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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Care for ginseng face cream?

Sulwhasoo, South Korea's top beauty brand, which counts the country's president among its fans, makes its Singapore debut tomorrow.
The Straits Times - August 31, 2012
By: Tee Hun Ching
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Care for ginseng face cream? -- PHOTOS: SULWHASOO

The country that gave the world BB cream and Hallyu stars with enviable porcelain skin has another popular beauty export heading your way.

Sulwhasoo, South Korea's No. 1 beauty brand known for using Oriental medicinal herbs such as ginseng, will be sold exclusively at Tangs Orchard from tomorrow. It has been available on the retailer's e-shop since Aug 15.

The store-in-store (right) of about 320 sq ft is Sulwhasoo's first new-generation counter with soothing white and grey tones that are a stark departure from the more opulent gold and white hues used in older counters. A Sulwhasoo spa is also expected to open in Tangs Orchard in December.

Ms Juliet Ting-Willcox, senior vice-president of Tangs Stores Singapore, who found a bar of Sulwhasoo Herbal Soap she received last year "an absolute delight to use", says: "I love the smell of ginseng and traditional Chinese remedies in general, so a brand like Sulwhasoo, with its unique combination of Asian wisdom and beauty innovation, makes perfect sense to me."

Tangs has an exclusive partnership with the brand for 18 months and Singapore is the fourth overseas market for the premium label.

Once known only to beauty insiders, it made its debut outside South Korea in 2004 in Hong Kong, launched in the United States in 2010 and set up shop in China last year.

It now has 97 stores and spas in total, with 77 in its domestic market. It is targeting to launch in Taiwan next month and in Thailand in October. Counters are also slated for Indonesia and Malaysia next year.

Even as its expansion gathers pace, Ms Sue Jeon, the vice-president of luxury brands in Amorepacific Corporation, which owns Sulwhasoo, says the brand is taking a measured approach. The craze for Korean pop culture may have "lowered the wall for Korean brands to enter new markets", but she adds: "One has to build a successful launch strategy based on thorough market research, instead of merely relying on the Korean Wave and interest in South Korea."


Sulwhasoo's history can be traced back to 1966, when Amorepacific's founder Suh Sung Hwan launched the first ginseng beauty cream called ABC Ginseng Cream. After several rebranding and reformulation exercises, Sulwhasoo was launched in 1997 as the first South Korean herbal cosmetic brand.

Its star items include the anti-ageing Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream ($276) and First Care Activating Serum ($106), of which nine bottles are reportedly sold every minute.

As South Korea's top-selling beauty brand, Sulwhasoo makes up about 10per cent of the highly competitive domestic market and is a stalwart in Amorepacific's stable. The country's largest skincare manufacturer, with about 35 per cent of market share, Amorepacific owns more than 20beauty and personal care brands, including Etude and Laneige. It also bought French perfume brand Annick Goutal from American investment fund Starwood Capital last year.

Sulwhasoo's sales grew about 10 per cent from 701 billion won (S$774million) in 2010 to about 771billion won last year. It aims to hit 1 trillion won in sales by 2015 and overseas revenue is expected to make up 35 per cent of its business by 2020, up from the current 3 per cent.

Sulwhasoo offers eight skincare lines - including one for men - and a make-up range. Prices range from $48 for its Hydro-aid Moisturizing Lifting Mist to $498 for its Timetreasure Renovating Cream.

It counts upmarket brands such as Estee Lauder and Lancome among its closest competitors, but it does not invest in TV advertising or hire celebrity spokesmen.

Instead, its prestige branding and proud heritage are promoted via other canny ways. In 2003, it started the Sulwha Club to sponsor and showcase traditional artists, such as hanbok designer Kim Ye Jin. This evolved in 2009 into the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition, which is now a major annual platform for both master artisans and contemporary artists.

Sulwhasoo has also been dubbed "First Ladies' cosmetics", after it began presenting products as souvenirs to the spouses of international leaders attending key political events in South Korea such as the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010.


Even the men have been won over.

When former French president Nicolas Sarkozy complimented his South Korean counterpart, Mr Lee Myung Bak, on his youthful appearance at the G20 Summit in Seoul, Mr Lee, then 69, reportedly replied: "That's because I use Sulwhasoo."

Other celebrity fans of the brand include Hong Kong actor Raymond Lam, Japanese model Rinka and Hollywood star Liv Tyler.

While South Korean women are famous for their elaborate beauty rituals, which can take more than 10steps, their less industrious Singaporean counterparts do not have to follow suit.

Sulwhasoo has a condensed four-step regimen called "For Holistic Care" for its other markets, which comprises a cleanser, boosting serum, toner and moisturiser. But these, Ms Jeon is quick to add, are merely the basic steps.

"After the fourth step, it is recommended that one uses the necessary products that meet one's needs," adds the 42-year-old mother of one, whose clear, smooth complexion makes her a walking advertisement for her brand - as well as the lengthy Korean beauty ritual.


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