Chinese makeup companies are forging ahead, producing quality products much faster than their Western counterparts.
Some Chinese brands take just three to six months to create and launch wide-ranging product lines.
They sell these new products to a wide e-commerce consumer base, at a fraction of Sephora's prices.
Flower Knows. Perfect Diary. Judy Doll. Florasis. If you don't live in China, you've probably never heard of these make-up brands - but together, they made several billion dollars in revenue in 2020, bucking a COVID-era trend that saw Western beauty brands losing at least 10% of their revenue last year.
The secret to their success is simple: new is always better. These brands take just three months to conceptualize, launch, and manufacture a product line, and they're selling it on Chinese e-commerce platforms like Taobao at drugstore prices.
This formula is clearly working for them too, as research from Deloitte in 2020 saw China-based beauty brands making around 5.4 billion RMB (around $827 million) in March last year alone, doubling their year-on-year growth despite a nationwide COVID lockdown.
So what exactly is fast beauty, and who are the major players in the industry? Why is it so popular? And how is it even possible to produce an entire line of 20 to 30 beauty products in a matter of months?
The makeup moguls you've never heard of
For Flower Knows CEO Yang Zifeng, 28, fast beauty is the name of the game - and the only way to survive in China's cut-throat beauty market.
Flower Knows was started in Zhejiang province in 2016 when Yang and the company's creative director Zhou Tiancheng, 26, pooled the entirety of their savings - which amounted to slightly over $100,000 - to launch their beauty brand.
Working out of a tiny office in Hangzhou, the duo told The Straits Times in 2019 that they struggled at first when make-up reviewers snubbed their samples. But they persevered, shortening their production time: from taking six months to work on each product line, to doing it under three.
The brand's products retail on Chinese e-commerce platforms T-Mall and Taobao for less than $20 per eyeshadow palette and $9 per lipstick. Domestic shipping is free-of-charge, and products usually get to customers within a 24- to 48-hour timeframe from the moment they click "buy."
"Speed doesn't mean we compromise on quality," Yang told Chinese media outlet Xueqiu. "Loyal customers keep coming back to buy our items, not only for the good formulas we put out but because everything we do - from the packaging we design, to the colors and styles we put out - is based on original, creative ideas."
If you snooze, you lose - the Chinese fast beauty industry's need for speed
In a video posted last year on Bilibili, the Chinese version of YouTube, Yang and Zhou gave a rare behind-the-scenes look into their workflow, telling fans of the brand that they can produce products so fast because multiple product lines are in the works simultaneously. The makeup also gets to customers so fast because it is mostly produced in a factory in Guangzhou, which helps ship orders directly from a warehouse, eliminating several steps in the supply chain.
Yang and Zhou now work with a staff of around 100 designers and marketers. Zhou continues to have full creative control over how each palette is produced, while Yang handles the entire process of product development from start to finish, working closely with suppliers and manufacturers to make sure their products hit their online store on schedule.
According to Xueqiu, their brand now turns a profit of around $5 million per launch. To put that into perspective, that's a little more than what Jeffree Star makes from each of his makeup launches. Flower Knows releases at least six to seven product lines a year: four times the number of new product lines Fenty launched in 2020.
Xueqiu reported that the brand put out over 100 unique makeup products in 2020 alone, releasing a staggering variety of eyeshadow palettes, highlighters, blushes, lipsticks, lip glosses, and compact foundations every launch. This is very likely to double in 2021 - as the brand has already put out over 50 unique items across three different product lines in the first four months of 2021, with the launch of its "Angel," "Love Bear," and "Flower God" series.
"Tiancheng and I both arrived at an understanding that as long as we keep on refreshing and updating our products, this would be a successful formula," Yang told Xueqiu.
"You can say that it's a painful process because we have to keep up with a high production output while never once repeating a 'concept.' But making it in the beauty industry was our lifelong dream, so it's worth it."
According to the company's Taobao and T-Mall pages, it has a customer base of around 1.5 million people, some of whom told Insider they preferred the company's products to Korean makeup and American beauty brands.
"We can always rely on the brand to come up with something new every two months, to the point where I find myself wishing they would slow down so I can afford to buy everything," said customer Lin Zixin, 25, who lives in Shanghai and has been purchasing the company's make-up for two years.
Zhao Qin, 29, who lives and works in Beijing, has also been one of the brand's long-time customers and an avid collector of eyeshadow palettes. She said she thought the quality of their eyeshadow palettes, in particular, was "better" than those produced by some Western beauty brands, saying she "much preferred them" to the Kylie "Kyshadow" palette.
"I thought their lipsticks were like YSL's, except the packaging is prettier and it's a tenth of the price," she said. "Besides, don't brands like Urban Decay and Morphe also make their products here in China?"
Marketing experts: fast beauty is a force to be reckoned with
Flower Knows has its competitors too - in the form of brand Florasis, which models its items after the products used by Imperial concubines, Judy Doll's cutesy cartoon-character-inspired palettes, and Perfect Diary's minimalist, fuss-free products for working women.
According to Deloitte's research, having value-for-money products with a quick turnover has enabled these local brands to appeal to customers in their 20s and 30s.
"As consumers in lower-tier cities become more aware of makeup products, an expanding consumer base and increasing penetration of lower-tier cities are expected to benefit local brands, which offer cheap, entry-level products," wrote Deloitte APAC retail researcher Tianbing Zhang, adding that a fast-maturing makeup R&D process and supply ecosystem is gradually taking shape in China, lowering barriers to entry.
The researchers predicted that the market share of home-grown Chinese brands was likely to see a compound annual growth rate of 17.6%, with women under 30 being the fastest-growing consumer pool.
Many Chinese beauty brands currently boast a consumer base of several million loyal fans - those who follow the brand's updates on e-commerce platforms and who buy their products religiously - and this number grows every month.
Deloitte estimated that the entire process from research and development to production could soon be shortened from months to just a matter of days.
The products are also efficiently marketed through social media, including word-of-mouth via Chinese social networking platforms WeChat and Weibo, as well as video-based marketing on review platform Xiaohongshu. Videos on Bilibili, as well as live-streaming on the e-commerce platform itself, also allows these brands to tap into a broad consumer base that is ever willing to buy, buy, and buy.
Adelle Yang, assistant professor in the department of marketing at the National University of Singapore's business school, told Insider that fast beauty essentially shares the same appeal as fast fashion, but its popularity is further enhanced by a lower price threshold.
She added that manufacturers' geographical proximity to factories, as well as a wide gamut of resources, has likely played a major role in the rise of fast beauty, contributing to the breakneck speed at which products are created, launched, and rolled out.
"There's also a substantive section of consumers who are both price-sensitive and respond favorably to Chinese brands for their cultural sentiments and signals," said Yang.
Elison Lim, associate professor in the Nanyang Business School at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, told Insider that these brands have the home-ground advantage of understanding local tastes and needs, and are quick to pick up on shifts in beauty trends.
"For instance, they understand what works best for Asian skin. They are also quick to pick up the current beauty trends that Chinese consumers are drawn to, and are fast in launching products that leverage those trends," Lim said.
She noted that some observers have likened the idea of fast beauty consumption to "snacking," where consumers sample as many different products and brands as they like.
"For color cosmetics, affordable price tags mean that consumers can own a wide variety of cosmetic products to create different looks - whether for expressing one's uniqueness or to keep up with beauty trends as they change," Lim said.
"Like snacks, fast beauty - which often comes in cute and attractive packaging - is a fun change from the usual staples and are especially popular among younger consumers."
Read the original article on Insider