The other Korean wave: The rising popularity of Korean cosmetics
We wanted to discover why Korean cosmetics have become so popular outside of Korea in recent years and so we talked to online Korean cosmetic retailer WISHTrend about the Korean beauty trend.
Korea’s growing cultural influence has been gaining a lot of recognition in the past few years with the massive increase in popularity of Korean pop culture products, particularly K-pop and TV dramas. But this is not the only market in which Korean products have been expanding. Korea has also seen a surge in interest in its fashion and lifestyle products. This is true of Korean cosmetics in particular which have not only completely dominated the domestic market ahead of foreign brands but have also seen an explosion in popularity overseas.
While the big Korean brands like Amorepacific, Skin Food and Laneige may not be household names globally, they have been doing extremely well in other neighbouring markets particularly China. A recent survey found that female Chinese students spend nearly $300 a year on Korean brand cosmetics. We spoke to Tay Kim, beauty blogger for international Korean cosmetic online retailer WISHTrend, who explained the reasons for this popularity. She said ‘China is one of the closest countries to South Korea in geographic perspective which means that we have similar weather, ethnicity, and skin type’.
Korean cosmetic brands have also become known for their advanced technology and quality ingredients which is a major factor in their increasing popularity. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of investment has gone into the design and development of the brands which have allowed cosmetics companies to develop cutting edge technology and lead new cosmetic trends. Products which gained popularity originally in Korea such as BB and CC cream have then gone on to be reproduced by global cosmetics brands in markets where consumers have little knowledge of East Asian makeup trends.
These large scale investments have been enabled by the fact that most Korean cosmetics brands are either developed by large cosmetics companies who own many popular brands such as Amorepacific and LG H&H or they are smaller brands whose products are developed by an original development and design manufacturer such as Korea Kolmar. As both of these models work on large scales it allows for more money to be invested in improving the quality of products. However some may argue that this could be deceptive towards consumers as many of the brands that appear to be different are actually developed in the same factories by the same companies. Tay argues that because the Korean market is so competitive, ‘it makes cosmetic companies develop better ingredients and newer, higher technology’ and therefore leads to a higher quality overall.
Of course the popularity of Korean cosmetics outside of Korea has also been driven by the Hallyu wave as international K-pop and Korean drama fans gain interest in achieving the look of their favourite stars. On top of that many brands are employing celebrities to endorse their brands and often these campaigns reach out beyond the domestic market as fans search for high quality images of their idols. However Tay believes that increasingly the focus is shifting more towards the actual products rather than the stars and ‘one day the advanced Korean cosmetic itself [will] be highlighted’.
In order to address the growing market of people interested in Korean cosmetics outside of Korea and its main export markets a number of online retailers have started selling Korean products to consumers all over the world. Although this started with just the most well-known brands such as Skin Food and Etude House, there are now sites which specialise in selling a wider range of products. Wishtrend is one such retailer which focusses on ‘deliver[ing] not-well-known but with great quality and ingredients’.
Wishtrend is also a good example of how these online marketplaces are using online marketing strategies to promote not only their own website but also Korean cosmetics in general. The company tries to familiarise foreign consumers with their products through beauty blogs and videos, an online trend which has become very popular in recent years. Describing the reason for this strategy, Tay, who appears in all the company’s videos, said ‘since we carry many brands that are unfamiliar to foreign consumers, we felt a need to actively introduce and talk about them’.
With new stores opening all the time outside of Korea and more and more online retailers coming into the market, for better or worse, it seems like the influence of Korean cosmetics brands will not stop growing any time soon.