“Clean beauty” has been continuing to grow in popularity, so much so that it is evolving into a new age; “Ethical Beauty”. There is even more of a focus on how the products were created, where the raw materials were taken from and how they were extracted and with transparency being key, brands are reassessing their production and supply chains. We chatted to an expert on the subject, Jayanne Jin – EVP of Business Development at BEAUTYSTREAMS, to find out more.
With a growing number of green consumers making more environmentally friendly and ethical purchase choices, “Ethical Beauty” is gaining attention from the industry. Although its interpretation may vary across brands and individuals, what would you say is a general definition for the term “ethical beauty”?
It’s an overarching concept that ranges from social values such as veganism, anti-animal testing, and fair trade, meaning transparency at all stages of the value chain including production of raw materials, to ethical management such as fair treatment of employees. It’s a trend led by consumers who reject beauty products from certain companies in the belief that “ethical” companies will produce ethical products.
In today’s world, we can learn a lot about consumer values through their consumption and demand for “ethical beauty” is particularly evident among Millennials and Gen Z. What do you believe led to this increased consumer awareness of ethics, and therefore demand of ethical products, in the beauty industry?
We are now transitioning from pursuing high social status, wealth, and honour symbolized by capitalism, to believing that true happiness comes from a life lived with dignity and our relationships with loved ones. This means that nowadays, younger generations tend to prioritise their happiness in everyday life through their well-being and the time they share with loved ones.
As humans, we often recognise that our small actions can affect many and we assert ourselves as members of our society through consumption. Online boycotts and active political participation are deeply rooted in the desire to straighten up any unfairness in society and, at the same time, ensure equity for themselves in terms of opportunities. We’re likely to also see this phenomenon appearing in emerging economies such as China and India in the future, as their middle class grows.
With regards to more ethical products, what considerations do cosmetics companies take, both in the manufacturing process and in terms of overall product trends, to meet consumers’ growing expectations?
Companies are paying closer attention to issues such as the content of key ingredients, unfairness in material sourcing, and the use of environmentally harmful materials as well as the transparency in the labelling of product ingredients. Brands that use animal testing are no longer found in developed countries because consumers are turning their backs on them.
The standards of positive consumption for cosmetics probably vary depending on the individual or the country. In Korea, consumers prefer cosmetics that are gentle on the skin and there are popular apps, such as Hwahae and Glowpick, providing information on the composition of cosmetics. Meanwhile, in the US, with a larger number of vegetarians, consumers are more likely to favour products that are vegan or made without animal testing. Have you noticed a difference in consumer preferences at home and abroad?
I don’t think the standards for positive consumption differ much between home and abroad, although there may be individual differences. Since the ethics required by society also strictly apply to the beauty industry, companies in Korea, and overseas, both recognise the importance of ethical values. Companies and brands that don’t live up to the standards will have to adapt quickly.
In 2019, a major US retailer began to use their own “clean” label, taking products with harmful ingredients off the shelves. Likewise, Olive Young in Korea also created its own “clean” standard aimed at “Ol-young without Five Ingredients”. Online communities in Korea are particularly strong in their solidarity, so much so that any news of “bad practice” from a specific company or brand can result in a barrage of opinions, bad reviews and can directly lead to a boycott.
As it becomes more challenging to meet consumers’ growing demands over both quality and ethical value of a brand or product, how do you think beauty companies must evolve to survive?
With the spread of appreciation for sustainability, companies must stay away from focusing solely on product sales and the image of excessive consumption. To avoid “greenwashing”, they can only communicate with consumers once they practice ethical management, while establishing an authentic circular economy and minimising damage to nature.
In the future, competition in the beauty industry will be summed up as “ethics,” “sustainability,” “high quality,” and “value for price.”
It is highly challenging to achieve all of this in a short period of time. However, I think that they can create a loyal consumer base if they engage in steady communication with consumers, combining the above four elements with the brand’s philosophy.
Could you share an example of a time you’ve been influenced by the brands’ values when purchasing a cosmetics product?
MICA, the raw material used to make glitter eyeshadow, is sourced by exploiting Indian children. After watching the news, I stopped buying glitter eyeshadow. The fact that it often contains microplastics further motivated me to stay away from it. In Europe, glitter is made using eco-friendly techniques and materials, so I hope Korean companies soon change their direction.
For a bath product, I use Bath Bomb from LUSH because it has no packaging to throw away. It’s a great example of zero waste. I buy one every time I pass by a LUSH store.
After watching the video of the Braille Nails project for the visually impaired implemented by Shiseido and Google since 2018 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2kgmFjJy7E), I purchased a Shiseido serum product. I hope Shiseido continue to invest in the Braille Nails project.
Does the “ethical beauty” trend provide any advantage for Korean companies?
K-Beauty is known for its “innovation” and “value for price.” However, I think there are still many challenges for Korean cosmetics to overcome before corporate ethics reaches every corner of production and encourage those who run the business to share the ideology. “Ethical Beauty” is not a transient trend. Like sustainability, it will keep spreading. This means it is also an opportunity for companies that are still preparing for it.
I hope Korean companies seize this opportunity and capitalise on their competitiveness when it comes to speed. I believe that if they take advantage of the momentum generated by K-Dramas and K-Pop, which are getting more popular around the world due to COVID-19 and quarantines, on top of the existing positive perception of K-Beauty represented by its value for price and high quality, they can perform well in foreign markets.
Want to get to know more about ethical beauty with Jayanne Jin? Check out their session at in-cosmetics Korea 2021.