BEAUTY may be only skin deep. But the cutthroat beauty business involves intricate layers of strategising and marketing know-how, especially in the face of skincare goliaths with bottomless pockets. To make it in a market saturated with global brands takes a lot more than just thick skin. And Skin Inc founder Sabrina Tan has just that, plus lots of ambition and gumption.
"As a beauty lover, I was constantly frustrated to find that products did not work for my specific skin condition, or worked for a while but then I could not change them to suit my changing skin," says the 39-year-old.
"Also, I had no time for trial and error as I was - and still am - extremely busy juggling my career, family and personal interests. This is the same conundrum many modern women face."
Now, Ms Tan has parlayed her business of fuss-free, customised skincare into a burgeoning global empire, and recently announced a partnership with LVMH-owned beauty retailer Sephora. The brand's Get Awesome Skin kits are now available in 15 Sephora stores in South-east Asia, with plans to be included in Australian and Korean stores by the end of this year. Currently, Skin Inc is also sold in 16 cities in countries including Spain, Vietnam and Brunei.
"Sephora's market know-how, reach and ability to constantly exceed the desires of their customers make it a great platform for niche beauty brands," says the petite-framed Ms Tan, who started her company in 2007.
"Our partnership with Sephora will give us brand visibility in new markets. For example, they have turned brands such as Bare Escentuals, Clarisonic and Urban Decay into global brand names."
And going global is certainly part of the game plan for the entrepreneur, who went from being a sales and marketing manager in an IT company to starting a skincare brand from scratch, inspired by the efficacy of and technology behind Japanese skincare brands.
"I went to Japan to conduct market research, visiting countless drugstores and department stores to check out all the different products," recalls the mother of two. "I even remember squatting on the floor of the drugstores as I compared various products!"
Rather than simply distribute existing products in the market, the University of London graduate works with top cosmetic labs in Japan to produce multitasking potions, with the option for customers to create their own skincare cocktail based on specific needs and conditions. The unique concept was taken to Spain as early as 2011, followed by Vietnam and Dubai the following year, and Germany in 2013. This month, it will be making its foray into the US, where the beauty and personal care industry is projected to reach US$81.7 billion by 2017, according to a Euromonitor International forecast.
"Shoppers in the US firmly believe in consumer empowerment, just as Skin Inc, as the leader in personalised skincare is about choice, and we want to enable that choice in luxury skincare for women in the US," explains Ms Tan, who will first introduce the brand through an e-commerce platform and pop-up store in New York, with plans to have 10 to 15 online and retail points of sale by the end of this year.
"Just 10 days ago, we met with beauty and business journalists from some of the most influential titles such as WWD, Allure, InStyle, Lucky, Vogue.com, in New York. They were blown away by the uniqueness of Skin Inc and it re-enforced their belief that Asia is truly at the cutting edge in skincare innovation."
Its launch in New York is led by general manager of Skin Inc US and global e-commerce Rameet Kaur, who was previously a global brand manager for Japanese skincare giant SK-II.
"Asia is recognised globally as an innovator and leader in skincare and women (in the US) are envious of the beautiful skin that Asian women have," says Ms Kaur. "We want to revolutionise the way women view skincare from a 'one-size-fits-all' to a 'one-size-fits-one' experience."
Never mind that the biggest beauty companies traditionally hail from Europe, the US or even more established Asian markets like Japan and Korea.
By meeting the personal requirements of the individual consumer, this Singapore-based beauty upstart is hoping to tackle the global beauty shopper.
"Skin Inc is an international luxury skincare brand, which is proud to be headquartered in Singapore," declares Ms Tan. "Look at Singapore Airlines, which leads the world in travel and outstanding service," says Ms Tan. "Singapore has a proud heritage of creating world-class brands in many industries."