Feb 28, 2017
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K-Beauty continues its conquest of North America

Feb 28, 2017

There is a U.S invasion happening, at least in the world of beauty. Korean beauty products, alternatively known as ‘K-beauty’, are continuing their rapid expansion at U.S. and Canadian beauty retailers, both in store and online.

Beginning as a fascination of beauty bloggers and make-up artists, the K-beauty trend was quickly swooped up by everyone, from specialty beauty retailers to big-box mass retailers. In January, Target launched a dedicated K-beauty section in all of the its stores across the country, and even Wal-Mart has joined the fray.

Nordstrom's K-beauty pop-up - Nordstrom

Korea has been the birthplace of many huge beauty trends that have exported well, like the advent of BB creams in 2011, to sheet masks, now currently dominating the Western beauty landscape. But why Korean beauty products in particular? They often involve more time-consuming beauty routines, some of which are more in line with an Asian beauty aesthetic such as paler skin versus the more Western look of a "glowing" or "radiant" complexion.

One reason might be the quality of Korean products. The K-beauty market is fuelled by competition – brands are constantly looking to innovate products and come out with ‘the next new thing.' Christine Chang, founder of K-beauty site Glow Recipe, notes that Korean consumers are picky, so producers need to keep the highest-possible quality while maintaining competitive pricing. American consumers don’t mind paying for the shipping from Korea because they receive a higher-quality product than what they would buy over here for a fraction of the cost.

Another main reason is novelty. Many K-beauty products contain unusual ingredients or look to out-of-the-ordinary concepts, like sheet masks with faces printed on them, donkey milk skin cream, or peel-off eyebrow tinting masks, which have generated a viral reaction among American consumers.

Thirdly, as New York Magazine reported, the Korean government is fueling this expansion. They understand that K-beauty’s popularity is a great way to earn a voice in the American marketplace. Export-only companies don't have to pay taxes, and there are several Government funds in place to help exporters battle international legal fees. The Korean Industry Development Institute even opened up a K-beauty pop-up in 2013, in an effort to showcase Korean-made wares to American consumers. In 2015, Korea exported $52 million in beauty products to the United States, a 60% increase from the year prior.

Alicia Yoon, the mastermind of K-Beauty’s entry into Barneys (in the form of a K-beauty mask bar), Nordstrom (through a series of pop-ups), and Macy’s (through a shop-in-shop), has been so successful in the American market that she has launched her own line of masks. Yoon is the founder of Korean beauty platform Peach  & Lily, the go-to site for Korean beauty lovers. Peach and Lily has acted as a portal between Korea and the United States, helping US consumers and retailers connect with Asian cult brands.

K-beauty is set to continue its growth in the coming years. In 2015, the Korean Customs service noted that Korea moved $2.93 billion in cosmetics exports, up from $1.91 billion the year before. Euromonitor has predicted that by 2019, 80% of global skincare revenue gain will come out of Asia.

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