How three Singaporean women are shaking up the local beauty scene

How three Singaporean women are shaking up the local beauty scene

Channel NewsAsia's Genevieve Loh talks to three Singaporean women who are determined to overcome the challenges to bring local beauty brands to prominence.

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Marie Soh, Toh Ziling and Lily Kew (L-R) are three Singaporean women working hard on their brands to make an impact on the local beauty industry. (Photos: Marie Soh Facebook/ Digital Negative/Kew Organics)

SINGAPORE: In an already overcrowded global cosmetic industry, the Singapore beauty brand has long struggled to get the recognition and prominence it deserves.

Homegrown beauty brands constantly struggle to stand out and compete alongside international skincare juggernauts such as Estee Lauder, SK-II and Laneige. Adding to that fierce competition is the uphill battle to not only try and win over customers, but also retain the loyalty of the spoilt-for-choice Singaporean consumers.

Yet, these trials and tribulations have not stopped these Singaporean women entrepreneurs from their quest to leave a definitive mark on the beauty industry.

Given the fierce competition out there, Toh Ziling, COO of new skincare label RE:ERTH told Channel NewsAsia that one of the first challenges was to convince people of the “validity of a local skincare brand”.

“True skincare formulations are not created in the kitchen but in strict, controlled environments, carefully assessing and testing stability, efficacy, and safety,” she said. “There were also many boxes to tick in our desire to have the best products, like the ability to effectively deliver results in a safe, health conscious manner, for example. With the strong scientific backing, extensive research, and highly curated, mindful formulas, our validity is solid.”

Toh Ziling
RE:ERTH COO Toh Ziling hopes to convince Singaporeans of the "validity of a local skincare brand". (Photo: Digital Negative/ Piquant Ideas)

RE:ERTH is a new skincare label with products billed as “highly efficacious with multiple powerful skincare benefits”. The formulations stem from the Japanese white tumeric – a plant whose root and leaves have been proven by researchers at Kindai University in Japan to “slow down the breakdown of hyaluronic acid within the skin, while stimulating cellular activity and collagen production for a firmer appearance”.

The Japanese white tumeric is cultivated and harvested exclusively on Toh’s partner Shinji Yamasaki’s farms in the Kyushu region of Japan.

“We work with labs in Japan, Denmark and the UK. The formulators and scientists create unique skincare formulas, using our exclusive ingredients backed by research conducted in places like Kindai University, Oxford University, Stockholm University and Max Plank Institute, among others, as well as several being published in numerous scientific journals,” said Toh. “(The) products are all made in GMP-certified facilities, all with ingredients that are INCI-listed.”

Which is why for Toh, bringing a beauty brand to fruition is definitely a “hefty investment”

“There were many negotiations that took months, even after finding the right partners,” she said. “Then it was about getting the funding we needed to get started.”

RE:ERTH Starter Kit comprises a clarifying cleanser, calming toner, mutli-targeted elixir and hydrating gel moisturiser (Photo: RE:ERTH)

Indeed, these investments, monetary or otherwise, are a big part of the Singaporean beauty entrepreneur’s journey.

And that is one of the reasons why local makeup artist and founder of INGA Cosmetics Marie Soh feels Singaporeans should give our own beauty brands a chance.

INGA is known for its matte lipsticks that can withstand our hot and humid weather.

“More often than not, local entrepreneurs start brands to supplement their income and to chase their dreams,” she said. “I feel the love, quality and effort that go into smaller brands are no less than what is put into the bigger brands. Everyone should be given a chance for a first try at least.”

Soh believes that it’s all about changing the mindsets of Singaporeans when it comes to emerging homegrown labels.

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Singaporean makeup artist Marie Soh's matte lipstick line INGA by 27A was launched late last year. (

“I think it’s the lack of trust in the quality of products, and also the relation that ‘local’ equates to cheap and sub-par quality,” she said. “Which in truth is the total opposite!”

A good example of local products that belie that belief would be Kew Organics by local skincare entrepreneur Lily Kew.

Spurred by her fruitless search for effective organic skincare, Kew took two years to develop Kew Organics as Singapore’s first water-based organic skincare label. Launched last year, the brand’s range of products and ingredients use a combination of vegan, non-GMO, organic and natural botanical ingredients to deliver the best results for the skin. Each Kew Organics product is encased in European Miron Violet Glass packaging that can permanently activate and energise molecular structures, so that the healing energy of substances stored in the glass does not “escape”.

“Kew Organics revolves around high-quality, organic skincare, so my main challenges are a lack of natural resources here (in Singapore),” she said. “Which means that I have to import the skincare ingredients and packaging at higher costs.”

All the more why Singaporeans should not hold back their support for local brands.

“Because we are a homegrown brand, we know our client base and their skin needs very well. Kew Organics skincare are all water-based and targeted to treat specific skin problems, which is what all Singaporeans need and are looking for in effective skincare,” said Kew.

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Kew Organics is Singapore's first homegrown organic skincare brand. Most of its products are water-based and absorbed quickly so it's not too rich for our tropical climate. (Photo: Kew Organics)

“Also, for such effective and organic skincare, we are considered good value for money compared to other big foreign brands as they spend a lot of money on marketing and branding.

“We don’t spend as much on marketing and branding so we plough a big percentage of our revenue into our formulations.”

It’s these challenges and overall dearth of recognition faced by Singaporean beauty brands that make these Singaporean women even more determined to keep working on their brand and their products – all in the hope that one day, there will be positive change in both the industry and support.

“I believe local support will grow stronger once the trust is established that we have truly garnered resources from Singapore and around the world that is, in my opinion, better than what exists in the current market,” said Toh.

She continued: “I hope Singapore will continue to be a sophisticated market, and there will be greater support for the market players to continue researching and pushing skincare towards health care – after all skin is the largest organ of our body! I believe skincare science is where Singapore is well-poised to lead the world in achieving desired effects in the most healthy way.”

“Here (in Singapore), biomedical sciences is a leading pillar of our economy, and we are a world-class scientific and biomedical research hub,” she explained. “We are also leaders in terms of quality health care and medical tourism, especially for Asia-Pacific healthcare. I think we already have the infrastructure set up here in Singapore. We just need to deeper research skincare science and ‘desired effects’ like anti-aging.”

Although RE:ERTH is currently conducting all its research and development abroad, Toh hopes it can move it back home to Singapore within the next five years.

“Perhaps if there's Government support and funding,” she said. 

Kew feels the same way, adding that she hopes for more public education that emphasises on the “on the goodness of homegrown skincare.”

“I also believe the need of more support from our Government,” she said.

A suggestion to help smaller homegrown brands combat the bigger names in terms of brand awareness, she says, is having more affordable retail spaces for local brands.

“I hope that there will be more support for local brands on the retail and tax aspects as the beauty retail scene here is heavily skewed towards foreign and big-name brands with big marketing budgets,” she said. “Perhaps making the tax processes less complicated for import and export.”

Toh agrees. “I think it would be wonderful if we could have strategic showcases in partnership with the Government to push the awareness of local beauty brands,” she said. “Maybe even tie-ups like during fashion week, where we not only celebrate local fashion designers, but also show how Singaporean brands encompasses all aspects of beauty.”

Source: CNA/gl