Local hero: Taiwan-based 23.5N pushes for Asia expansion on the back of clean beauty trend
Founded in 2009, 23.5N is a natural skin care brand that utilises active ingredients extracted from local agricultural produce such as native rice, pineapple, barley and bamboo.
Founder Helen Ho told CosmeticsDesign-Asia that she recognised early on the potential of Taiwan’s local produce for the cosmetics market.
“Usually we buy expensive foreign brands that have ingredients like avocado, but many people don’t know we have very good avocados on this island. We have very good rice, tea, pineapples… So, I thought, why not use it?”
Ho then partnered with local universities to study the ingredients and developed products with light textures that would suit the climate of Taiwan.
Today, the brand is available across Asia in countries such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Ho admitted that she was not the first to think of this concept. In fact, local governments of Taiwan’s local townships had long used skin care as a means to promote local produce.
“These products were mainly targeted at mature consumers. I felt that we could make it chic and affordable to attract the younger crowd,” said Ho.
With its natural superfood ingredients and a minimal ingredient list, the brand seems perfectly aligned with the trends in the beauty market today.
However, Ho revealed that it struggled to connect with consumers when it was first introduced in the market 11 years ago.
“There was no concept like clean beauty back then. We were challenging the consumer’s idea of skin care products by doing things our own way. Like not adding fragrances; people didn’t quite know what do when they open a bottle and couldn’t smell the perfume.”
With the rise of the clean beauty trend in Asia, Ho said she sees more opportunities for the brand to expand its business.
“Yes, there’s a lot of potential for the brand now thanks to the clean beauty trend. It’s done a lot of the pre-education for us. Clean beauty is one of the reasons we have seen our business grow in the past few years.”
The consumer shift has also resulted in the brand being picked up by Eslite, a bookstore cum lifestyle retail chain that is popular among Taiwanese.
“We’ve seen our consumer base grow in the last two years due to a few reasons. One of them is our partnership with Eslite. It has been expanding very aggressively but remained very focused on their target market which happens to be in line with our brand.”
This year, the brand hopes to push forward in its overseas expansion, but Ho said the firm currently only has plans to expand further into Asia. “At this stage, we want to take a more focused approach.”
This year, the brand encountered a spot of bad luck when beauty retailer Sa Sa International pulled out of Singapore, taking 23.5N along with it.
The brand has managed to find its way back into the market through local clean beauty multilabel online retailer, Peau Peau Beauty.
The next market on the company’s radar is Japan, the market that has a strong influence on the beauty market in Asia.
Initially, it was scheduled to make its debut in Japan this month, but the launch was postponed due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“Japan is not an easy market because the consumers there love their local brands. It will take a lot of time, but I believe our concept resonates with the market. Japanese people like the idea of slow beauty and using time-tested ingredients, which is what we stand for.”