While the world is finally recovering from the pandemic, most brands and retailers are still struggling to get their businesses back on the right track from the prolonged and unexpected Covid-19 waves that hit three years ago. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity, while vacant retail spaces became a familiar sight in the biggest cities across the world, a lot of SME retailers took the opportunity to step up their game with new store openings and innovative marketing campaigns that rewarded them with a slice of the pie.
We believe 2023 will continue to accelerate the boom of independent labels. In view of this, our expert contributor Samy Redjeb, Managing Director for Bluebell Greater China, curated a list of APAC brands to watch for Retail in Asia. This list is based on the brands’ design aesthetics, stockists and growth in recent years. This year’s ranking focuses on APAC brands across different product categories from fragrance, to beauty and fashion, covering some key expansions and retail components to keep an eye on in 2023.
Price Range: Bodycare from KRW 18,000 up/ Perfumery products range from KRW 59,000 – KRW 218,000
Founded in 2019, Korean homegrown fragrance brand NONFICTION bloomed in the peak of the pandemic. With fragrance at its core, the brand expanded its product lines to hand creams, hand wash as well as body care products. Their signature delicate perfumery utilizes vegetables and raw materials to create a distinctive ambience. With unique formulations and scent narratives, Nonfiction products are known for their use of clean ingredients, removing 17 harmful ingredients like sulfate, paraben, and phthalate.
Apart from 4 standalone offline locations across Korea, including up and coming trendy Seoul districts like Samcheong-dong, Hannam-dong and Seongsu-dong, the brand has also expanded to the country’s second most populous city, Busan. NONFICTION is also available in international stockists including but not limited to SSENSE, SEPHORA, Joyce Beauty, Super A Market, KITH, ISETAN MENS, etc.
Founded in 2019, Ballon is known throughout Japan for its aromatic essential oil, scented candles, and handmade ornaments at its Tokyo atelier. In just three years of operation, the brand has just secured a distribution deal with Bluebell Group to manage wholesale distribution and expand their presence in Taiwan.
In the same year as its official launch, the company established Aroma Gifts, a line that focuses on plaster aromatic ornaments. Followed by the launch of another product line, Bibliothèque blanche in 2015, it elevated the brand’s presence to the next level. Through collaborating with world-known artists, the new line introduces the world of plaster to a wider audience – STAR WARS and [email protected] are the latest names added to the long list of collaborations.
Apart from two standalone stores and a number of offline stockists in its hometown Japan, including but not limited to The Editorial, ISETAN and Mitsukoshi, well-known online retailers from Lane Crawford (Hong Kong), 10 corso como NYC (United States), Le Bon Marche (France) to ARTIFACTS (Taiwan) are also some of the international names that carry Ballon’s offerings.
Price Range: All Eau de Parfum items at USD 125/ All scented candles at USD 75/ Handcare products range from USD 40 – USD 95
The brand name itself is derived from the combination of the words ‘Elements’ and ‘Korea’, a key part of their mission is to capture, preserve, and share the core values of Korean heritage. The brainchild of couple Lee Wonny Lee and Park Su Min, they aim to promote their heritage by creating a line of genderless fragrances made from authentic South Korean ingredients. Elorea balances the traditional and modern approaches to perfume creation by drawing inspiration from Korean origins. The highest quality materials are sourced and products are made in small batches.
Scent has played an important role in Korean spiritual rituals and personal expression. A modern interpretation of these lesser-known aspects of the culture is being presented. Resulting in a unique olfactory experience, an alternative to the euro-centric fragrance market is offered through thoughtful creations inspired by the richness of the Korean heritage.
With the brand’s official website being its main source of sales channel, Elorea is taking a niche approach in distribution and branding. Currently also seen on the shelves of Saks Fifth Avenue, Elorea is expected to enter the international market at its own pace.
Price Range: All Eau de Parfum items at CNY 980/ Other scented items ranging from CNY 450 – CNY 3,500
In July 2021, Documents, known for its signature Parfum, opened its first flagship store at Huaihai Middle Road in Shanghai. Described as “the most expensive Chinese perfume brand”, Documents uses Chinese ingredients such as star anise, mugwood, yulan magnolia, and walnut. While emerging as one of the top Chinese perfume lines, the brand didn’t focus exclusively on Tmall. Instead, the company pursued the approach of leading international groups by leveraging brick-to-mortar shops as the axis for growth and expanding to Shanghai Kerry Center and Beijing SKP-S. As of July this year, the company has also launched on Net-a-Porter.
This strategy displays integrity in its overall approach. Creative designs inspired by architecture and avant-garde product shoots distinguish the brand from many international houses. Judging from its latest investment from L’Oréal’s China fund back in September this year, it is expected that Documents will launch in prestigious department stores in Europe and North America in the near future.
Price Range: Single bodycare item from USD 16.95 up/ Best selling kit at USD 50
Source: Frank Body
As one of the biggest coffee-drinking countries, it only makes sense for an Australian brand to be reproducing products out of coffee grounds. Founded in 2013 by five friends in a coffee shop, through leveraging social media, word of mouth, and hard work, the group managed to turn coffee grounds into a multimillion-dollar beauty and bodycare business.
Source: Frank Body
Due to its cruelty-free, natural, and Aussie-made qualities, it has amassed a huge fan base. Its star products include original coffee scrub, Non-Stop Hair Duo Kit, Brightening Vitamin C Mask and The Poreifics Kit, all of which are 100 percent natural and vegan, with the promise to “wake you up on the outside”, like all caffeinated products do.
It is evident from Frank Body’s international distribution locations that the brand has achieved global success. Among the renowned Beauty Stores that stock its products are Mecca Maxima, Ulta, and ASOS, spanning across Australia, the United Kingdom, America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Price Range: Perfumery products ranging from KRW 36,500 – KRW 139,000/ Bodycare products ranging from KRW 38,500 – KRW 68,000
Aside from its Food & Beverage venture, NUDAKE, South Korea’s GENTLE MONSTER has also extended its imprint to the cosmetics field, namely Tamburins, the brand conveys a sophisticated sense of beauty and art. With star products such as Nude H.Hand Cream, Perfume Hand Sanitizer, Perfumed Body Emulsion, and Mood Perfume, the now 5-year-old brand has already made a name for itself.
Through research and development of sophisticated formulas designed to enhance the smoothness and health of skin, Tamburins’ in-house perfumers and creatives also discover innovative ways to carry scents. As an alternative to a sharp first impression most perfume brands offer, Tamburins’ curvy design cues offer a tactile experience that is intriguing to experience synesthesia – perfume balm built in the shape of cubes, elongated bodycare bottles and chained hand cream are among a few of the highly-recognisable best selling products the brand has to offer.
Bloomed in the peak of hallyu (Korean pop culture), the GENTLE MONSTER-owned brand is no stranger to celebrity/ influencer endorsement. With Blackpink’s Jennie Kim as the face of Tamburins, it is bound to take on the wider stage in the years to come.
Currently available at over ten stockists across major cities in Korea, Tamburins has chosen Shanghai, China to be the first stop in its Asia expansion strategy. Located in GENTLE MONSTER’s very own multi-brand retail space, HAUS SHANGHAI, the move symbolizes the company’s new direction on Future Retail.
Post Archive Faction
Price Range: Top ranging from USD 1,010 – USD 2,000/ Bottom ranging from USD 430 – USD 850
Source: Post Archive Faction
South Korean menswear brand Post Archive Faction, founded by Dongjoon Lim and Sookyo Jeong in 2018, features a rebellious prototype theme. By revisiting its own archives with an experimental approach, the fledgling design label has written its own codes.
These designs are classified into PAF’s conventional “RIGHT” category, its more experimental “CENTER” series, or the “LEFT” series. With a boundary-pushing aesthetic, the avant-garde label has continued to expand its platform with ultra-imaginative concepts and technical silhouettes since its founding.
Source: Post Archive Faction
The brand’s deconstructions are often sci-fi-esque, incorporating crinkling techniques, asymmetrical constructions, and artful expression. In 2021, the brand was named a semi-finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize. This year, Post Archive Faction introduced its first physical retail experience in Seoul’s Dasan-ro industrial district. As of now, the brand’s offering is also available outside of Korea, with international stockists include HBX, SSENSE, Farfetch and NET-A-PORTER.
Price Range: Top ranging from USD 261 – USD 2,322/ Bottom ranging from USD 636 – USD 1,008
WE11DONE, pronounced as “well done,” originates from Seoul and is closely linked to K-Pop star G-Dragon. Founded in 2014 by Dami Kwon (Dragon’s sister) and Jessica Jung, the label is an extension of their concept store Rare Market. In Korea, the label has already gained a strong following but has yet to catch the attention of a broader global audience.
With design cues strongly influenced by 90s and early 2000s fashion, WE11DONE’s aesthetics consists of a mix of oversized cuts with a dash of street and sophistication. As of now, the brand’s offering is also available outside of Korea, with international stockists include SSENSE, Farfetch and Browns.
Early this year, China-based investment firm Sequoia Capital China acquired the brand for an undisclosed sum. The deal is expected to accelerate the growth of WE11DONE’s direct-to-consumer business across China, Europe and the US.
Noir Kei Ninomiya
Price Range: Outerwear ranging from USD 428 – USD 2,524/ Top ranging from USD 161 – USD 355/ Bottom ranging from USD 220 – USD 832
Source: Elise Toidé for Crash
The namesake brand was founded in 2012 after designer Kei Ninomiya “graduated” as a pattern-maker under the legendary Comme des Garçons brand for four years. In many of Kei’s creations, tiny modules are multiplied and assembled into complete forms, creating design that requires painstaking workmanship and fabric manipulation.
Although Ninomiya’s craftsmanship and philosophy could rival those of heritage maisons, he isn’t planning to create a haute couture arm at the moment. He explained his intention to steer away from haute couture earlier in an interview, “I want to use new techniques to create new things,” he says. “I try techniques other than sewing, which is normally used to create ordinary clothing. Some of these became representative of Noir, such as caulking, macramé and connections with rings.”
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The now 10-year-old brand has already built an international reputation upon hosting various fashion shows in Paris, and has garnered interest from Moncler, recruiting Ninomiya to become one of the partners under the Moncler Genius initiative.
About the author
Samy Redjeb is currently Greater China Managing Director & Director of Owndays HK and Brunello Cucinelli Taiwan JVs.
Prior to his position as MD, he was Group Development Director at Bluebell since 2012 and his role was to profile and identify brands to set up distribution partnerships ranking from startups to mega brands in various categories in Asia.
He was instrumental in setting up new partnerships with brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Kusmi Tea, Daniel Wellington, Brunello Cucinelli, Owndays, and more. His expertise covers multi-channel distribution, branding, equity investment, leasing.