The Rise of Korean Cosmetic Brands
Korea’s cosmetics industry has grown very quickly over the past five years. Looking at the graph from Samsung Economic Research Institute below, you’ll see that it outpaced retail sales and the GDP overall. All indications point to this growth continuing unabated, but as recently as a decade ago few people would have believed that Korean cosmetics would grow so considerably.
Less than ten years ago, Koreans preferred imported cosmetic brand products. In department stores, the cosmetics sections were dominated by high-priced foreign brands and local brands were only for people who couldn’t afford these imports.
Now this has changed, as Korean brands increased their quality, targeted their products at a higher-income market, developed products specifically for Asian women (and men), while keeping the prices below those of imports.
Now Korean cosmetics are catching on in other countries as well. This started when Korean cosmetics brands started to differentiate themselves in ways very different from European luxury brands. For example, Sulwhasoo, a leading brand made by Amore Pacific, focused on creating products using Korean herbal medicine. This appealed to cosmetics buyers in other parts of Asia as well and leveraged the already-surging Korean wave.
While many Korean cosmetics brands are now available beyond Korea, many women come as part of tour groups to Seoul where the main objective is shopping. In the tourist-friendly Myeong-dong area it’s quite common to hear promoters for cosmetics shops calling out to potential customers in Japanese, Chinese and English, as well as Korean. As if that’s not enough, visitors also buy cosmetics on their way out of the country. Many duty free shops in Korea report that cosmetics are their top revenue generators.