A Conversation with Toni Ko

Toni Ko is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record in developing, launching, and building highly successful global brands. Ko is most often recognized as Founder of the multi-million dollar brand NYX Cosmetics, which she sold to L’Oreal, the largest beauty brand in the world. In April 2016, Ko proudly launched her second company, PERVERSE Sunglasses, after she recognized a gap in the accessories market between the prestige sunglass brands sold in department stores and the mass brands sold in retail stores. She designed the PERVERSE collection for those with style and substance, and offers hundreds of fashion-forward styles at an affordable price. The brand has seen incredible success within its first year, and has been seen on A-list celebrities such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Jessica Alba. Ko’s sunglasses are sold in more than 125 stores nationwide.

Last September, the National Women’s History Museum honored Ko for her leadership in business. Recently, we sat down with her for a discussion about her success, tips for future entrepreneurs and inspiring future generations of women.

What inspired you to start your own business- especially at such a young age?

I started working for the family business when I was a teenager, so by the time I reached my 20’s I was ready to roll the dice on my own. I noticed a huge gap in the market between the super prestigious cosmetics brands and the budget-friendly brands, and I wanted to launch a brand that delivered both. I created NYX with the look and quality of a prestigious brand, married with the affordability of the budget brands.

Who do you consider your role model in business?

My mom. She taught me the three most important qualities in life: to work hard, to be honest, and to remain humble. These are the simplest and most pure of qualities, yet the most effective and powerful. I will always treasure those messages.

Do you think there are particular qualities women have that men don’t that work towards their advantage in business?

Definitely! It has been proven time after time that women are more compassionate than men, and this is a huge advantage in today’s world. The new generation is less concerned with inexpensive items vs. over-priced designer tags. Rather, they want to buy products from companies with a greater purpose. Showing compassion towards mankind and our environment is definitely a plus to the modern business model.

What advice do you have for women in business, especially those who want to start their own business?

I love the quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and speak up about what matters to you. Of course you don’t want to be disrespectful or rude, but it’s important to make yourself heard.

How do you think a National Women’s History Museum can inspire future generations of women business leaders?

It is imperative for women to be inspired and inspire others. A National Women’s History Museum will display the opportunities and successes that one might think do not exist for women. A museum will feature women from all walks of life, with the goal to blend gender bias and show our future generation that men and women are truly equal in all aspects of life and our abilities.

Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

When it comes to women and leadership, it’s going to take a while for society to catch up. My hope for real change lies within the next generation. I recently read an article that the daughters who grew up with a working mother made more money later in their careers than those whose mothers did not work. I can personally identity with this statement because I grew up with a working mother. It was only 45 years ago when a woman could not acquire a credit card without her husband’s signature. In less than 50 years, 40% of women are now the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, which quadrupled since the 1960s. We have certainly come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go. It’s our job to be the role models for the next generation of female leaders. It’s our job to create many different definitions of success. It’s our job to support other women