24 Jan 2018
Building a Hong Kong Skincare Brand
Interview with Angela Lee, Chairman and Camille Or, Associate Director of Laboratory JaneClare Limited
For a long time, Hong Kong’s skincare market has been dominated by overseas brands with local brands being few and far between. JaneClare, however, a brand created by Laboratory JaneClare, not only makes its skincare products in Hong Kong, but has also based its laboratory and its R&D team in the city. Overall, the full range of the company’s operations – including R&D, production, packaging, sales and management – all take place in Hong Kong.
In a more recent development, the company established the JaneClare Transdermal TCM Therapy Laboratory, which saw it partnering with Hong Kong Baptist University’s (HKBU) School of Chinese Medicine to apply academic disciplines to the development of Chinese medicinal herb-based skincare products.
Speaking to HKTDC Research recently, Angela Lee, chairman of JaneClare, and Camille Or, associated director of JaneClare, discussed brand building and explained how the company’s brand has managed to stand out from the crowd in the highly competitive Hong Kong skincare market.
Hong Kong is an international metropolis with skincare brands from all over the world freely available. Many such skincare products, however, contain chemical preservatives. If used on a long-term basis, these chemicals may trigger skin allergies, adversely affect overall health or, in extreme cases, prove carcinogenic. In a bid to help women combine good health and sustainable beauty, Lee created JaneClare, a brand of natural skincare products. Her entire range is guaranteed to be free of chemical preservatives and, instead, combines traditional Chinese medicinal herbs with modern transdermal technology.
Expanding upon her approach, Lee said, “Our products do not contain any chemical preservatives or any of the more than 4,000 hazardous chemicals listed by the US-based EWG  as common ingredients in skincare products. Instead, we have developed our own natural preservation system, which uses organic or green traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and other herbs to preserve the quality of our products. This system, combined with state-of-the-art skin penetration technologies from the West, allows us to create highly-effective, high quality skincare products. Given that all of our ingredients are wholly-natural, even pregnant women and eczema sufferers can use our products.”
As some of its products contain Radix Notoginseng and Vitamin A, which may make them unsuitable for use by pregnant women, JaneClare has introduced “Pregnancy friendly” labelling to help consumers recognise which products are likely to be most suitable for them.
Apart from using natural herbs in place of chemical preservatives, JaneClare also only uses Non-GMO-verified natural plants and Chinese medicinal herbs as raw materials for its products. All of its products are also tested by dermatologists to ensure that they are safe and reliable. In addition, the aseptic production plant set up by JaneClare in Hong Kong has been awarded GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certification, making it one of the few production plants in Hong Kong to have achieved this particular distinction. As a further proof of its commitment to high standards, the company also holds ISO9001 Quality Management Certification. Hence, it is not surprising that the organic Chinese herb raw materials used by JaneClare are four to 11 times more than other inorganic raw materials used. Overall, Lee sees the company’s stringent selection of – and investment in – raw materials as a key element in its positioning as a natural, healthy and safe brand, something that gives it a clear point of difference compared to other skincare brands.
In-house R&D and HKBU Collaboration
On the books of JaneClare’s Hong Kong laboratory are several dermatology professors, as well as a number of medical research experts and registered traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners. As a consequence, its R&D team has successfully developed a wide range of natural anti-oxidant skincare products, all of which contain no chemical preservatives. Ultimately, it believes that it is its combination of Chinese and western herbal extracts, together with state-of-the-art transdermal technology, that has allowed it to create its high quality range.
In a further development, In November last year, Laboratory JaneClare and the HKBU School of Chinese Medicine jointly set up the JaneClare Transdermal TCM Therapy Laboratory, a venture aimed at supporting the School’s research into skin-related therapeutic products, while also funding the training of a new generation of researchers. According to Lee, when it comes to innovation and R&D, JaneClare and the School of Chinese Medicine share the same vision and objectives, with both parties looking to utilise modern technologies as a way of using traditional Chinese medicinal herbs in the development of new therapeutic products. While the company is maintaining its own R&D team, which is continuing to focus on developing new skincare products, its work with the HKBU School of Chinese Medicine is allowing it to extend its range of high-quality healthy cosmetic products. At the same time, the School also gets the opportunity to see the results of its academic research providing real life benefits.
Physical Stores Remain Primary Sales Channels
Positioned in the medium- to high-end of the market, JaneClare uses all-natural organic raw materials, a policy that has boosted its popularity with health-conscious consumers and professionals working in the sector. As most of its products have benefits for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, the brand has also become a well-known name in many mother and baby groups.
The company’s specialty flagship store is based in Hong Kong’s busy Admiralty district, while its extensive retail network includes more than 50 local personal care chain stores, sites where a variety of products are sold via a number of different sales channels. Expanding upon the way the company’s retail operation works, Or said: “At the specialty store, the pricing of the products on offer, such as serums, creams and whitening masks, tends to be higher, with a selection of gift packs also available. By contrast, the products sold at the personal care stores are largely basic skincare items, such as lotions, cleansing aids and hand cream.”
In the run-up to the festive seasons, the company also sells its products via pop-up stores in shopping malls. As Christmas loomed, for instance, it set up pop-up stores in the Kai Tin and Wong Tai Sin shopping centres, both of which targetted local buyers with special gift packs. Given Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s luxury retail hub, the company also caters for a wide range of overseas shoppers, including visitors from the mainland, Taiwan, Europe and the US, while also running its own online shopping platform.
Online-Offline Promotional Strategy
Typically, Hong Kong consumers use skincare products from Europe, America, Japan and Korea and know little about local skincare brands. In order to try and counter this, Lee spent millions of dollars on advertising, but found the result disappointing. Changing tact, she then began working with beauty consultants, urging them to try JaneClare skincare products. She believed – quite rightly – that once they had experienced the effectiveness of the products themselves, they would then recommend them to their own customers.
At the same time, the company also began boosting its image by organising and sponsoring charity events. In line with this, it became one of the patrons of Operation Dawn, a Hong Kong-based charity that runs a comprehensive drug rehabilitation programme. As part of its support, JaneClare provides aloe vera seeds and the necessary technical support to help recovering drug users grow and nurture them, a process designed to help develop patience and perseverance. In return, a share of the aloe vera grown is passed back to the company as raw materials for its skincare range.
In terms of online promotion, the company has now upped its spend, seeing this as an essential way of building awareness among younger, tech-savvy consumers. In particular, it has turned to Facebook as a channel for disseminating product information and promotional offers, as well as a way to directly communicate with customers. For Lee, the company’s online-offline, multiple-channel promotional strategy has proved hugely effective.
Hong Kong’s First International Skincare Brand
In terms of future plans, Or revealed that JaneClare is now planning the launch of two new consumer-focused product lines – a series of male-oriented skincare products and a range catering to the skincare needs of babies and infants. In a development more focused on its business clients, it will also be launching S. Dermedique, a range targetted at beauty parlours and professionals in the cosmetics/skincare health sector.
As the business expands, Lee is adamant that it will continue to solely use plants and Chinese medicinal herbs as raw materials, while also using only all-natural herbs as preservative agents. It is this commitment to abiding by its founding principles, together with its international certification, that has won it the approval of the international beauty industry.
As a sign of this success, one well-known French company approached JaneClare with a view to buying its products and repackaging them under its own brand. Although such an arrangement would have had clear financial benefits, Lee turned the offer down, believing it could have compromised JaneClare’s standing as an unashamedly Hong Kong brand.
Even though production and R&D costs in Hong Kong are high when compared to other parts of the world, Lee remains insistent that all of the company’s products must be 100% Hong Kong manufactured. Given such commitment, who could doubt that Lee’s hopes to see JaneClare established as Hong Kong’s first truly international skincare brand won’t soon be realised?
 EWG (Environmental Working Group) is a non-profit, civil environmental organisation dedicated to conducting research on chemicals and consumer products that threaten human health and the environment. To this end, it disseminates information on a regular basis to protect the health and safety of the general public and the environment.