That a company would break through as an industry through innovation is not something new in 2017. Many companies develop new technology or processes and fire out of the gate as a huge success. What is less common is for one of the leaders in innovation to trace their origins back four generations, more than 80 years ago. But this is exactly what has happened with Korean cosmetics giant AmorePacific when they revolutionized the industry nearly a decade ago with their cushion brand of products.
It seems hard to believe that a company listed as high #21 on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies (and the highest ranked cosmetics brand) started in a rural setting in 1930’s Korea, when Yun Dok-Jeong began using camellia oils to produce hair treatment products for women. The mother of six would later be aided by her second son Suh Sung-Whan who helped expand the product line to face creams.
Suh would take over for his mother in 1945 and named the company ‘Taepyeongyang’ which translates as ‘Pacific Ocean’. For most of its early years, the company operated simply as Pacific Corp. Cosmetics. Suh grew the company into a solid regional player in the industry but it would only launch into rarified air when Suh’s son Suh Kyung-Bae took over the company in 1997.
A New Leadership for A New Era
One of the driving motivations for the current CEO is expanding their market beyond the status quo. “There’s also always room to reach out further, to other regions and areas that we have not ventured before,” Suh told the Korean Herald in a 2013 interview. “The bottom sales line will be 5 trillion won, globally, by 2020.”
Following through on his vision of expanding the brand, AmorePacific opened plants in China and France to secure onsite production. Today, the company boasts growing operations in the top five markets around the world ― North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, China and Japan.
Commitment to R&D
Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to the company’s global success is the commitment to R&D in the field of cosmetics. It started with the creation of the upscale Sulwhasoo line. According to the Korean Herald, “Sulwhasoo, the company’s priciest lineup, was based on painstaking research that finally proved the beneficial effects of herbs and plants on the skin.”
However, the innovation that changed the cosmetics industry came when an AmorePacific researcher made a simple observation on a parking stamp.
“It was the smudge-free, even impression created by a parking stamp that sparked the Aha! Moment,” Researcher Choi Kyungho, Project Leader and Current Head of Amorepacific Cushion Laboratory said on the company’s website. “Amorepacific’s Cushion Compact is the world’s first liquid-impregnated sponge type through liquid stabilization technology using specifically designed urethane form.”
This brand new cushion technology is a three-in-one compact that combines foundation, skin moisturizer, and sunblock in one easy application. According to the company website, the secret to their success is the proprietary Cell-trap technology which enabled them to create a low-viscosity mix of sunscreen and skincare into the specially-designed sponge of urethane foam.
“By keeping the liquid formula within the 800,000 pores of each Cushion sponge, Amorepacific was able to control the fluidity as well as stabilize the formula keeping it from separating and also making it possible to create a thin makeup layer. The Cell-trap technology also kept the formula from spilling, running, or drying out.”
A Star is Born
The response to the new product was overwhelming. Like with all successful new technologies, it didn’t take long for other players in the space to follow suit. According to a 2015 Forbes article, “In January the world’s largest manufacturer of beauty products, L’Oreal, released its own version of the technology through its subsidiary Lancome: the “Miracle Cushion.” Five months later, AmorePacific signed a memorandum of understanding with Parfum Christian Dior, giving the European luxury brand access to its cushion technology.” In 2014, Amorepacific sold more than 26 million units — one every 1.2 seconds.
The success of the cushion technology led to bolstered sales in every region across the globe. AmorePacfic’s top line of cosmetics are now staples in the higher end retail stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom just to name a few. According to Forbes, 2015 revenue jumped 20% from the previous year to $4 billion. Korea’s emergence as a cultural trendsetter has also helped Suh, seen in the brand’s overseas sales making up a huge chunk of its overall revenue, with China alone making up 20% of AmorePacific’s sales.
Doubling Down on Innovation
The company continues to look to the future of cosmetics. Earlier this year the company announced “the opening of a new Research & Innovation Laboratory within a bioscience park in Singapore managed by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore‘s lead government agency for fostering world-class scientific research with over 4,600 researchers from 60 countries.”
The move is consistent with Suh’s vision of an innovation-led company, which continues to invest in expanding the number of R&D facilities and staff. “What’s more important is how we can develop the brands so that we can offer great products and experiences to our customers,” Suh says.
With such time and investment pouring into innovation, chances are that whatever the next major breakthrough in cosmetics may be, one can fully expect that the team at AmorePacific will have had a hand in it.