Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Expands into Asia

Targeting the activist generation Z, Fenty Beauty did what many brands had failed to do before it and engage make-up consumers across a wide spectrum of skin tones in just one make-up line. Variety of darker foundation shades was not a new phenomenon when the brand burst onto the scene in 2017 but Rihanna transformed what could have been just another “diverse” make-up range into a truly inclusive one.

Inclusivity, you see, is not only about the product but about how it speaks to the individual and is accessed by the masses. In the UK after initially launching in high-end department store Harvey Nichols, Rihanna launched into 32 Boots drugstores up and down the country, which cemented her vision of quality but accessible “beauty for all”.

After Fenty Beauty’s staggering success, Rihanna did not rest on the laurels of her newfound entrepreneurial status. In the Spring of this year she announced that she’ll be launching the first original brand under the luxury fashion house LVMH to be headed by a female. And just last week Rihanna revealed plans to launch Fenty Beauty into Asia, home to seven out of the top ten growth markets for premium beauty over the next five years. But will Rihanna’s vision resonate in the East?

The US and the UK, which make up the bulk of the USD500 million in sales that Fenty achieved in its first year, have undeniably diverse populations. In 2018, Caucasian made up only 60% of the total US population. Meanwhile the Black, Hispanic, Latino and mixed-race population grew the fastest in the US over the last five years. While in the UK, the Caucasian population also saw the largest decline in recent years as the Asian and mixed-race populations grew quickly. In Asia there is quite simply less racial diversity.

Hong Kong holds most potential for Fenty in Asia

In Hong Kong and South Korea, where the brand it set to launch first later this year, there are at least large expat communities, which in Hong Kong could be enough to sustain the brand alone. In fact, over the next five years, Hong Kong’s beauty market is anticipated to grow three times more than South Korea’s in value, buoyed by tourist arrivals, which reached a milestone of almost 30 million visitors in 2018, making it the most visited city on earth. Despite the city’s sprawling retail ecosystem, the choice of beauty brands and product variety tailored towards non locals in Hong Kong is surprisingly limited. So, providing the current unrest and ongoing protests don’t dampen tourist or expat appetite for the city, Hong Kong is a good bet for Fenty right now.

But despite the obviously lacking market for a brand built around targeting the underserved needs of black women (or those on the opposite end of the spectrum with very pale skin), Fenty beauty’s message of empowerment may also go amiss on the Asian consumer.

Euromonitor’s Beauty Survey shows that Western consumers are much more likely to associate beauty with “embracing yourself” and “being comfortable in your skin” than in the East. In fact, only 18% of Chinese and South Korean consumers perceive beauty this way and just 6% of Thai beauty consumers. This is compared with 23% consumers in UK, a third in Australia and the US, and almost 60% of respondents in Brazil.

Rihanna’s fashion credentials to stir interest in China?

But all is not lost because Rihanna’s personal brand is multi-faceted enough to adapt. If China is next on the cards, Fenty Beauty would likely benefit more from the association with a luxury fashion label than it would from a place of female emancipation and celebration of race, or even celebrity status. A China launch would make most sense in tandem with the launch of Fenty clothing and accessories to benefit from the association with the social status that’s still attached to designer labels in China. If Rihanna does her homework on social commerce, and the product quality stands up and the all-important user reviews reflect this, Fenty could give L’Oréal and Estée Lauder a run for their money in the endlessly lucrative luxury Chinese beauty market, which is set to amass another 12 billion US dollars by 2023. And if that’s not enough to convince the Chinese consumer, perhaps the anticipated Fenty Skin spin off, which was listed as a trademark in March 2019, will seal the deal for a region of skin care fanatics.