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Clean beauty player Rare SkinFuel champions skincare minimalism

Encouraging women to love and look after their skin and not cover it up with make-up, Rare SkinFuel leverages on certified organic and native Australian ingredients including camellia oil and kakadu plum extract to produce powerful skincare products diluted with coconut water and aloe vera to preserve their potency.

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Its ethos of skincare minimalism, or “skinimalism,” promotes a pared-back skincare routine to restore skin radiance.

The company, which is the only GMP ISO certified clean beauty brand to enter the China market, Europe, and the US without animal testing, was founded by Michelle Chen in 2018 and has a flagship store in Hong Kong’s Landmark Atrium with two treatment rooms.

It has collaborated with Lane Crawford on a pop-up and its products are available at Rosewood Hong Kong’s spa, Asaya Wellness, and the Aberdeen Marina Club.

Building a strong digital presence across mainland China by leveraging on apps such as Little Red Book, it offers international shipping from its e-commerce site and is looking to expand its presence globally by partnering with five-star hotels. 

Left: Founder Michelle Chen. Source: Rare SkinFuel

Retail in Asia chats with Michelle Chen, founder and CEO, about her plans to scale the brand and why she’s focusing on a digital rather than physical retail strategy.

RiA: It’s been five years since you set up the business. What’s your current focus and retail strategy?

Michelle Chen: Since the borders have opened, shoppers’ behaviour has definitely changed, and we are really focused on the China market right now.

Online shopping has become a new trend for mainlanders, and platforms like Little Red Book and WeChat have worked well for us in reaching out to the Chinese customers, and we’ve found online platforms to be much more effective than selling via offline stockists. 

As 70 percent of our clients are return customers, goods, people see our products as more of a necessity than a luxury and they stock up and purchase multiple items at once. To expand our retail presence, we also want to collaborate with more five-star hotels and host more workshops and events. 

We additionally offer memberships to customers. For a long time, I didn’t believe membership tiers, but they do bring customers back, as we offer a year-round discount of 15 percent.

It’s all about shifting away from the hard sell – if you want to sell products, let them speak for themselves! I’d say it’s almost a reverse selling strategy. 

RiA: Clean beauty is a relatively new trend. What are some of the challenges you face in reaching out to customers?

Chen: It’s all about education, and we’ve come to understand that a lack of clean beauty knowledge is common in mainland China as they feel natural products may not be as effective as chemical ones. But clean beauty is definitely an emerging trend, and people are much more aware of their health than pre-Covid. 

Rare SkinFuel’s store in The Landmark, Hong Kong. Source: Rare SkinFuel
RiA: How is your flagship store at the Landmark Atrium in Hong Kong evolving?

Chen: Traffic has improved a lot of late. After the borders opened, it was really easy for visitors to come in from cities like Shenzhen again. We’ve modified the visual merchandising so we can attract Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who like to see bright colours. We’ve gone with images from nature – green, yellow, orange – that not only represent our ingredients but make the store pop. 

RiA: How have you gotten to know your customer?

Chen: When I started the business, I was narrow minded. I always thought that whatever I’d buy, others would buy too, but this is one of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make. We did some research to find out what drives consumers to try a new brand and found that those aged 25 to 30 are most willing to spend, perhaps because this is the golden age of looking good. To attract younger shoppers, we want to add more easy-to-use products at lower price points. We want them to buy three products instead of one!

Source: Rare SkinFuel
RiA: As a self-styled small-scale brand, how will you scale up?

Chen: To reach the global market, the quickest way is still the internet. I knew that during the first three years, we’d be spending a lot, but five years in, we’re seeing more stability. We need to understand the shopping habits of the younger generation.

Gen Alpha are now teenagers, but in five years’ time, they’ll be in their 20s. That is why digital is so important. But having a physical store is good, as customers can experience the products and book in for treatments. 

RiA: You offer worldwide shipping. Which countries represent your biggest market after Hong Kong?

Chen: So far, it’s China and Singapore, plus Taiwan and Malaysia. In Japan and Korea, it’s hard to compete as there are so many skincare brands.

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RiA: What’s next for Rare SkinFuel?

Chen: We’re developing lines that are more preppy, and looking at introducing refillable pots. But we don’t want to add too many new formulas; it’s a lean collection, and ultimately we want to encourage consumers to use less products on their skin. To attract a younger audience, we’re additionally considering offering lower price points and creating more affordable SKUs.