Last week, Tracy Robey published an article on Racked titled "What Kim Jong-Un Has to Do With Your Skincare." Quick self-plug but she quotes me a few times as she dissects the geopolitics of China, North Korea and South Korea and how that impacts K-Beauty.
One statement I found super interesting was by professor Hannah Jun of Ewha University.
I've speculated before that China could be the biggest threat to K-Beauty. When we look at Asia and the countries that dominate global business we saw a lot of innovation and development first come out of Japan. Companies like Panasonic, Sony, Nintendo were high fliers in the global markets at one point. Then Samsung and LG rose to prominence by dominating the chip, processor, mobile and consumer electronic space. We've also seen Chinese companies like Huawei and Lenovo quickly take up space in this market as well.
If we use this as a parallel, beauty trends often start in Japan (or J-Beauty) or are innovated in Japan (like the sheet mask), and then get popularized or move to Korea. So, is C-Beauty or Chinese Beauty soon to be on the horizon in global markets?
There are two sides to this butI don't think it's out the realm of possibility.
Camp Yes: Chinese Beauty will become a "thing"
No one can doubt that the Chinese government is a fierce and global powerhouse to be reckoned with. In recent years, they have been targeting and poaching talent from top Korean cosmetics companies luring them with 3x their compensation, free housing, higher titles, etc, etc. They hire general management executives, R&D talent, and marketing and design and tap into their knowledge and expertise.
Once they tap their skills, expertise and knowledge, China can easily produce or reverse engineer very similar K-Beauty type products. They also have tons of cheap laborers meaning that they can produce cheaper products. China, after all, is known as a manufacturing epicenter so once they have all the know how from Korean cosmetic executives, why wouldn't they make C-Beauty a "thing" in other parts of the world?
If they make can similar products at half of the cost and price of K-Beauty, I'm sure they would be able to find buyers. As long as the Chinese government sees this as a priority category and makes the appropriate investments, I see this as a real possible threat to K-Beauty.
Camp No: Beauty is about cache and China has none
The other argument to this is that beauty is about aspiration, inspiration, and marketing. Folks argue that "Made in China" has a bad rap and I have heard people say that even the Chinese in mainland China do not trust "Made in China" especially after the 2008 tainted milk incident. They say that since skincare is something that you apply to your face and body and since it touches your skin, consumers will be much more wary of "Made in China" and look at it as a symbol of low quality. The argument goes that electronics are one thing since they are devices and that things you ingest or apply to your skin is a whole other.
My Two Cents
I have seen Taiwanese beauty come on the scene and a Taiwan Beauty Alliance has been created in order to push Taiwan beauty onto the global scene. Why wouldn't China do something similar to push their Chinese beauty products onto the scene? Why couldn't China invest in making "Made in China" much more attractive for consumers? I think these are real possibilities that Korean beauty brands should be prepared for lest their 15 minutes of fame end.
What do you think? Leave a comment if you think C-Beauty could become more prominent in the coming years.