Singapore is small, and one of the best ways for a home-grown brand to expand is to conquer the world, through e-commerce, physical retail, or both. These five beauty companies – established and new – are doing just that, pandemic be damned. Some have even planned for global domination right from Day One.
Before its launch, PSA had already clinched pre-orders worth $250,000 from retailers like Sephora Asia, Beauty Bay and Beautylish.
A play on the term “public service announcement”, the brand, an offshoot of home-grown cult brand Allies of Skin, launched in March 2020. “PSA is our Gen-Z and millennial-focused line driven by clean, efficacious formulas,” says founder Nicolas Travis.
That means a vibe that’s youthful and fun, prices that are pocket-friendly, and clean formulas.
Its six products (cleanser, toner, two serums, mask, and night oil) are all under $58. And the formulas contain superfoods, peptides, vitamins and antioxidants, but without potential irritants like alcohol, essential oils, sulphates and so on. Before its launch, PSA had already clinched pre-orders worth $250,000 from retailers like Sephora Asia, Beauty Bay and Beautylish.
Instead of launching in Singapore, then in other countries after, PSA went full on into Sephora Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong at the same time.
Travis says that PSA took two years to develop and is a collab with Sephora Asean, hence, its hard deliver-by date.
Two months later, in May, it went further afield, with online launches in the UK and US: at shopping site Beauty Bay in the former, and Beautylish in the latter. It also entered iconic London store Liberty.
In October, the brand expanded its online stockist options in the UK and US further, with Asos and Revolve, respectively.
Travis says what happened after PSA launched was that those who had previously found Allies of Skin’s prices a stumbling block flocked to PSA. “So, we’ve been able to serve a wider segment of the market,” he says. “There’s been so much demand for products from both brands that we’ve started to place seven-figure orders for our production batches combined.”
The increase in production means PSA is now prepped to launch with UK beauty e-tailer Look Fantastic and online with Sephora China.
Liht Organics’ 17- location launch at Lulu in the UAE did so well that the retailer offered to almost double its presence in other outlets within a month.
The home-grown organic makeup brand prides itself on high-performance, good-for-skin cosmetics. Its products are available on its SG website Lihtorganics.com, and at Astique the Aesthetic Clinic.
Just six months after its March 2019 launch, Liht Organics entered the Middle East. It’s a market that founder Nerissa Low describes as “a dream” because of its large pool of avid cosmetics users and eye for high quality products.
The brand signed a three-year deal with Lulu Hypermarket, one of the Middle East’s biggest retailers, rolling out in 21 stores across major cities in the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in 2019.
The plan was that, by end 2020, its products would be launched into 200 Lulu locations in the region. “However, because the coronavirus greatly disrupted interstate and international logistics and operations, those plans were shelved indefinitely,” says Low.
So, the brand turned its attention to e-commerce overseas. “Not being able to take corporate trips gave us more bandwidth to sharpen our e-commerce operations. This allowed us to achieve greater international reach with a lower capital injection, as physical retail is extremely costly,” she says.
Liht Organics set up its Middle East website in August this year, with products shipped to customers from its warehouse there. Low says: “In terms of profitability, our e-commerce sales more than make up for the expected profits in the first year, should we have gone ahead to launch physical stores.”
Liht Organics is also available on Sprii, the region’s top shopping platform for mother and baby products.
The brand recently launched on China’s mega retail platform, TMall Global. Low says: “Seeing how fast China bounced back from the pandemic made me realise the importance of being present in different markets.”
Low says listing on Amazon Middle East is in the pipeline.
The brand is also already creating new market-specific products for different countries, so that it doesn’t end up hoarding stock that may not be as popular in those markets.
Re:erth’s Multi- Targeted Elixir, a do-it-all serum that promises “mochi” skin, is a bestseller in all its markets: Singapore, US and Japan.
The skincare brand, which aims to deliver healthy “mochi” skin (read: supple, plump and bouncy) using natural actives and advanced scientific know-how, has been an online outfit since it launched in 2017. Its base is in Singapore (its two other co- founders are local), while CEO Shinji Yamasaki is based in Tokyo, Japan.
Keeping with its e-commerce business model, Re:erth launched a US website in June, which is separate from its SG site.
What’s more ambitious: Rather than shipping its products from Singapore, the brand operates a warehouse and team in the US.
It isn’t as extraneous as it seems, says Yamasaki. The US has been Re:erth’s second largest market since the start, and that made it the most logical market to enter directly into.
“One of the major hurdles for customers purchasing our products (from the SG website) is the shipping cost. We decided early on that the most effective way to better serve US customers is if we had all shipping and handling done locally there,” says Yamasaki.
A more important reason for a US website: localisation. As the US has different legal elements, everything from details like labelling volumes in imperial format, to what can or cannot be said about the products, is different from Singapore.
“Having a localised website allows us to not only cater to local holidays, traditions and customs, but also build a stronger line of communication between ourselves and our customers.
“By having each market operating independently, we are able to stay flexible and adjust to the needs of both local customers and regulators,” he says.
Yamasaki says the brand is planning on bolstering its position in the US and Singapore, while continuing to look for other international expansion opportunities.
To handle its global expansion, Maison 21G has tasked specific staff members to handle each country’s e-commerce and drive its online campaigns.
Frenchwoman Johanna Monange moved to Singapore in 2014, as creative director in Asia for fragrance giant, International Flavors & Fragrances. She left in 2019 and launched bespoke perfumery Maison 21G that same year, with a flagship boutique in Duxton and an online store. The Paris reference in the brand’s label is a nod to her roots and to the Parisian tradition of fine perfumery.
South Korea is the brand’s most important market right now. Monange says the country has everything when it comes to skincare and makeup, but lags behind in perfume innovation. “We see niche perfume consumption increasing by double digits there. Maison 21G ticks all the boxes for Korean desires – personalisation, freedom of expression, handcraft, a high-tech approach and transparent, clean perfumery.”
It’s the perfect market to replicate its Singapore offline-online business model – from a population of six million to 60 million.
To start, in November, Maison 21G launched a pop-up store at the upscale Galleria department store in Seoul, and is in talks with other distributors to open in key retail locations around the city next year. The brand has translated its website into Korean, and is working with PR partners and influencers there to create buzz.
If Korea goes well, Monange is aiming for an even larger market – China. “If you are successful in Korea, you will attract the attention of the Chinese,” she says.
More concrete plans, however, are being made for Asia and Australia. Following Maison 21G’s roll-out at Sephora Ngee Ann City at the end of the year, it will launch in Sephora in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand over the first three quarters of 2021.
And come Q2 next year, it will open at the new Lotte Duty Free store in downtown Sydney, Australia, replacing its former boutique, which closed due to the pandemic. Monange says it’s a better location with higher footfall, compared to its previous hotel store.
Top sellers in Germany: Toner Brightening (called Toner Lightening in Singapore), Moisturiser Collagen Boost, and Restore Gel Mask.
The skincare line is a familiar name in Singapore, having been around since 2008. Created by aesthetics doctor Dr Georgia Lee for her patients and sold at her clinic, it was originally named after Dr Lee. It later became DrGL when the brand moved into retail, at the now-defunct Luxola, before launching its e-commerce in 2016.
Its first expansion was to Bangkok, Thailand, in 2015, at luxury department stores Siam Paragon and The Emporium, when the opportunity arose through Dr Lee’s friend, who’s a long-time user of DrGL.
In September 2018, it entered Hamburg, Germany, at the invitation of high-end beauty emporium Douglas Pro. German customers veer towards doctor brands for their expertise, and scouts from the store had tried and loved DrGL products.
The launch was a big milestone for the small brand, and an expensive one. The EU has a list of over 1,400 banned substances, such as parabens, which cannot be used in cosmetics there. DrGL spent 18 months testing its products and revamping formulas in order to be certified safe by independent toxicologists in the EU.
With that initial investment, and having ensured that all its products meet EU guidelines, DrGL is now poised to make further inroads into Europe’s deluxe skincare market.
Co-founder and CEO Patsy Ong-Hahl says the team hopes to move things along next year, and that the brand is prepping hard now, through talks with potential partners in the EU.
Plans are also afoot to expand to North America in the first half of 2021, first online and then, possibly, with a retail presence.
DrGL is also looking to expand its distribution to Hong Kong and, from there, to China and the rest of East Asia in the near future.
This article first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Her World.