhere to a more Western style and aesthetic. I would like to see more diversity in general and showcasing the LGBTQ+ communities, BIPOC, differently abled and more. And acknowledging those communities as well as the same brands that are the origins of many trends we see in mainstream today.