Health and Beauty

Hera Skin Care Korea

This K-Beauty Brand Is Bigger Than Chanel. But It's In Trouble.

SEOUL, South Korea  — Women in their teens and 20s fill a recently opened store by Amorepacific-owned beauty brand Etude House, where snail slime, bee venom and white jelly mushroom extract — ingredients often heralded in South Korea for their skin-enhancing qualities — feature in products that line the shelves. The retailer’s bestselling cushion compact foundation can be found among 1,000 other skincare products like serums and sheet masks.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is just another store in the beauty giant’s domestic market of South Korea. But it is not. The boutique is located inside the Dubai Mall — the world’s largest shopping centre, drawing 80 million visitors a year — marking Amorepacific’s first gateway into the Middle Eastern market. The move is part of chief executive Suh Kyung-Bae’s ambitions for it to become a global elite beauty brand.

Amorepacific has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1945, when Suh’s grandmother, Yun Dok-Jeong, discovered the potential of the camellia plant. Based in the city of Gaesong — now a part of North Korea — that prospered as a trade centre producing ginseng after Korea was liberated from Japan, Yun would spend hours pulverising the flower’s delicate seeds, turning it into a prized oil that fashionable Korean women would use in their hair. Eight decades later, Suh, now chairman and chief executive of Amorepacific, has turned the beauty company into one of Asia’s most powerful cosmetics empires.