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South Korean groups look to take make-up for men mainstream

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Via Financial Times

Jung Ho-seok, a 29-year-old South Korean man who works in the fashion industry, does not leave his house without applying more than 10 cosmetics products. He starts with toner and hydrating cream and finishes with foundation, powder, eyebrow pencil and a lip balm. 

His multi-step morning regimen typically takes half an hour, and he rarely skips it. “I feel uneasy going out without wearing make-up. It counts, how you look in our industry,” said Mr Jung. 

Mr Jung is not alone. South Korea’s style-conscious young men are increasingly embracing beauty products that were once confined to women, influenced by well-groomed Korean celebrities defying conventional ideas of masculinity. 

The country’s cosmetics brands such as AmorePacific are now looking to capitalise on that trend and take men’s make-up mainstream outside the country.

Although a fledgling business globally, male skincare is one of the industry’s fastest growing segments, creating a promising revenue stream for global beauty groups. Euromonitor forecasts the market will grow about 20 per cent to $5bn by 2023. 

In South Korea, the country’s 19m men spent $683m on skincare in 2018, accounting for nearly a fifth of the global total. They are the biggest spenders per head, splurging about 10 times more than their US or French peers. 

AmorePacific, South Korea’s biggest cosmetics company, launched its first men’s make-up brand, BeReady, in September. 

South Korean cosmetics groups are now looking to make inroads into overseas countries — particularly the fast-growing male skincare markets in China and south-east Asia, but also even the US and parts of Europe. 

Column chart of Sales by retail value ($bn) showing Asian countries dominate spending on men's skincare

“They are now turning their attention to neighbouring countries amid stalled growth at home,” said Lisa Hong, an analyst at Euromonitor. “It is important to advance in the emerging male cosmetics market with high growth potential, where there are no clear dominant players yet.” 

  • Korean companies are betting that the growing popularity of K-pop bands such as BTS will help spur western men’s take-up of colour cosmetics
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The Korean companies are betting that the growing global popularity of K-pop boy bands — whose stars often appear on stage in full make-up complete with eyeshadow and lipstick — will eventually ease even western men into using their popular products such as BB (blemish balm) creams, eyebrow pencils and lip balms.

“The popularity of Korean pop culture, especially boy bands, helps us market our products abroad, as the K-pop stars help reduce resistance among ordinary men towards using cosmetics,” said Noh Sung-il, president of Label Homme, a small Korean company that sells male cosmetics online in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the US. 

Global brands are also trying to tap the burgeoning market. Last year, Chanel featured South Korean actor Lee Dong-wook as the face of its first cosmetics range for men, Boy de Chanel, which includes foundation, lip balm and an eyebrow brush. 

Tom Ford Beauty offers a men’s line while L’Oréal, Japan’s Shiseido and France’s Estée Lauder are also beginning to release colour cosmetics specifically for men. 

Asia’s male grooming market — skincare plus fragrances, toiletries and hair products — accounted for less than a fifth of the world’s $51bn industry in 2018, according to Euromonitor. But skincare products alone have been more widely taken up by Asian men, who spent $2.6bn on them in 2018, accounting for 64 per cent of worldwide sales. 

“Korean men are certainly more progressed when it comes to skincare, make-up and general upkeep. I’d argue the US is behind — but not too far back,” said David Yi, founder of US-based male beauty blog Very Good Light. “Western men in bigger cities are now embracing freedom of expression and in only a few years, we’ll see masculine-identifying people embrace beauty, cosmetics and skincare.” 

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The niche market is also a big opportunity for smaller players. Sales at Art & Design International, a Korean company known for its men’s make-up brand Swagger, jumped 30 per cent to Won3bn ($2.6m) last year. Art & Design, which sells its products in eight countries including the US, China and Norway, plans to enter Japan and India this year and is in talks to expand into Italy and Germany. 

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“It is still not easy to woo ordinary men into using cosmetics but their brand loyalty is high once they become your customers,” said Hellen Choo, the company’s chief executive. “We want to increase the portion of exports from 30 per cent of our sales now to 70 per cent in five years by focusing on bigger markets like China and the US.” 

Still, she conceded it would be some time before male cosmetics are more widely accepted beyond Asia. 

“Despite all the hype about men’s make-up, colour products are unlikely to catch on [soon] with western guys, as they still prefer the traditional macho image of men,” said Ms Choo. 

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