Last year, Retail in Asia released the #10 Best Performing Brands of 2017. The ranking gathered a mix of brands, which stood up from the crowd for incredible brand activities throughout the year.
This year, the ranking focuses on Asian brands, which have registered a rapid growth in 2018 in terms of POS, distribution channels, global expansion; among them digital native brands that quickly captured a conspicuous pie of the market by conquering Millennials and GEN Z with their Intagrammable moods. From Korea to Japan, from cosmetics to accessories, the list covers the main trends to keep an eye on in 2019.
3CE – The most Instagrammable cosmetics brand
Launched in 2009, 3 Concept Eyes (3CE) is the popular Korean cosmetics label of Stylenanda and is one of the youngest and most playful brand on the block.
Founded by Kim So-Hee, the cosmetics label with mid-end price points was ranked No. 1 as the most preferred K-beauty brand by Chinese consumers in multiple surveys.
The secret behind the success of the brand is the strong appeal it draws from Millennials and Gen Z. From product design to distribution, each facet of 3CE is thought to be Instagrammable.
Living proof is the brand’s movie-themed flagship store in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, which turns its clients into stars getting ready to go on stage in make-up booths with colorful lighting and props in cute baby pink colors.
Among the Instagrammable products, the brand’s jewel-like tubes of lip gloss have become a status symbol for Millennials and Gen Z, being featured in famous K-drama “Missing You” and now blanketing stores all over Asia.
To keep it trendy, 3CE collaborated for the second year in a row with Maison Kitsuné to launch a second make-up range offering the perfect French x Korean beauty fusion with girly packaging.
Available offline and online, 3CE’s products are distributed through its parent’s company, Stylenanda, multi-channel distribution model which includes e-commerce, speciality retailers, and point of sales in department and duty free stores.
In less than a decade, 3CE has managed to become the fundamental pillar of Stylenanda and today represents more than 70% of the business with a 127 million euro turnover in 2017 and nearly 400 employees.
It was actually 3CE which drove L’Oreal’s acquisition of Stylenanda earlier this June, the group’s first investment in a K-beauty brand (the exact amount was not disclosed but industry sources estimate the company was sold for between 570 billion and 600 billion won.)
A Bathing Ape – BAPE -The Asian streetwear brand
BAPE is one of the most hyped brands in streetwear defined by its young audience’s appetite for anything on offer.
Founded by Nigo in 1993, it started as a hole-in-the-wall T-shirt shop in Tokyo’s Harajuku district but in the 2000s, the brand catapulted cult streetwear into the mainstream, and was co-signed by everyone from streetwear devotees to celebrities like the Clipse, Pharrell, Kid Cudi, and Jay Z.
In 2010, Nigo stepped down from the company as CEO, but stayed on to assist with the transition after it was sold in 2011 to Hong Kong fashion conglomerate I.T for $2.8 million.
The hype around BAPE is still as vivid today with its unique designs appearing on everything from apparel to luxury items as celebrities from all industries like The Weeknd or American rapper Pusha T can be seen rocking the label. BAPE also takes part in collaboration as we have recently seen the exclusive line launched with the French capital’s iconic football club, PSG (Paris Saint Germain).
BAPE was the creator of the fundamental streetwear formula of hype, scarcity and public spectacle – the brand’s recipe for success. It managed to find the right balance between exclusivity and mass appeal with prices ranging from HKD$699 to HKD$3799.
A Bathing Ape has a very powerful brand DNA defined by its strong aesthetics: to have the BAPE look, you must go to BAPE as no substitute will do the trick. More than a clothing line, the label is a lifestyle in itself. The brand has a particular approach to collaborations, taking a lifestyle based approach as seen with the Pepsi can and MAC makeup campaigns.
As of today, A Bathing Ape has 33 stores opened around the globe which are sitting in Japan, France, the UK, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Selected dealers around the globe also offer the brands’ products. Online, the brand has 3 official website and it is also available on Zozotown.
Owndays – The fast fashion eyewear disruptive concept
OWNDAYS is an international optical retail concept founded in Tokyo, Japan.
It currently has more than 120 stores in Japan and has successfully established stores in 11 overseas countries in Asia Pacific with 43 stores in Taiwan, 36 in Philippines, 27 in Singapore, 20 in Thailand, 6 in Hong Kong and 17 more spread across Indonesia (5), Malaysia (4), Vietnam (3), Cambodia (3) and Australia (2).
Shuji Tanaka, current president and CEO, took over OWNDAYS in 2008 and has transformed it into a retail chain operation that sells over 2 million pairs of glasses annually.
Owndays’ 3 key success factors? Simple price, Quick Service and Good Value.
Offering a simple price system to its customers with sets ranging from HKD$480 to HKD$1280, there are no hidden costs, a refreshing touch in the industry. Customers are also seduced by the brand’s wide portfolio of products which delights both Asians and Westerns, from children to elderlies, and which is delivered in an impeccable and rapid service – essential today as we all know that time is money!
OWNDAYS is keen on working with different platforms from different industries, including participation in one of the largest fashion shows in Japan – ‘Tokyo Girls Collection’ in 2010, and as one of the official sponsors of the world’s first large scale fashion tournament for top stylists – ‘World Runway Premiere’ in 2011. OWNDAYS also sponsored the 4th Okinawa International Movie Festival in 2012.
The brand has its designers, but they also do great collaborations such as that with Japanese designer, Jun Hashimoto or Fashion Designer Kansai Yamamoto
With the recent investment this November from L Catterton Asia and Mitsui & Co., I believe there is so much more to come.
Other two similar retail concepts also rapidly expanding all over Asia are Zoff and Jins, which increase the number of Japanese companies targeting overseas markets; and therefore, worth mentioning in this ranking.
Charles & Keith – The affordable women’s accessory brand
Charles & Keith is a fast fashion retailer that specialises in women’s footwear and accessories and has achieved much international success over the years.
Homegrown on Singapore shores, Charles & Keith was founded in 1996 by the two Wong brothers. Since its establishment, the brand has expanded to more than 450 outlets worldwide and went beyond brick-and-mortar stores by offering online shopping on its website to offer its stylish and trend-focused designs in Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and the United States of America.
Known for its high quality footwear and accessories inspired by runway styles and trends for the masses the brand is constantly reinventing fashion with its curated collections.
Charles & Keith is the answer for the trend-conscious medium high-income consumers. Indeed with its affordable price tags (from HKD$69 to HKD$1,199) and constantly reinvented inventories (it produces an average of 1,000 new designs each year, with about 15-20 new designs being introduced into stores each week), its medium-high income customers do not give it a second thought before ravishing themselves into the beauty of shopping.
The brand has built itself a loyal customer base resting on a relationship of trust from Charles & Keith to always provide them with the latest in affordable fashion.
Celebrities and influencers also support the brand, sharing their looks on social media platforms such as Instagram to inspire their audience. The latest Charles & Keith Holiday party, held earlier this month, featured K-pop star Yura, South Korean celebrity Lee Harin, Hong Kong actresses Grace Chan, Angela Yuen, Hedwig Tam and Ashley Lam and actor Carlos Chan or Taiwanese fashion influencer Molly Chiang, all wearing the brand’s line.
Charles & Keith is not short of creative designs as it continuously engages in collaborations with the likes of Tokyo-based illustrator WALNUT or Disney for an Alice in Wonderland collection.
The brand already has stores in North Africa and as it is expanding in Asia. We have also seen it opening its London offices along with logistic center in the region to serve the European market this year. Would this be the beginning of its physical expansion to the West side of the world?
Lady M – An international triumph of sweetness
Originally opened in Japan in 2001 by Emy Wada, Lady M is a bakery and retail cake business globally known for its elegant, handmade Mille-Crepes Cake. Bought by Ken Romaniszyn family in the early 2000s, the entrepreneur was confident of Lady M’s potential and eager to expand the brand’s presence to the US. As he began opening Lady M’s first New York boutiques, the number of them steadily increased over the following decade as the brand gained ren
In 17 years, the New-York based bakery has grown to 26 boutiques spread over the American and Asian continent where it is present in, Singapore, Macau, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing and Hangzhou. In 2018, 5 boutiques popped up in Hong Kong, including 1 at the airport, which enables visitors to take cakes home to their beloved ones.
Lady M’s global success can be attributed to its branding inside out. Inside – the quality and beauty of cakes is all we can hear about with people queuing up outside the famous bakery; outside – its iconic logo and sleek storefront design with marble and glass displays are simply hard to miss.
Its key success factor is the distinctive texture given by its secret recipe, which pleases palates internationally.
Gentle Monster – Still the best store experience
Founded in Korea in 2011, Gentle Monster, which sells oversized and low bridge sunglasses with Asian fit at premium prices (from $200 to $500), has become one of the fastest trendy fashion eyewear brands in Asia and has over the year spread its reach globally. It is a good case study of an Asian brand that was able to adapt a mature product to the local Asian demands and trends.
Gentle Monster is being sold in over 450 selected shops in over 30 countries including South Korea, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, UK, and opened a branch office inNY, USA.
In terms of revenues, the year 2017 registered 250 million USD, 70 percent of which is coming from direct sales. With last year’s investment by L Catterton (60 million USD for a 7% stake), the brand opened more markets with one of a kind concept stores suchs as a kung-fu fighting boutique in London or New-York’s new flagship space while cleaning part of their wholesale distribution. The Seoul-based firm is now resuming its delayed plans for an initial public offering while expanding its business portfolio by launching its own cosmetics brand.
Gentle Monster’s success rests on 3 key pillars: Newness, Strange Aesthetics & Celebrities.
Hankook Kim, CEO and Founder of Gentle Monster said that consumers are not paying for his products, but rather the feeling of experiencing something new and fresh. To keep appealing to unpredictable customers, he changes store displays every 21 days and curates them as he would an art-exhibition.
Nevertheless, having the perfect product with a unique store design is not enough today.
It was not until 2014, three years after it was established, that Gentle Monster suddenly became known by all of Asia as South Korean actress Gianna Jun was wearing Gentle Monster sunglasses when she appeared on the hit show My Love from the Star. Following her apparition, more Chinese celebrities were photographed wearing Gentle Monster such as Li Yifeng, Yang Yang, and Kris Wu. The fame also reached the West as models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid also wore the brand.
As the brand is now expanding globally, it is trying to reduce its link to the K-pop culture. In that spirit, Gentle Monster recently collaborated with lauded Canadian retailer SSENSE on a Matrix-esque capsule, American fashion designer Alexander Wang or London photography collective-turned-streetwear purveyor Places+Faces.
When it comes to its expansion, the new stores in Taiwan opening this coming January and K11 Musea in Hong Kong are full of promises.
Pomelo – The fastest growing fashion digital native concept
Pomelo Fashion, the Bangkok-based digital native fashion concept, is one of the fastest growing ASEAN brand.
Launched in 2013 by former Lazada Thailand managing director David Jou, Pomelo positions itself as a digital native fashion brand that is vertically integrated, delivering to over 50 countries globally.
At the roots of its model rests New Retail.
The principle? Enabling shoppers to narrow down their choices online to then send their favorites to physical stores for trying on for fit. This model has been the key to Pomelo’s success as it can be done in a small space, saving on rent, while giving customers the opportunity to marry the convenience of online commerce and offline service.
With currently 6 stores in Thailand, Pomelo is now looking to open a physical location in Singapore.
In a 6 month time span, Pomelo has in the past actively launched new products across almost 20 product categories. Those high frequency and consistent launches ensures the newness of the assortment and keep customers coming back. And as quantity does not mean everything, Pomelo hires its designers locally to ensure it fits local tastes. Cherry on the top is the brand’s price points which are about half those of Western fashion brands like Zara and H&M.
Its success has been noticed by many, attracting investors such as JD.com which led a US$19 million investment round last year or the likes of 500 Startups, Hong Leong Group and Jungle Ventures.
Sulwhasoo – The holistic luxury South Korean beauty brand
Sulwhasoo is a holistic luxury South Korean beauty brand manufactured by Amorepacific Group. It all started in 1966 when Suh Sung-whan introduced his ginseng cream to the world, without ever suspecting it was just one of many he would later on develop under the Sulwhasoo brand, created in 1997.
Revenue leader since 2005 in its domestic market and best-selling cosmetics brands at Incheon International Airport’s duty-free shops, Sulwhasoo was the first Korean beauty brand to make 1 trillion won ($921.8 million) in sales in one year. Starting from HKD$250, the brand’s signature products average HKD$1,500.
The success of the brand comes from its high-quality product development, which combines traditional ingredients like ginseng, Sulwhasoo’s star ingredient, with advanced sciences (the brand owns a team of over 500 researchers focused on nature-driven formulas).
Earlier this year, Sulwhasoo has appointed hallyu star Song Hye Ko as its global brand ambassador, the first face of the company since its creation.
Other contributor to the brand’s success is its distribution as Sulwhasoo has extended its reach beyond Korea, starting in Hong Kong in 2004. It has since entered 11 more markets including China, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, Canada and France. It is now present in over 358 locations worldwide.
In-store experience is toda a key element of a store success and the Korean beauty brand strives everyday to bring customers its experience of the five senses offering them a luxury experience through services such as gift wrapping and hand massage.
This year, the company aimed at increasing its store openings in second and third tier cities while expanding into four tier cities. It also expanded touchpoint in online retail by offering its products on major e-commerce sites such as VIP.com and JD.com.
Miniso – The Japanese-based variety store mushrooming worldwide
Miniso is a low-cost retailer and variety store chain Japanese-based design brand and if it might be barely known in the West, the success of this company is not negligible.
It has opened over 2600 stores in less than four years, with USD1.8 billion sales volume in 2017. At present, MINISO has reached strategic cooperation agreements with more than 70 countries and regions including the United States, Canada, Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong (China) and Macau (China), with an average monthly growth rate of 80 – 100 stores.
Established in Japan in 2013, the brand was born from a co-founding between Japanese designer Miyake Junya and the young Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu, a former designer.
Miniso’s success rests on its wide variety of high quality products which boast a modern design but a very low price, ranging on average from US$1 to US$30.
Its in-house product development also contributed to the success as over 200 procurement managers are constantly scanning the global market to spot trends and allow the brand to launch new products every week. Miniso also employs more than 500 product designers from various countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Denmark to satisfy all tastes.
I am looking forward to see if Miniso will reach the challenge it has set itself of opening 10,000 stores in 100 economies, including 7,000 stores overseas, and generating 100 billion yuan ($14.52 billion) in annual revenue by 2022.
NARS – Shiseido family’s rising brand
Cosmetics brand NARS, launched in 1994 by French make-up artist François Nars, quickly became one of the most sought-after in the market.
Acquired in 2000 by Shiseido Group, it has been leading the growth in Shiseido Travel Retail’s make-up portfolio, particularly in Asia Pacific, where sales of NARS more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year.
The two pillars behind NARS’ strategy? Product innovation and enhanced brand animation.
NARS offers its customers a fully comprehensive range covering all bases which has successfully seduced them.
Addressing Chinese Millennials, Nars has built its O2O strategy around the traveller journey, creating digital and physical touchpoints pre-, during, and post-trip encouraging customer interaction at all times. The brand creates a “virtuous circle” that enhances the consumer experience and amplifies the buzz in the source market of China to drive awareness and demand.
Key to NARS’ positioning was the accurate selection of distribution channels. At the end of 2016, the brand was available at selected retailers in France, UK, Russia, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and in 4 Travel Retail locations. In total, 511 doors. In 2017, NARS launched in Portugal and The Netherlands.
Recent collaboration include the collection NARS developed with Charlotte Gainsbourg – ultimate Parisian hip girl.
NARS is part of the Shiseido’s family, and like all the other brands, has greatly benefited from Shiseido’s successes collected in 2018. The Japanese cosmetics giant has been an active protagonist of 2018 beauty narrative with the release of its sustainability campaigns touching upon environmental and social pillars. Additionally strong campaigns to support its social responsible identity, new appointments, and focus on research have been the main initiatives of this year.
Samy Redjeb is Managing Director at Bluebell HK, Macau & Taiwan since July 2018.
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, MVMT, and more.