Kiwi health and beauty
entrepreneurs eye Asia

With a combined population of 38 million spending some NZD$4.5 billion annually on health and beauty products, it’s little wonder New Zealand health and beauty businesses are keen to dip their toes into the Singapore and Malaysian markets. Five kiwi entrepreneurs recently got a chance to do just that on a Foundation visit to the two countries where they experienced local culture, made industry connections and found out about the burgeoning health and beauty sector first hand.
A silhouette image of three people sitting at a table in front of a big window overlooking a harbour

In Singapore the group met with Facebook representatives who provided them with insights into the company's marketing strategies

The group were:

  • Alex Gage-Brown, general manager, Skinfood Skincare
  • Sara Quilter, CEO and founder, Tailor Skincare
  • Kimberly Bray, CEO and cofounder, Sub&Tartic Skincare
  • Sharee Wilkinson, CEO and founder, Moka Premium Eco-fibre Lashes
  • Hannah Duder, CEO, Indigo and Iris.

The five entrepreneurs spent five days in Kuala Lumpur followed by three days in Singapore as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, which has been taking New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia since 2015.

The group met with New Zealand trade officials – including dinner with New Zealand High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur Hunter Nottage - visited distributors, networked with their Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts and attended the Beauty Asia trade show where they tested the waters with their products.

“The idea behind the visit was to get them on the ground, meet relevant contacts and explore potential opportunities to do business,” says the Foundation’s entrepreneurship and leadership director, Adam McConnochie.

The group visited some of the biggest malls and retail outlets in both countries to gain an understanding of consumer behaviour, discover what products were popular and see how they were promoted.

Alex Gage-Brown, general manager of Skinfood Skincare, says being on the ground, meeting people and seeing how products were sold was immensely beneficial.

“Being fully immersed in the culture to get a real understanding of a place was so valuable. Not only meeting local business people but also experiencing the retail environment, checking out the competition and watching consumer behaviour. This is all only achievable while spending time in a market.”

Kimberly Bray (Sub&Tarctic Skincare) says while the big brands are still dominant in Singapore and Malaysia, room is opening up for smaller players to get a piece of the pie.

“The Health and Beauty markets in both Singapore and Malaysia are currently still largely driven by distribution agreements and large budgets for marketing spend and buying shelf space. This is beginning to change to be more aligned with New Zealand, where consumers are looking for more Independent brands online and through social media.”

Hannah and Alex Mall Health and Beauty 2019 YBLI

The Beauty Asia trade show allowed the visiting entrepreneurs to gauge the market and test how their products might do

A stall at Southeast Asia’s largest health and beauty trade show, Beauty Asia, allowed the entrepreneurs to find out what consumers thought of their products and get an idea of how they might do in Asian markets.  

“It was great to go to Beauty Asia and speak directly with customers and distributors around the Asia region,” says Kimberly Bray of Sub&Tarctic.

“Meeting with BeautybyHora in Singapore, the main distributor for another New Zealand business ActiveLayer, has led to some great development opportunities back at home.”

With social media fundamental to marketing their products, a visit to Facebook’s Singapore headquarters stood out as a learning highlight for a number of the entrepreneurs.

Sara Quilter (Tailor Skincare) says the lion’s share of her company’s early growth could be attributed to Facebook and promoting their products over social media.

“So it was fantastic to head into Facebook headquarters and hear all about where they see the direction of Facebook marketing going and comparing this to my assumptions,” she says. 

As is usually the case with such visits, participants report spending time with fellow entrepreneurs and sharing notes as one of the greatest benefits of the trip.

 “I found it really valuable to chat with the other New Zealand beauty entrepreneurs after each meeting and to bounce ideas off one another,” Gage-Brown says.

“It was also fascinating to meet beauty entrepreneurs with a similar business model to mine (online first) to see how they use social media to market their products.” 

A group photo of the health and beauty entrepreneurs and NZTE staff in Singapore

At NZTE offices in Kuala Lumpur the group learnt about some of the opportunities and difficulties of doing business in Malaysia

Key to making the programme a success was the assistance of Singapore and Malaysia-based entrepreneurs who have previously taken part in the Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme.

Having now brought 97 Southeast entrepreneurs to New Zealand, the programme has a network throughout Southeast Asia to call upon to provide insights and support.

“It’s pretty tough to turn up to a place like Kuala Lumpur and meet relevant people if you don’t have an existing network that can help,” McConnochie says.

“Most of the meetings we had were through contacts of the entrepreneurs we have worked with previously. They were hugely useful to making sure we connected with the right people.”

The group meeting with make up company Muka and Co

Meeting with Malaysian and Singaporean health and beauty companies provided the New Zealand entrepreneurs with valuable insights into the local market

Although its early days, the signs are good that members of the group will see tangible outcomes from the visit in the not too distant future, McConnochie says.

“Many of this group will do deals, find suppliers or gain distribution through the connections they made on this visit and hopefully we’ll see their businesses successfully expand into the region in the not too distant future.”