‘Second nature’: UK-based, Beijing-born twins taking on major brands in China’s male beauty category

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Male beauty brand Shakeup Cosmetics sees ‘huge potential’ for the brand in Asia. [Shakeup Cosmetics
Male beauty brand Shakeup Cosmetics sees ‘huge potential’ for the brand in Asia. [Shakeup Cosmetics

Related tags male beauty China

UK-based male beauty brand Shakeup Cosmetics sees ‘huge potential’ for the brand in China where it is going toe-to-toe with heavyweight brands like Chanel and Tom Ford.

Shakeup Cosmetics was founded in 2018 by Beijing-born twin brothers Shane Carnell-Xu and Jake Xu.

In September 2019, the company launched its first range of men’s make-up products that were enhanced with skin benefits. Since then, the company has expanded into Asian markets such as the Philippines, China and Singapore.

Xu told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that when it comes to the men’s beauty category, the Asian markets are leading the way.

“Even though [my twin brother and I] grew up in the UK, we still maintain a close connection to the Chinese culture. That gave us a front-row seat to witnessing the redefinition of male beauty in Asia. Thanks to K-Pop, Mandopop and the rise of Chinese male celebrities that wear make-up without embarrassment.

“Even though we see this category is booming globally, really where it's at is in Asia. When we created the brand, we had the Asian market right at the centre of our business plan. We always thought and still think Asia is a huge market for our products and for our brand.”

China potential

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest Asian markets for Shakeup is China, where the brand launched in July 2020 through Alibaba-owned Tmall Global.

Three months after its launch, the brand’s Let’s Face It BB Tinted Moisturiser beat top brands like Kiehl’s, Chanel and Tom Ford to become the top premium BB cream on the e-commerce platform.

The next month, its Tmall Global store reached GBP35,000 (USD49,000) in sales in the first hour of the Singles’ Day shopping festival.

“It was our first ever Singles’ Day and we didn’t know what to expect. Being a start-up, we didn’t have the money to throw at Li Jia Qi or those kinds of Key Opinion Leaders. But we still broke quite a few records and it was a great, great experience,”​ said Xu.

Xu believes this "wild ride"​ is just beginning for the brand in China. While a bulk of its customers are from the first- and second-tier Chinese cities, it has had orders from lower-tier cities as well.

“Our demographics are what you would expect, consumers between 18 and 35 with high disposable incomes, highly educated with reputable jobs. Interestingly, we also see demand from the lower-tier cities who also have the desire to buy high-quality imported products.”

Consumers from these cities do not have as many brand choices and are turning to e-commerce platforms like Tmall.

“With e-commerce, the geographical barrier is broken. I think the potential is really huge, we are just scratching the surface,” ​said Xu.

While the Chinese market has seen a huge boom in domestic brands like Perfect Diary and Florasis, Xu believes there is still a huge demand for Western-made brands.

“When it comes to products they put in their mouths and on their body, the Chinese still look towards Western brands because of their reputation as being trustworthy. If you look at the top five best-selling beauty brands on Singles’ Day, they are still Western brands,” ​said Xu.

He added that this is why the company was careful and took its time to enter the Chinese market.

“We knew we needed to have enough brand equity before we could actually break into the Chinese market. That's why we took we took a lot of steps in the UK to secure partners like Harvey Nichols and Superdrug. We've also had lots of celebrity makeup artists using our products on actors and we had Giorgio Armani’s fashion show use our products exclusively backstage. All of that gave us huge credential.”

Xu believes a brand like Shakeup that has roots in both the UK and China, has a leg up in the market.

“The Chinese market overall is quite daunting for Western brands to decipher. You need to understand how to work with Chinese partners and you need to understand the pace that the Chinese market moves at. Things are just different – just look at the social channels. You have to learn a completely new ecosystem from scratch. For us, it’s a second nature. I think that that's another huge advantage that we have over other brands.”

The future is global

While there are huge opportunities in China, Xu said the company is maintaining a very global outlook for the business. Aside from China, Shakeup is getting great response from markets like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“The APAC region, in general, is sort of benefiting from the halo of our success in China. We’re not going to neglect any market because the male beauty trend is a global phenomenon. Naturally, we are expecting Asia to lead the pack, but we have to look at it globally.”

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