MELBOURNE — Australian skin and body care company Aesop has unleashed plans to expand in the Asian market.

In December, Aesop opened a store in downtown Taipei, Taiwan, and has another unit planned for Taipei and one in Hong Kong this month, as well as opening up distribution in Korea.

Founder and owner Dennis Paphitis said Asia was the fastest growth market for the 17-year-old brand.

“Taipei and Korea are two of the most buoyant skin care markets in the world,” said Paphitis, who added the company’s target of 100 stockkeeping units sold per counter per day was being met in Asia’s 24 doors.

Aesop is also sold in Japan through Barneys New York, in Malaysia and Hong Kong. Paphitis said Aesop’s Asian success could also be attributed to their customers’ culture.

“There is a historic culture of well-being and grooming in Asia that aligns itself comfortably with our approach,” said Paphitis. “Japanese and Taiwanese women in particular express enormous affinity with the textures, after-feel and efficacy of our line — they also understand attention to detail.”

Aesop’s Taiwan store was constructed at the same time the company established two stores in its home city of Melbourne. Paphitis said the stores were an important medium to express their brand positioning — helping Aesop be excluded from the current trend of natural homeopathic beauty.

“To the industry, we don’t comfortably fit into any box — we don’t categorize ourselves in the natural beauty category — that channel is not where we are positioned, but the science-botanical one. We are a dedicated, focused and serious skin and hair care line instead of a touchy-feely line or a smelly bath line,” said Paphitis.

Behind Aesop’s science-botanical identity are in-house chemists and a microbiologist who work on developing products. The parameters for Aesop’s new sku’s may be widened soon as Paphitis has thought about diversifying into unrelated wellness products including wine, olive oil and chocolate.

“In the not-too-distant future we want to create auxiliary products looking at our ingredients as a reference point. We already make a beautiful herbal detoxifying tea and have problems keeping it in stock,” said Paphitis.In April, Aesop launched three products, including an antioxidant eye serum, a geranium leaf hair shaping gel and a rose body oil.

Aesop’s skin care products contribute 65 percent to sales, which in turn spiked a 25 percent growth in turnover for the company at year-end 2003. Paphitis declined to comment on monetary figures but industry sources name that figure to be $25 million in annual wholesale sales.

Though Aesop was started in 1987, Paphitis said the company got serious about creating its product line in 1997. Today, the brand is sold in 13 countries and hopes to expand distribution to Korea, South Africa and Scandinavia in 2004.

Plans are also afoot for two more retail stores, in Sydney and in London, in 2005. The company is planning on enlarging distribution in the U.S. through a mail-order service for customers who don’t have access to Barneys and Fred Segal counters where the Aesop line is currently being sold.

— Stephanie Epiro

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