Retail notes from Shanghai: [Show Report] China Beauty Expo 2019

This was my third visit to China Beauty Expo, the biggest C&T trade fair in mainland China, and every year the show becomes more manageable. Don’t get me wrong, it is still huge: in 2019 there were more than 3,500 exhibitors, 27 exhibition halls and 50 VIP halls (mostly tents) on a quare footage of 260,000 sq m. CBE is also still super crowded – tickets are free and anyone can attend, i.e. there’s no trade visitor accreditation; simply turn up, fill in a form and that’s it. However, I now know what to expect and that’s makes things much easier.

China Beauty Expo 2019 took place in the Shanghai New Exhibition Centre (SNIEC) in Pudong, just like last year. I do like the layout of this trade show centre – it might be massive but the triangular shape of the fair grounds make navigation easy and you can just cut across the grassy enclosure if you’re in a hurry. For more info on SNIEC, the hall layout and what the whole CBE experience is like, check out my show reports of China Beauty Expo 2017 and China Beauty Expo 2018.

And now, click on the link below to read more about China Beauty Expo 2019 and my favourite brand discoveries!

The 2019 edition of CBE offered a whole range of new features, such as improved buyers programmes and business matchmaking services to make it easier for international brands to gain a foothold on the notoriously difficult Chinese retail market.


And as you might expect from a China-based consumers goods trade fair, China Beauty Expo 2019 was mega interactive. For the 2019 show organisers Informa Markets had partnered with Taobao Live, launching a live streaming marketing programme with more than 50 live streamers (KOLs/influencers).

This is a major trend in Chinese online retail at the moment: I read on China Daily that Taobao Live reached turnover of  100 billion yuan ($14.93 billion) in 2018 which equals an annual growth rate of 400%. Actually, this makes it much more than a mere trend; perhaps a better term might be “feature”? Or development.

Anyway, Taobao is the biggest C2C online market place in China (it belongs to the Alibaba group) and live streaming is a bit like – well, European fashion or beauty Youtubers extolling the virtues of the latest products they’ve bought; only on Taobao they’re doing it with an audience of millions, live from the online store and with a conversion rate of over 30% (apparently).

And the entertainment value is an additional bonus! Basically, the Taobao seller can link products to his or her live stream and customers can add these to their shopping carts whilst watching the live stream, without having to click away from the video. Taobao introduced the Live streaming feature three years ago (I think) and since then the format has been taking off like a rocket. And that’s understandable: a direct way of interacting with your target demographic, engaging your customers to promote yourself and your products so you stand out from the competition – and all at the touch of a button.


Because the trade fair is so massive the three days allocated to it aren’t nearly enough to check out even half of the halls. Besides, the last afternoon is pretty much lost time: most of the exhibitors are packing up their booths and selling off their products by lunch-time. Basically you only have 2 ½ days to actually visit the show. It’s the same with Cosmoprof Hong Kong which is much smaller than CBE but still big: I do wish they’d add a fourth day to these trade fairs.

Anyway, I visited China Beauty on all three days because there was so much to see. This year I decided to focus on domestic beauty, especially on the younger brand generation: start-ups, disruptors, urban/millennial-style brands; that sort of thing. A distinct trend at this year’s China Beauty Expo.

The official China Beauty Expo blog confirms this: the company says that CBE 2019 has seen a sharp rise in local brand strength, with the number of emerging local brands almost reaching that of the established imported beauty brands (this is an almost direct quote). Good for them! I think it’s high time that domestic consumers regained their trust in local brands.


Closely connected to the rise of domestic beauty brands is the growing popularity of “green beauty” in China (for more on this development scroll down the article!). Genuine organic certifications might not matter very much at the moment, but the new generation of Chinese consumers demands transparency in terms of ingredients, prefering clean, safe beauty formulas and plant-based/herbal ingredients – all of which are the classic hall-marks of green beauty.

I noticed that quite a few of the more recent brands that I talked to at China Beauty Expo had a distinct urban/millenial-style thing going on in terms of packaging and brand positioning – like Zenpill, John Jeff or So Cool: Zenpill features its (English-language) ingredients prominently on the packaging; John Jeff looks very much like a prescription-only doctor brand and makeup brand So Cool – well, true to its name this brand is practically broadcasting a chilled, edgy vibe!

Then you have the overtly “green” brands (i.e. natural claims on the packaging and an overall green/natural marketing angle and brand positioning), such as Beneplant or Ositree. Or the beautifully packaged Herborist which, of course, isn’t an emerging brand or indie brand at all, but still – #packagingporn : )


Let’s start with some of my favourite bigger Chinese beauty brands. I’ll include as many homepage links as I can but most domestic beauty brands don’t bother with an actual homepage; they are active on the big Chinese social networks, e-commerce and social commerce apps (no way to acccess these unless you download them. And can read and write Chinese.


Herborist is – well, it’s probably the best-known Chinese beauty brand internationally (i.e. outside of mainland China). The TCM-inspired beauty brand (TCM stands for Traditional Chinese Medicine; medicinal herbal/plant remedies) was launched in 1998 and entered the European market around a decade ago (I think). In Germany Herborist is very widely available – you can buy the products online and offline; Germany’s perfumery market leader Douglas also carries the Herborist ranges and I read that in France the brand is so popular that there’s even an Herborist spa. It’s definitely an international mainstream luxury brand.

I do love the Herborist packaging, especially the product ranges that I saw at China Beauty Expo – I’m not sure if these products are also available in Europe: due to language barriers I was unable to verify this but it stands to reason that Herborist’s portfolio is divided into international/export and domestic ranges. Most major international beauty brands do this.

Amongst Herborist’s new launches at China Beauty Expo 2019 were three rather ingenious sheet masks (see pics below). The new Ultra Pure Dormany Freezed (sic) Essence Masks are dry sheet masks which are already impregnated with a serum. You “activate” the masks by pouring a small measure of water onto it (the masks are folded up and packaged in flat plastic containers, so the liquid won’t spill over the edges).

And voilá, you have your “normal” wet sheet mask but without the risk that the liquid essence might have been contaminated by bacteria inside the packet (apparently this can happen, I was told). There are three Pure Dormancy Freezed variants, Hydrating, Brightening and Firming.

Another new Herborist launch was the 7-sku Soothing & Moisturising skin care range which offers a cleanser, toner, hydrating spray, serum, cream, lotion and sleeping mask.


I first met Chinese bio-tech brand Santemuse at Cosme Tokyo trade show this January (check out my Cosme Tokyo 2019 show review if you’re interested). Santemuse is a biotech beauty brand (the company behind it is Huadong Ningbo Medicine, a large drug/medical products manufacturer) which was launched in 2014.

At China Beauty Expo 2019 the Hangzhou-based company presented a shedload of new launches, including a moisturising cream to match the 672 serum that Santemuse had presented at Cosme Tokyo 2019 (the serum was repackaged in a syringe-shaped container).

There were also two new skin care ranges: the 10-sku 24H Hydration range comprises a cleanser, moisturising toner, two essences (one for use in the morning, one for the evening), an eye cream, a lotion and four different sheet masks. And the new Sensitive range offers five products formulated for the demands of sensitive skin.

However, the most interesting launch was the MuseDNA kit (see pic above) which, as you might have guessed, is an at-home DNA testing kit to determine your exact skin type and skin condition and how your skin will react to photo-ageing (sun exposure) or other environmental factors. Well, the Santemuse lab will determine this; you merely take a saliva swab and send it (by mail) to the company’s lab. They will do the analysis and then formulate skin care products that are tailored to the exact requirements of your skin.

DNA-adapted skin care isn’t anything particularly new, of course – the trend has been around for a few years – but it was the first time that I’d seen a DNA testing kit in real life. In Germany, the topic of commercial DNA testing (whether it’s to determine possible gene-linked diseases or health conditions, finding your precise genetic heritage or even – #DNAtourism – get travel recommendations! Seriously, this is a thing!) is a bit controversial. And there are no German beauty brands (that I know of) that offer this kind of service.


Ah, Forclarity!

One of my favourite brand discoveries at last year’s CBE was this Chinese beauty brand with its Protect Hydrate BB Spray, a liquid cushion foundation formulated with hydrating glacier water (and it does feel very light and cooling on the skin) and packaged in an aerosol can (you can see the BB Spray packaging visuals in the background of the pics below).

At China Beauty Expo 2019, Forclarity presented a new launch: dry cleansing pads which are packaged in the glossy white compacts you can see in the pic above (as someone pointed out on Insta, they do look a bit like oysters : )) Just add water and the pads will foam up quite considerably. Wipe them across your face to remove dirt and makeup, rinse it off and you’re done! I do like travel-friendly beauty products!


Strictly speaking Bioessence isn’t from China (the company’s based in Singapore) but for the purposes of this article I’ll consider them a Chinese brand. Also, I would imagine that the products are manufactured in China anyway : ) . Bioessence is very well known internationally so the brand won’t need much introduction from me. Let’s go straight to the new product launches!

An interesting novelty was the Repair Freezing Powder kit (see pic above): this set contains three small bottles of EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) powder and three bottles of serum, plus three applicators. Tip the bottled liquid into a powder bottle, attach the applicator nozzle and you’re all set: freshly mixed EGF essence!

The brand has also brought out a new UV Perfect Protection Base SPF50++, a Whitening BB Cream, a CC Concealer cream and the Sakura CC Cushion Cream.


Chinese beauty brand One Leaf has a very wide online and offline distribution in its domestic market: the company’s skin and body care products are sold in Watsons drugstores across China and on all the usual e-commerce platforms.

At China Beauty Expo 2019 the brand had invested into a really pretty booth design: visitors had to walk through a green and leafy maze/tunnel until they reached the inner sanctum with the new product launches: the Elastic Repairing Firming Ampoule Mask (a set which includes seven sheet masks and seven after-care ampoules, see pics below) and a new Brightening Serum with white truffle extract (see pic directly above).

I was unable to get further information about the brand (language barrier again) so I’ll give you the basic info that I gleaned from the Google Translated website:

One Leaf’s portfolio comprises a wide range of face masks and six skin care range, including the 5-sku Jojoba Moisturising line (cleanser, toner, emulsion, serum and cream), the 8-sku Intense Moisturising range (cleanser, toner, rich toner, emulsion, cream, eye cream and serum) and the 7-sku Avocado Aqua line (two cleansers, a toner, an emulsion, a serum and two different creams).

There is also a 7-sku Magnolia Brightening range (cleanser, scrub, toner, emulsion, cream, eye cream and serum), the 8-sku Raspberry Firming range (cleanser, refining toner, rich toner, emulsion, cream, moisturising cream and serum) and the 9-sku Freesia Moisture line (cleanser, toner, hydrating toner, serum, essence, emulsion and two different creams).

Plus their face mask line-up: six creamy mud masks for different skin types, three “normal” cream masks, two sleeping masks, two creamy eye masks (rather unusual format, that!), four black (activated charcoal) sheet masks, five “normal” sheet masks, four TCM-inspired sheet masks and five fruit/flower sheet masks.


Tendril Enquiry is a Shanghai-based skin care brand which was launched in 2015. The company has a pretty solid distribution in its domestic market, I was told they have 3,000-4,000 POS (unless something got lost in translation and there’s one zero too many…) across China, both online and offline. Although, considering the company’s massive exhibition tent at China Beauty Expo, these numbers might be correct after all.

At China Beauty Expo 2019 the company presented a brand-new launch: the 6-sku Glutathione Brightening range which offers a cleanser, toner, essence, face lotion, eye essence and face cream. The reflective silver packaging was really difficult to photograph but the products looked pretty good.


And here are some of the most interesting newcomer brands that I saw at CBE!


This Shanghai-based cosmeceutical brand was launched in early May. Clean and stylish packaging with a  distinct urban/millennial vibe and a 7-sku range of functional unisex face care products. All products are manufactured in Shanghai.

The John Jeff product line-up offers a cleanser, toner, two essences, serum, lotion and eye serum which are formulated with very high percentages of actives – niacinamide, peptides, zinc gluconate, lactobionic acid, ceramides and so on.

The pH value of each product is clearly printed on the label and so are the exact percentages of actives. The toner, for example, contains 1% lactobionic acid, 0.5% zinc gluconate and 0.1% lactic acid, with a pH value of 4.5-5.0. And the cleanser is formulated with 10.8% amino acids and a pH value of 6.5-6.8.

At the moment, John Jeff is only available through the company’s own Taobao webstore but I was told that as soon as the brand becomes better known, the products will also be available through all the usual Chinese SNS (social network) platforms.


This packaging practically screams “apothecary style”, doesn’t it?:  ) Zenpill is a unisex wellness and body care brand which was launched in early 2019.

The product portfolio also includes Jo Malone-type fragrances as well as a range of home fragrance products, including a very pretty line of soy-based scented candles. The sub-ranges carry individual names – the wellness face and body care range, for example, is called ZP : EasySpa.

I wasn’t too keen on the men’s shower gel range which features tediously macho-looking packaging (see pic above) but most of the other Zenpill sub-ranges look clean and stylish – brown bottles/containers and off-white labels (well, I did say this was an apothecary-style brand, right?).

Again, this is a newcomer brand which clearly focuses on transparency, highlighting the clean beauty angle: the ingredients are printed on the reverse label, with packaging copy in English and Chinese. The common names of the plant/herbal ingredients that are included in the formula are written in Roman letters.

Actually, this is something that I noticed with quite a few Chinese beauty brands (both at the show and offline in supermarkets or Watsons drugstores): the more recent-looking brands print the Latin names of the herbal/natural ingredients in brackets, following the respective Chinese ingredient name.

I’m not sure if this is a a recent thing (it might be a new legal requirement for domestic beauty brands to print the entire INCI declaration on the packaging, with the common names in English/Latin) or if this is something that these emerging indie beauty brands do as part of their marketing strategy but in the end it doesn’t really matter – the customer is the one that profits from this development.

Due to language difficulties I was unable to find out more about the brand or its retail channels (although we can assume that they’re definitely selling online/through SNS – actually, let’s take this as a given; I wonder if there are any Chinese brands at all that only sell offline, without a retail presence on any of the Tencent or Alibaba-owned platforms. I doubt it.

Several of the products in the ZP : ZenSpa range have natural ingredients formulations (only plant names are listed on the label! And by now I recognise the Chinese character for purified water (aqua) : )


I was charmed by The Ampoule Bar’s exhibition booth! And not just because it looked like a bar : )

The whimsical booth design was intentional, of course; the beauty brand’s entire concept is structured around – well, I can best explain it with the hashtag #skinbartender; intensive ampoule treatments that provide exactly the kind of “drink” that your skin needs.

The product brochure looked like a bar menu and the 21-sku product line-up is divided into four categories of different skin needs: brightening, moisturising, anti-ageing and balancing. Each of The Ampoule Bar’s 21 ampoule sets is is based on a specific key active and a specific plant hydrosol and packaged in cocktail-inspired cardboard boxes.

The Ampoule Bar concept actually premiered at China Beauty Expo 2019; the brand behind it is also a newcomer: Allpeau is from Korea but my impression was that it’s one of these Korean brands that are manufactured primarily for international distribution.

Allpeau’s products are available in Korea, of course, but the company’s focus is on mainland China and South East Asia (I was told that the company is already active in Thailand and Malaysia) rather than its domestic market. They’re also considering expanding into Europe and Russia.


This is one of my favourite discoveries: So Cool. So Me, a young Chinese makeup brand with an edgy, urban vibe. The brand was launched in 2017 with a kick-ass range of bright colours and very unusual-looking brand models.

So Cool. So Me definitely feels like a disruptor brand; assertive and bold, with brand slogans like “don’t go with the flow, be the flow” or “don’t be better, be different” and product names such as “Like no other” and Oh yeah”. Also, love their really, well, cool silver packaging. Highly instagrammable! The brand doesn’t have a website, just official stores on Taobao and, also on Wechat. Here’s the link, you need a user account to search on Taobao.

I asked a Chinese-speaking friend to do some research into So Cool. So Me (due to language difficulties I was unable to find information at the fair) and she told me that the brand’s manufacturer is a company called Chuang Yuan who, apparently, also own two other very well-known Chinese beauty brands: Marie Dalgar and Yesic. Or perhaps they’re the manufacturer of Marie Dalgar and Yesic? In any case, there is a connection between these three brands. Marie Dalgar is the iconic colour cosmetics label that became the first Chinese makeup brand to make it into Sephora stores. I really need to do more research into this brand trio : )


As mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, green beauty was a distinct trend at China Beauty Expo 2019. There were quite a few new “natural” brands at the show (I’m not including the TCM/traditional herbal Chinese beauty brands in this category) and two of these were particularly interesting.


Beneplant is a Hong Kong-based skin and body care brand which was launched in 2016. Packaging and positioning are very strongly “green”; the products aren’t organic (as we understand it in Europe) but based on the information I got from Google Translate, the formulations are pretty natural. Near-natural as we’d call it in Germany.

The Beneplant range offers eight sheet masks, six ampoules (essences), three hydrosols, three plant-based facial oils, 18 essential oils, a range of bar soaps and two creamy face masks.

The products are primarily sold through mobile commerce (especially through social networking app Weixin) but the company also has a few offline POS in Hong Kong and mainland China (if the translation I got from Google was accurate).


This natural-inspired colours cosmetics brand has such a gorgous pack design; check out the colours! Ositree is from China, the brand was launched in 2018 and true to form for a recently launched Asian beauty brand, the green/clean ingredients angle is very much in evidence.  And again, such instagrammable packaging!

The actual product formulations aren’t particularly natural, I would imagine, but the brand presentation and positioning is so on point that it doesn’t seem to matter : ) I couldn’t find an actual website for Ositree so here’s the company’s official shop on online retail platform JD.

As far as I could find out (Google Translate again), Ositree’s products are sold online, especially on Taobao and JD, but the brand also has offline POS in various beauty retail chains across China. I did a very quick count of the product line-up at the show and there are around 30 lipsticks/lipglosses, 3 liquid bases, 3 liquid foundations, 6 cushion compacts, 3 blushers, 4 eyebrow pencils, 4 quattro eye shadow palettes, 4 mascaras, one eye essence/primer and 2 different makeup removers.

The brand’s newest launches are the two palettes you can see in the picture above (right hand side): two collections of powder eye shadows with finishes ranging from matte over shimmery to super sparkly.


This was a communal exhibition booth and another indication of how quickly the green beauty trend is developing in China.

Initiated by French brand intelligence/design agency Centdegrés (Centdegrés also showcased some of its Chinese natural beauty brand designs, like the Sephora-exclusive brand Skin ‘n Seed or Herborist (see pic above), B Green presented various green packaging and beauty companies.

Exhibitors included TCM-inspired Chinese lifestyle brand Ba Yan Ka La, sustainable packaging manufacturer Manifesto Factory, green ingredients manufacturer AYCC and online natural beauty boutique Badass Beauty Bar.

The B Green booth concept was intended as a kind of information resource, offering interested Chinese companies the opportunity to gather ideas and inspiration about how to become greener in terms of ingredients, packaging and brand concept. Centdegrés was also one of the organisers of the Green Beauty Conference which took place on the occasion of China Beauty Expo 2019 – more on this conference further down the article!


At the B Green booth I met another fascinating company (and co-sponsor of the Green Beauty Conference): Feiy is a Chinese online community/social media/marketing platform for high-impact and social business projects and initiatives from (and in) China.

Check out their website to learn about truly inspirational projects – the content’s in Chinese and English and you can search by sectors – such as inclusion, education, zero waste, environment or community – or by organisation/project.

I particularly liked the Shanghai-based Potluck Club (a project in the Community section) which wants to break down social and cultural barriers through food and cooking: the initiative organises monthly potluck dinners (where everyone cooks a dish and brings it to the dinner to share with the other participants) to help foster local communities  as well as teaching people to develop and build better food habit

Or Shanghai Soup, a Chinese version of the US-based Detroit Soup initiative – networking events to raise awareness about food wastage and help participants gain micro-funding (and have a fun evening at the same time). The Soup events take place twice a month in various locations in Shanghai.

The soup that is served at these evenings is made from ingredients sourced from local restaurants and suppliers (rescued food; i.e. food stuffs that would have been thrown away but which are still good enough to use). Participants pay a small sum as an entry price; local community initiatives are encouraged to present themselves and their social projects at these events and at the end of the evening everyone votes on which project’s their favourite – and the winner gets the money collected at the door to fund their project.

Yakma Handmade Natural Cosmetics is another very cool Community initiative. Yakma’s from rural Tibet (Gansu province) and the project was launched to empower disadvantaged local Tibetan village women by giving them the opportunity to earn money and teach them new skills. The women produce natural soaps by hand, with ingredients sourced from local farms, and a share of the profits goes towards community projects, like rural health clinics for women, skills/job training courses and the preservation of local Tibetan culture.

An interesting Inclusion initiative was Inclusion Factory which describes itself as the first industrial tools/equipment factory in China staffed by intellectually disabled workers. This project uses vocational training and personal development plans to offer mentally challenged people the opportunity to learn skills and earn their own money.

Feiy also offers job listings, an events schedule and background articles and interviews with brand founders and projects/initiatives. A really cool company.


The Green Beauty Conference took place on the second day of China Beauty Expo 2019. Organised by Centdegrés together with Feiy, the conference was an invitation-only afternoon event with a rather international audience – Centdegrés clients and partners but also selected China Beauty Expo visitors and exhibitors.

I found the conference really interesting, especially the international (by which I mean, the non-European) viewpoint on green and natural beauty.

Let me explain what I mean by this: The natural beauty industry in Europe and especially in Germany (which is the leading organic beauty market in Europe) is well-established and strictly regulated.


We have national and Europe-wide organic product certifications and seals (like BDIH, Ecocert or Cosmebio (country-specific) or Natrue and Cosmos (pan-European associations of different national seals). There are organic trade associations, lobby organisations and very influential organic and vegan beauty bloggers that keep the European beauty industry on its toes (this applies to both the conventional and the organic beauty markets).

In general, organic beauty consumers in Western Euope tend to be sophisticated and critical, animal testing has been outlawed in the EU for more than 10 years and veganism is a huge trend right. Several Western European markets have organic supermarket/retail chains that will sell only certified organic products. There are organic beauty brands that have been around for decades and influential organic own label brands (especially in Germany). And in general, the price point  for certified organic beauty in Western Europe is lower than what you’d find in Asia or the US.

Don’t get me wrong, the Western European organic beauty markets are still very different when you look at them individually: some markets are highly developed, mature and saturated, others have only just begun their journey. Green-washing remains a problem (albeit much less so than in the US or Asia) and altogether there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

However, when you look at the organic beauty industry in the EU region and compare it to the existing organic beauty structures in other parts of the world, you can see how much Europe has been achieved in the past decade.

Anyway, practically all organic beauty events (trade shows, conferences etc.) that I attend deal with challenges and topics within the European organic industry (and usually involve a lot of navel-gazing : ))

It’s refreshing to be reminded of the fact that outside of the EU, the understanding of green/natural beauty is (still) at a very different level. I’m also fascinated to see how quickly some of the organic markets in East Asia are developing at the moment.


Look at Japan, for example: even fifteen years ago organic beauty was super-niche and difficult to find (also, most of the organic beauty brands available in Japan were from outside of the country). Then Cosmekitchen appeared on the scene and pretty much single-handedly (so to speak!) created an organic beauty retail structure. And now the Japanese natural beauty sector is flourishing and there are so many domestic beauty brands! The country still doesn’t have a domestic organic beauty seal but I’m willing to bet that this’ll change in the next few years.

Or Korea; look at all of the organic niche beauty brands that have appeared on the market in recent years. And although the domestic indie beauty sector is facing an uphill battle in the Korean retail industry – the Korean cosmetics market is dominated by huge corporation-owned brands – a new generation of domestic perfumeries (Olive Young, Chicor etc.) are including Rookie/Newcomer shelves in their stores to highlight new and emerging clean beauty brands. And Korean beauty marketing agency Soak Lifestyle has just launched its first offline beauty retail space (featuring some delightful organic niche brands) in Seoul’s Going Mary concept store. A lot of exciting stuff is happening at the moment.

But now back to the Green Beauty Conference!

First Matthieu Rochette-Schneider, general manager of Centdegrés China, gave an interesting introduction on trends in the international green beauty sector, with particular reference to mainland China.

The second presentation was my favourite (then again I’m a trade journalist and I love me some market research data!): Sarah Ouyang from KOL/influencer marketing agency Parklu spoke about the rise of green beauty amongst the influencers represented by her agency. For her presentation, Sarah had pulled data from Parklu’s database, tracking the mentions of “green beauty” amongst various tiers of KOLs.


NOTE: THIS IS A VERY SIMPLIFIED OVERVIEW! The Chinese KOL industry is much more complex than the European or US influencer scenes. Sure, Chinese KOLs are also divided into mega influencers, “normal” influencers and micro influencers (plus all the levels in-between!) – just like their Western counterparts – but China is a huge country and its customer demographics are highly complicated: depending on the region (urban/rural), prefecture, city or town; income levels, customer sophistication, consumer behaviour and consumption/purchasing patterns across China can differ enormously.

As a result, Chinese cities are usually classified into “tiers” (based on income level, population size, per capita GDP, infrastructure and similar parameters);  it’s not an official definition but widely used as a reference point when talking about retail, business opportunities and consumer demographics.

Shanghai and Beijing, for example, are so-called Tier 1 cities – they are amongst the most developed, sophisticated and richest cities in mainland China. Other classic Tier 1 cities are Guangzhou and Shenzen, with a whole bunch of previously Tier 2 cities now joining the existing Tier 1 line-up (according to what I read online): like Chengdu, Ningbo, Hangzhou and Chonqquing – a whole group of cities that are rapidly growing and developing at the moment so the tier system is constantly in flux. Then you have Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities and even, according to some inofficial listings, Tier 5 and Tier 6.

Bear in mind that even Tier 4 or Tier 5 cities in China can have well over 1 million residents – really, what they have in terms of cities and population over there is on an entirely different scale than what we have in Europe!

Anyway, the tier system both applies to KOLs (you have KOLs that are strongest in their local and regional communities but also KOLs with followers across China) and KOLs are also ranked by tiers. And to make matters even more complex, KOLs are often specific to a certain SNS (social network) – you might have KOLs that are super influential on Little Red Book (one of the key SNS in China) whilst others are have the biggest influence on another app or social network. And each of the SNS has different – and constantly changing – customer demographics which means that KOLs/KOL-specific influence can change equally quickly.


Back to Parklu and Sarah’s presentation. For the conference, Sarah had tracked mentions of “green beauty” amongst their different KOLs and she presented this data in a series of charts.

The three top green beauty brands mentioned in  the first quarter of 2019 were Origins (Estée Lauder/US), Innisfree (Amorepacific/Korea) and Chando (Jala Group/China), with Origins and Innisfree accounting for almost 50% of the overall mentions. In total there were more than 5.7K mentions of 20 green beauty in 1Q 2019.

Check out the chart in the picture above; I’m not sure if you can see the individual percentages but the brand line-up includes both genuinely organic brands (like Eve Lom in 5th place, Jurlique (7th) and Farmacy (8th)) as well as “green” brands such as The Body Shop and Korres (places 9 and 10), Nuxe (13th) and Aveda (14th place).

According to the other charts, Chinese KOLs mentions of green beauty brands grew 134% compared to the previous year and Sarah also pointed out that micro influencers are starting to gain ground, taking away market share from top tier KOLs. This suggests (I think) that consumers are increasingly trusting sector specific KOLs for green product recommendations rather than believing top tier KOLs who advertise both conventional and green beauty.

In the next chart Sarah presented the KOL mentions by platform and it turns out that mentions  of green beauty brands by KOLs on XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) – Little Red Book is an social media/e-commerce app focusing on international luxury products;  launched in 2013 and currently one of the fastest-growing and most popular social media apps in China – were grew 30% per quarter over the past year. Since 2Q2018, Little Red Book has actually overtaken WeChat to become the second-most influential social media platform for the beauty segment, after top player Weibo.

In total, the 20 green beauty brands listed in the first chart reached out to 3.7 billion fans in the first quarter of 2019 alone, Sarah said; with a 3% rise by quarter and a whopping 138% increase year on year.

The next presentation was by Nathalie Dickeli, CEO of Manifesto Factory, who spoke about sustainable packaging possibilities and then there was a panel on green beauty and retail; again from the international US/Asian perspective rather than the European view.

Panelists included Dewi from Ba Yan Ka La, Scholastica Tanyi, founder of Badass Beauty Bar, Allie Rook from natural online perfumery Green & Gorgeous and Rick Chinn, founder of organic Australian beauty brand Floropathy.

After the round table, Dr. Abdellah Yousfi, founder of green ingredients company AYCC, spoke about natural ingredients in skin care and the final presentation of the day came from Alexandre Rio, founder of Swiss beauty brand Epigeneva.

I really did enjoy the conference and I hope that next year there’ll be another one : ) Thank you to Centdegrés for the invitation!

And that’s about it from me. I’ll leave you with some more pictures of the trade show. Enjoy!

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