The term R&D (research and development) may be the trending buzzword for most companies and brands these days. But global beauty giant Amorepacific has been a forerunner in this area since 1954.
That was the year when it established the country’s first cosmetics research lab. The purpose: To harness modern technology and marry it with time-proven heritage ingredients like green tea, ginseng, bean and camellia.
Fast forward 70 years and Amorepacific is synonymous with having introduced the concept of K-beauty (the term for Korean beauty trends and products) to the rest of the world. More importantly, it has helped to turn K-beauty from what could have been a passing fad into a legitimate industry category on its own.
IGNITING A REVOLUTION
Amorepacific has more than 20 brands, each with its distinct DNA. For instance, Sulwhasoo is its luxury line that uses Asian medicinal herbs for mostly anti-ageing skincare while Laneige is known for brightening and hydrating products. The eco-friendly Innisfree sources ingredients from Jeju Island whereas Mamonde focuses on flower ingredients like lotus and camellia.
Amorepacific is also behind some of the most cutting-edge technologies in the beauty industry. In its early years, it became the first to use ginseng from traditional Asian medicine in skincare. The prized ingredient is now largely associated with Sulwhasoo skincare.
In 2008, it revolutionised the way in which compact foundations were made and packaged when one of its brands, IOPE, launched the Air Cushion, a portable, spill-proof compact with a sponge puff soaked in a liquid formula of sunscreen and foundation.
Explaining the concept behind the product, Mr Robin Na, head of Amorepacific’s Asean Region Headquarters which is located in Singapore, said that the company was inspired by its core customers – young working women who had to put on makeup quickly in the morning.
“The cushion foundation has the great advantage of letting you apply makeup naturally and comfortably,” he said.
Today, Laneige and Sulwhasoo also have their versions of the sponge cushion foundation, albeit with ingredients and benefits that are aligned with their unique brand identities.
Another innovative product from Amorepacific is the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask, a leave-on gel mask launched in 2002. Before this, most face masks had to be removed after 15 minutes. As expected, many competitor brands have come up with their own take on both the cushion foundation and the sleeping mask.
TAKING ON DYNAMIC ASIA
Although Amorepacific brands and products are now used across the world, the Asian market still remains its main focus.
Mr Na said that Asia shows the most dynamism and potential in the world, growing at an average rate of about 9 per cent. What’s more impressive: His company’s business in the region is growing even faster, at an annual rate of 50 per cent.
“There are various types of people [in Asia] and it is a unique environment… we believe that companies that produce the most suitable products and introduce more innovative technologies will succeed,” said Mr Na.
In Singapore, Amorepacific launched HERA last year, a luxury makeup brand known for its range of innovative and trend-leading makeup products, as well as a premium salon haircare brand, Amos Professional. This year, premium haircare brand Ryo entered Singapore as well. Amorepacific had unveiled the Ryo brand in Malaysia last year while Amos Professional will be launched this year.
Mr Na shared that in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur remains his main market but he has plans to expand to cities like Johor Bahru, Kuching and Penang. Likewise, there are plans to expand beyond Jakarta in Indonesia into Bandung, Medan and Surabaya.
“Vietnam has the highest economic growth rate in the world, and its young customers are consuming dynamically. Hence, we are investing a lot there as well,” said Mr Na, who added that Amorepacific had ventured into Ho Chi Minh City as early as 20 years ago.
CUSTOMISED FOR CUSTOMERS
However, Mr Na does not believe in simply transplanting what his brands already have from Korea to a South-east Asian city. A company has to be customer-centric to succeed in the diverse Asian market, he said.
For this reason, Amorepacific opened a Research & Innovation Centre in 2017 in Singapore’s Biopolis. Here, the company works with research institute A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) as well as with venture companies and startups to study new technologies in cosmetics manufacturing. The team also conducts research by speaking with customers every month to find out what they like and want in a product.
Mr Lee Yun Ha, head of the Amorepacific Research & Innovation Centre, said: “I found out about the shades and qualities that Asian customers here like. Because they have different skin types and tones from Koreans, we had to develop shades for them. So, we developed a matte, high-coverage product like Laneige’s BB Cushion Pore Control.”
He added that Amorepacific has been conducting focus group interviews and home usage tests with Muslim customers as they “are some of the most important customers in Asia”. Through the studies, he learnt that Muslims perform wudu, a religious washing ritual where they wash their faces and other parts of the body before prayers. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to provide them with better beauty products and routines,” said Mr Lee.
Mr Na said that the company’s strategic direction is “very clear” when it comes to expanding in Asia: It is all about being customer-centred and innovative, and also digitising the business.
His ultimate goal? Said Mr Na: “Amorepacific has a vision to become the top brand in a premium market worth about 2.5 trillion won (S$3 billion) by 2020.”