The beginning

Madam Yun Dok Jeong (left) made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan (below left), who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream (below), the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product.
Madam Yun Dok Jeong (above) made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan, who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream, the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product. PHOTOS: AMOREPACIFIC
Madam Yun Dok Jeong (left) made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan (below left), who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream (below), the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product.
Madam Yun Dok Jeong made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan (above), who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream, the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product.
Madam Yun Dok Jeong (left) made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan (below left), who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream (below), the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product.
Madam Yun Dok Jeong made hair oil from camellia, inspiring her son, Suh Sung Whan, who went on to create ABC Ginseng Cream (above), the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product.

Amorepacific is one of South Korea's largest and oldest cosmetics company. Today, the company is known for producing beauty products that are rich in skinrejuvenating high-tech formulas made with Korean herbs.

Its origins can be traced back to 1932. It all started in a small kitchen in Gaesung - now part of North Korea - where Madam Yun Dok Jeong made camellia hair oil.

Her young son, Suh Sung Whan, often accompanied her to the markets where she sourced quality camellia seeds and he developed an interest in the health and beauty benefits of traditional Korean herbs such as ginseng, green tea and beans.

After the war in 1945, Mr Suh founded Pacific Chemical (now called Amorepacific). He decided to make plants, especially traditional Asian herbs, the basis of most of the company's beauty formulas.

In 1966, he launched ABC Ginseng Cream, the world's first herbal medicine cosmetic product, according to Amorepacific. This product marked the beginnings of the company's signature luxury label Sulwhasoo.

Right from the start, Mr Suh, a savvy entrepreneur, was always ahead of the curve in terms of technology and foreign partnerships.

To invest in product development, he established South Korea's first cosmetics research and development laboratory in 1954.

Then, he also had the foresight to look towards companies in Europe for new cosmetic manufacturing technologies. In 1957, he imported Air Spun from Germany, a heavyweight machine that could churn out extremely fine powder to make silky smooth face powders.

Equipped with such technology, Amorepacific was in good stead to enter a technical partnership with Coty Inc of France - which is now one of the world's largest cosmetics manufacturers - in 1959 to produce the premium Coty Airspun Loose Face Powder. That set the stage for Amorepacific's innovative products that continue to one-up the competition today.

Amorepacific was also one of the first in South Korea to use the door-to-door retail channel to sell its products in 1964. The sales force was made up mainly of widows who had lost their husbands in the Korean war a decade earlier. Today, door-to-door sales is still an important sales channel for the company's cosmetics and health supplements.

Amorepacific is also one of South Korea's largest green tea producers. To revive the tea-drinking culture in Korea, Mr Suh purchased wasteland on Jeju Island in 1979 to start a green tea plantation.

Today, the company owns the popular green tea-themed cafe O'sulloc Tea House in South Korea. The antioxidant-rich green tea is also a star ingredient that is often used in Amorepacific's cosmetics.

Since the rise of Hallyu and its aggressive marketing strategies, the company has established a strong presence in China and the South-east Asian markets.

The company first gained a foothold in the Singapore market when it launched Laneige here in 2003.

At last count, Amorepacific has more than 3,600 stores - spread across its five global brands Sulwhasoo, Etude House, Innisfree, Mamonde and Laneige - outside of South Korea. Global sales make up 17.6 per cent of the conglomerate's total revenue, which stands at 4,711.9 billion won (S$5.65 billion).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'The beginning'. Print Edition | Subscribe