TOKYO• South Korea's biggest cosmetics maker is revamping its products to suit Muslims and darker- skinned women in South-east Asia as it tries to make up business lost because of political tensions with China over a missile-defence system.
Amorepacific Corp is pushing harder into Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam with a line-up that takes into account skin tones, the region's humidity and the need for Muslim women to wash their faces five times a day before prayers.
It marks a significant shift for the Seoul-based company, which generated about 90 per cent of its revenue last year in South Korea and China - where many women are fairer-skinned and the weather more variable.
"The diversity of South-east Asia was a challenge," said Mr Robin Na, head of Amorepacific's operations in South-east Asia. "The region is a melting pot compared with China and Korea."
South-east Asia generated just 150 billion won (S$179 million) in sales for Amorepacific last year or less than 3 per cent of its total.
The company wants to triple that, given the region's cosmetics and skincare market is expected to reach US$9.6 billion (S$13 billion) in sales by 2020, according to Euromonitor.
The move is spurred in part by tensions with China over South Korea's hosting of the United States' Thaad missile system, meant to protect against a North Korean attack. China opposes the system and, in the immediate aftermath of its deployment, travel agencies stopped selling tour packages to South Korea.
"The recent political conflict between China and South Korea is posing a serious threat to the business of South Korean beauty exporters," said Ms Sunny Um, a Singapore- based research analyst at Euromonitor. "Meanwhile, South-east Asian markets have been growing strong for the past five years."
Amorepacific's share of the Asia-Pacific cosmetics market doubled to 6 per cent between 2011 and last year, overtaking Estee Lauder, according to Euromonitor.
Now it is focusing efforts in Southeast Asia, primarily through five brands: Laneige, Innisfree, Etude House, Sulwhasoo and Mamonde. Amorepacific has about 250 directly managed stores in the region and plans to open another 150 to meet its 2020 revenue target, Mr Na said.
The company opened a research centre in Singapore this year and it is investing 110 billion won to build a production facility in Johor, that is scheduled to open in 2020.
L'Oreal, the leading cosmetic maker in South-east Asia, is also tapping the Muslim cosmetics market. It operates a halal-certified factory in Indonesia that supplies to the region.
Amorepacific is not just cutting- and-pasting its operations from northern Asia. It is reformulating certain products and creating new ones to compensate for humidity, darker skin and Muslim women's needs.
For example, Muslim women want lighter, washable make-up that can be removed easily before daily prayers and then quickly reapplied.
Ms Norhayati Hamim, a customer in Singapore, said she favoured the premium Sulwhasoo brand, particularly the Gentle Cleansing Foam EX face wash she uses before daily prayers because it does not dry her skin.
"Their make-up is not too thick, too, so it's easier to wash off," she said.