K-beauty has taken the world by storm, with innovative skincare and makeup techniques shaping the global beauty industry. However, indie brands like Arencia face a dilemma when expanding to international markets. How do they navigate the disconnect between Korean and Western consumer preferences?
The Challenge for Indie Brands
In 2019, Joohyun Lim created Arencia in Korea where veganism was not very popular yet. She designed a selection of items that were ethical and environment friendly, as well as suitable for sensitive skin and those with a plant-based lifestyle. Since the pandemic, demand for natural, organic, and eco-friendly beauty products has grown drastically and Arencia was able to take advantage of this by entering the mass market platforms in both Korea and the US. Currently 30% of its sales come from Amazon alone.
However, expanding to the US was not without complications. While in Korea, Arencia is positioned as a mid- to high-end brand, selling for 30 to 40 percent more than the average plant-based beauty business for customers in their 20s. In contrast, many of Arencia’s US customers are in their late 30s and prioritize value for money. This disconnect poses a challenge for Korean brands expanding overseas.
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The K-Beauty Hype
While K-beauty’s meteoric growth phase may be ending, its status as a global trend leader persists. However, for brands that don’t fit neatly into the narrow definitions of K-beauty, this presents a dilemma. Many K-beauty products that go viral in the US, such as Laneige’s lip mask and Beauty of Joseon’s sunscreen, are just drops in the ocean compared to the vast array of local Korean brands and products available in retailers like Olive Young.
For brands like Arencia that don’t want to be associated with the high-octane image western consumers expect from brands marketed as K-beauty, it’s challenging to stand out in the international market. Moreover, Korean trends come and go quickly, making it difficult for Korean brands to sell brand-new products in other markets. This has led some Korean brand owners producing locally to skip the domestic market and sell instead to Southeast Asian markets like Indonesia.
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Unlocking New Categories
To overcome the challenges of oversaturated segments in skincare and makeup, niche Korean brands are launching in underdeveloped categories. Brands like LAKA, for example, focus on waterless haircare products, while Sioris prioritizes sustainable ingredients in skincare. By unlocking new categories, these brands can stand out in international markets and appeal to a wider audience beyond the hype of K-beauty.
Navigating the Disconnect
Indie Korean beauty brands like Arencia face a challenge when expanding to international markets. The disconnect between Korean and Western consumer preferences makes it difficult to market products to a wider audience. However, by unlocking new categories and appealing to values like sustainability, niche Korean brands can stand out and overcome the challenges of oversaturated markets.