Entrepreneur: Toni Ko, Perverse Sunglasses

This article is part of our Create & Cultivate 100 List created in collaboration with KEDS, you can view the full Entrepreneur List Here.

Knew she'd be a boss.

The thing about Toni Ko is that everything she touches turns to gold (or pink, or purple, or silver, or any combination of color one could possibly dream up, really). Whether that’s makeup — she founded NYX Cosmetics with $250,000 in seed funding (from her parents) and sold it for $500 million to L’oreal in 2010. Or eyewear — her newborn baby Perverse Sunglasses launched in March of 2016, and is already slated to hit 125 stores in just five years — Toni Ko can’t miss.

Now 43, the entrepreneur has known she’d be a tycoon since the third grade. “I’m not sure why, but I was always sure I was going to be an independent, self-reliant woman in business,” says the aspiring hattrick founder, whose career bucket list includes building three global brands before retirement. Two down, one to go, time to spare…should we just give up already? “My best advice for women or any gender starting a business is to focus only on the goal. Everything else is just noise. And that giving 100% is not enough. You have to give your 100% and then some more, and be scrappy.”

"You have to give 100% and more and be scrappy.”

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It could be argued that this scrappiness is Ko’s secret weapon. That, and an astute understanding that women don’t want to drop a fortune to feel like a million, nor should they have to. Both NYX and Perverse have thrived by selling the high-end at a low-price, subverting the status quo and disrupting business as usual. It’s a tried-and-true business model that, when teamed with Ko’s unique vision, savvy, and sensibility, can’t be touched. “It’s the oldest and best marketing strategy that’s been proven for thousands of years. Value proposition. Sell better products at lower prices than your competition. It’s that simple and works in every industry.”

Like other rebels in the eyewear space, PERVERSE recognizes the prohibitive price tag of traditional sunglasses (many of which are owned and controlled by one omnipresent entity responsible for markups and price gouging). Unlike its competitors, PERVERSE encourages a post-gender, sex-positive mindframe fittingly dubbed “sunglass polygamy.” And with prices seductively perched between $30-$60, there’s no reason we can’t indulge in a full-blown eyewear orgy.

“I look for an industry that lacks what I am looking for,” explains Ko, who studied the ins-and-outs of wholesale and supply chain working in the family perfume and cosmetics business in Los Angeles, where they moved from South Korea when she was a teen. “With NYX, I was looking for make-up that had the quality but was affordable. With sunglasses, I wanted fashion sunglasses that didn’t break the bank,” she states, matter of factly. “I wanted to wear different sunglasses matching my outfit everyday, but did not want to spend 2, 3 or even 4 hundred dollars per pair. So I created a brand that sells the good quality fashion sunglasses that you can style with your daily outfit, with prices all under a hundred dollars.”

Still in its infancy, PERVERSE has become an overnight A-list favorite, with Anna Kendrick, Lady Gaga, Vanessa Hudgens, and Beyoncé stepping out as fans of the frame. Recently ranked #57 on Forbes’ “Richest Self-Made Women” list with a staggering net worth of $260 million, Ko continues to keep her head down, stay grateful, and trust her instincts. She also cites mom as her greatest influence, for teaching her the value of hardwork and honesty. “Everyday, I am grateful for the opportunities I was given. And with that, I tell myself to never change as a person, to stay humble and hungry, and to keep my head screwed on my shoulders. I think this is what keeps me going everyday.”

It’s not just her budding eyewear empire that makes us say this, but Toni Ko is a true visionary.

Styling provided by Reservoir LA. Hair and makeup provided by Glamsquad. Photography courtesy of Light Lab and Woodnote Photography.