The beauty industry is big business in Hong Kong, but until recently international brands from Europe, the United States, Japan and Korea dominated the trade.
Now home-grown beauty brands are emerging, including RARE SkinFuel, an organic brand whose skincare range is made in Australia. Founded in 2018 by Michelle Chen, who was born in Taiwan and studied in the US, the brand’s product range includes everything from masks and serums to hand creams and shower oils.
RARE SkinFuel has a store and treatment rooms at the Landmark Atrium mall in Central district and its products are available at the Rosewood Hong Kong hotel spa, Asaya Wellness in Kowloon and the Marina Club in Aberdeen. Offering international shipping from its e-commerce site, the company is working towards acquisition by a global brand, Ms Chen said, adding that the brand will also have a pop-up at Lane Crawford’s IFC store in July.
Do you have a background in skincare?
No, but I’ve always been a skincare believer and used my grandma’s Shiseido samples from fifth grade. I’ve put my money towards skincare rather than cosmetics and want to help women regain confidence in their own skin. I’m no expert in formulation but always loved reading beauty magazines to get tips on how to improve my skin.
Why did you set up a skincare business?
In 2018, I was ready to start a business and wanted to do something I was passionate about. While there are plenty of Japanese and Korean skincare brands in Hong Kong, there aren’t so many Australian brands. As it’s a land of nature and not so far from Hong Kong, I thought it could work. In less than a month, I found a manufacturer I wanted to work with – we just clicked.
I nailed down the products I wanted in the range pre-launch, and we had several rounds of samples first. They had to be products I’d use myself, something top of the line. As there are no chemicals in the products, they are suitable for all ages: my 84-year-old grandma uses them, as does my eight-year-old daughter.
What are your bestsellers?
Our Age Delaying Cream, which is an all-in-one cream with anti-ageing features. Our restoring and detoxifying masks, which utilise pastel pink Australian clay and Ivory Australian clay to help dry up acne also do well, as they incorporate a dry powder and activator that is quite difficult to find.
How do you go about hand-making products in small batches in Australia?
The manufacturer has grown with us – they are four times bigger than they were. They have the same values as us, as they use solar power and rainwater to grow their herbs. The herbs that we use in the products are crushed in-house. Using cellular technology, we extract the best parts of the flower or herb, then ship the products to Hong Kong. In a day or two, they are in our warehouse.
What prompted you to set up a physical presence in the Landmark Atrium?
We wanted an offline space to showcase our products. The store sees a lot of sales from existing customers who may be on their ninth or 10th bottle. As almost every product is HK$500 [US$64] or more, we need beauty advisors to advise customers on how to use them. In the treatment rooms, we offer facials and utilise professional massage techniques. We’re happy with having just two treatment rooms as ultimately we are a brand and want to focus on creating even better products.
Are you keen to expand beyond your partnership with the Rosewood hotel?
Yes, we are in talks with [luxury hotel brand] Six Senses but that’s still in the early stages, and as their HQ is in South Africa we need to think about distribution. We would like to partner with more resorts and have been doing case studies on successful brands globally to see how we can get more people to notice us.
What else is going on for RARE SkinFuel?
We’ve just started working with Singapore Airlines and are hoping to be included in their duty-free offerings. Ideally, we’d like to work with more partners, be they hotels, spas or service providers. We’ll debut our Lane Crawford pop-up this July, and from the third quarter, we’ll have a permanent counter there.
What gave you the idea to launch globally, with worldwide shipping?
A guest at the Rosewood, a Los Angeles celebrity, used our products, loved them, and ordered three more bottles of creams when they returned home.
What’s your long-term goal for RARE SkinFuel?
Our ultimate goal is to get acquired by a global brand – we were inspired by the story of Hermes acquiring [Chinese skincare brand] Cha Ling. If we are acquired, then the brand can continue to grow. We are currently recruiting new board members and have big plans next year to move towards acquisition. We’d also like to manufacture products for other brands and use the lab at our manufacturers to do so.
What beauty trends do you notice?
In Asia-Pacific, consumers spend much more on skincare than body care, so from 2023 we’ll have more of a facial care focus. Our new product, the Bare Balms, aims to enhance features without make-up and can be used as a highlighter, blush or eyeshadow. We’ll also launch #Baremama Crystal Infused Treatment Oil, a universal cream that can be used on the body or for diaper rash. We’ve found that people don’t want use so many items – they are looking for products with multiple functions.
What do you like about doing business in Hong Kong?
I like that it’s fast-paced – nowhere else can turn things around in a day! You never have to wait for weeks to get things done here. From Hong Kong, you can access many resources quickly and easily. This meant I could build the business at a faster rate. Some of my student friends from the US saw me doing business in Hong Kong four years after giving birth and were surprised to see [it happened so fast].
What advice would you offer to any would-be entrepreneurs?
Stay consistent and have a goal. As for business plans, remember there must be some flexibility and room to bend a little bit.