When Liz Yates founded K-Banana in 2018, it started out as a summertime pop-up in U-Village selling Korean beauty products curated by Yates’ expertise from trips to South Korea. As the longtime go-between and expert on Korean beauty for her friends, Yates put together her knowledge of Korean fashion and trends with her seven years merchandising expertise (with major brands like Adidas and Zumiez) to make K-Banana official.
Now a brick-and-mortar location in U-Village, Yates continues to do what she did as a pop-up on a larger scale. Double-checking distributors to make sure products are authentic, picking up on the latest Asian beauty skincare and tools like jade rollers and snail mucin essence, and collaborating with vendors like local Asian American woman-owned companies such as Two Cranes Botanical CBD, a skincare and wellness company, and Chunks, an artistic hair accessory brand.
K-Banana has also established itself as an educational space, from the daily shopping experience to the workshops it offers. Just this past month, Two Cranes Botanical CBD led a workshop on facial yoga (yep, you can now exercise your face, and folks have been doing it for centuries!). They’ve also had the family-owned company, The Flour Box do a pop-up in their store, and have featured Instagram influencers like Oh Neela Blue who speaks about fashion and her experience with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).
Yates and her team wanted K-Banana to have a similar vibe to beauty stores in South Korea where, instead of just a transaction, shopping is a full-on experience. On the left side of the store is K-Banana’s ‘face mask vending machine,’ a wall of face masks outlined by painted illustrations to look like a literal vending machine, on the right is a B.I.Y ‘Build-It-Yourself’ beauty routine wall, and throughout the store there are pastel pops of colors, patterns, and whimsical shapes done by artist, Jesse Brown alongside custom fixtures by designer Austin Hicks of Glass Box Gallery.
While there are many options to purchase Korean beauty products online, K-Banana’s team members are all skilled in helping create a beauty regimen, figuring out if that cute product you’re checking out is good for your skin, and providing much more intel on the products than a large-scale store that might carry similar products but may not know how that product would fit into your current skincare routine or if it would even mesh well with your skin type.
“We wanted it to feel like you have the ability to test products, to touch, feel, and smell it, and have that staff that is able to give advice if you have combination skin or anti-aging,” said Yates, “And a lot of the brands are clean brands EWG-verified (Environmental Working Group), sulfate-free, cruelty-free, [and we’re] telling that message of clean beauty and sustainability which becomes more important in this climate, a lot of our products are clean or gluten-free and we have offerings like that across the board.”
Every single brand on K-Banana’s shelves also comes with a small description which Yates calls “shelf talkers” that note if the product is vegan, clean (and how it is clean), and lists key ingredients so you know exactly what you’re putting on your skin so customers know what they are getting is both safe and verified. K-Banana also had one of their team members, a graduate in chemical nutrients, lead a workshop on beauty ingredients and how exactly each chemical affects your skin and what to look for (and what to look out for) in your skincare.
Looking to the future, K-Banana plans on having plenty more pop-ups and workshops to continue their work in beauty education. They’re the first to carry beauty masks from the Korean boy band, BTS, and have just brought in a variety of new items like hair mask packets, rainbow and gold rings, brands like Skin Grammar and Skin RX Lab, and more novelties that bring the Korean beauty experience right to Seattle.
“[Korean beauty] It’s always innovative, and our thing is we always want to be changing and we want [customers] to walk in and feel happy like they discovered something new to share with their friend whether it’s a cute face mask or hair accessory,” said Yates. “Happy skin, happy me—that’s our whole thing, and we want them to walk in and instantly feel happy.”
K Banana is located at 2656 NE University Village St. You can follow them on Instagram at @hellokbanana and shop online at hellokbanana.com.