2020 Honorees

Adeline Koh, Ph.D.

Founder & CEO

“The goal of my brand is to contribute to Radical Beauty. ”

Tell us about where you work and what you do there.

I am the Founder & CEO of Sabbatical Beauty, a small-batch luxury Asian-inspired beauty brand. I started the brand in 2016 when I was on sabbatical as an English professor. I was disillusioned by available Asian beauty brands, which would claim to have botanicals like Ginseng on the product names but would have Ginseng low down on the ingredient list. My brand hit six figures in its very first year, and I left academia a year later to run it full-time. We hand-make all our products, with love, out of our studio/lab space in South Philadelphia.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m extremely hard-working and driven, which comes partially from my Singaporean upbringing, and partially from being an immigrant to the USA. I’m also deeply political and left-leaning, and my brand reflects that by supporting causes benefiting immigrants and women of color. The goal of my brand is to contribute to Radical Beauty — opening up the definition of what defines beauty, spanning all shades of melanin, shapes, sizes and facial features.

What do you think has been your biggest professional success so far?

Leaving my full-time tenured professor job to run a successful business. As a humanities Ph.D., we’re often taught that our skills are not transferable. But my humanities Ph.D. taught me how to learn subjects deeply and broadly quickly, which is how I taught myself cosmetic chemistry and formulation, as well as business and marketing, so that I was able to grow the business to a point where I could leave a profession that made me deeply unhappy.

Where do you find inspiration?

I practice martial arts almost daily. I also box and kickbox. Hitting things is an important outlet for my frustration with much of the world.

Pattern art Pattern art

Name an eCommerce brand you admire and why.

LUXMI. I love how the founder (who passed away way too young) has empowered disenfranchised communities in Africa through her beauty brand.

We're curating an honoree playlist featuring all of your favorite songs! Name your top three.

Jenny from the Block — Jennifer Lopez
Woman — Kesha
I Am Light — India.Arie

What do you geek out over?

Pretty stationery and web design.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Salt and vinegar potato chips.