As cosmetics demand increases, the false eyelashes industry is moving towards its turning point, and there is no guarantee which direction it is going.
Photo from CFP
By LU Yibei, CHEN Qirui
Forty years ago, Pingdu, a small town close to a major port in East China’s Shandong Province, began making the first false eyelashes in China for a Korean customer. As is the norm in China when a new industry appears, workers from the original factories started their own business one after another and soon almost everyone in town had some interest in eyelashes.
Today, Pingdu’s 5,000 factories generate 7-billion-yuan (US$1.1 billion) - 70 percent of the global market.
While domestic cosmetics brands have risen to challenge the big hitters from overseas, the false eyelashes industry is quite different. Production is complex and styles update quickly. False eyelashes are heavily dependent on skilled labor. According to DENG Xiaojun, boss of Yiman Meijie who has been making false eyelashes for more than 20 years, there is no “all-rounder” in the industry: No factory can make all types of eyelashes on its own, Deng said.
Regulators have temporarily classified false eyelashes as hair products but haven’t done much in terms of supervision. Original styles are invariably hijacked as soon as they appear. Family workshops, oblivious to what little regulation there is, make their money the old way – sell cheap, sell a lot. It is simply a low value-added industry, Deng said.
Although false eyelashes are seen by the public as cosmetics, manufacturers have problems getting a cosmetics production certificate and hence have no access to cosmetics retail chains.
Deng explained that customers choose products recommended by cosmeticians and agents like beauty salons, who take most of the profits.
In 2017 ZHAO Weisheng, founder of U.S. brand LAFABS, created WOSADO, an eyelash brand that marketed itself through social media. The higher operational cost means a higher price. A pair of false eyelashes often cost about 70 yuan on Taobao, Alibaba's e-commerce site, while WOSADO’s price is around 150 yuan, but are reusable and designed for Asian eyes. The idea is to make false eyelashes a basic make-up necessity just like lipsticks and eyeshadows, Zhao said.
Zhao started moving business offline in January and now has 40 stores in major cities. WOSADO launches two new styles and two related cosmetics products every month. He says bricks-and-mortar stores are more open to new products.
WOSADO’s feedback cycle is reduced to two days as the online transaction time has been saved. The online customers who are attracted by offline promotions account for 60 percent of the brand’s fans.