Is K-beauty’s reign over in China?

Is K-beauty’s reign over in China?

Chinese shoppers are switching their allegiance from K-beauty to local brands and J-beauty classics, according to a report published by the South China Morning Post. Growth in exports of South Korean cosmetics to China slowed by two-thirds as the THAAD scandal escalated last year – mirrored in AmorePacific’s results at the time, and it looks like they may never recover.

Because unfortunately for K-beauty, the Chinese boycott was catastrophic not only in the immediate aftermath of the THAAD row but also had long-lasting effects as Chinese shoppers went on a voyage of discovery. No longer reaching for their tried-and-tested K-beauty classics, Chinese consumers turned instead to J-beauty and, riding the patriotic wave, local players too. And they liked it.

“Chinese brands are growing rapidly, there’s a change in local consumption patterns and local trends,” Mike Sohn Seong-min, Assistant Researcher at the Korea Cosmetics Industry Institute told the South China Morning Post.

I’ve discussed the sudden appeal of local brands at length on this very platform, but its worth revisiting how this explosion of national fervour has led to a corresponding rise in sales for the Made in China camp. Traditional dress, or hanfu, and its associated elegant make-up style is even trending among younger audiences on social media.

“There are many online tutorials on sites such as Bilibi and Weibo offering guidance on how to wear the hanfu and do traditional make-up, promoting a more elegant beauty ideal, compared to the ‘cute and sexy’ beauty in Japanese and Korean popular culture,” Emily Guo, of market research firm Cherry Blossoms told the South China Morning Post.

A report published by New York-based market research firm L2 suggests that J-beauty hasn’t suffered the same fate as K-beauty, however. Indeed, in 2017, J-beauty brands saw sales growth and digital visibility in China rise faster than their K-beauty rivals and results from the likes of Shiseido et al suggest that demand isn’t slowing any time soon.

The reason? J-beauty has long been synonymous with quality and that’s a greater priority for China’s growing middle class than ever before.

“Japan has always been a solid value and – despite some ups and downs – and endless inspirer and creator of beauty products innovations for China,” Matthieu Rochette Schneider, GM for centdegres China told Jing Daily.

Does that mean it’s all over for K-beauty? In a word, no. Those brands who eschew the K-pop feel, embrace a more individualistic approach to beauty and offer similar quality will still find an audience in China.

And in the meantime, the K-beauty camp have not been resting on their laurels – because all year we’ve been reporting on their moves elsewhere – LG Household & Health Care snapped up New Avon, a heavy investment in the US market if ever we heard one, while AmorePacific has been making in roads in India.  

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