Jessica Jung

Revlon has decided that now is as good a time as ever to relaunch its business in China.

After a soft launch in the fall, the Revlon Inc.-owned makeup brand is gearing up to roll out its full assortment of products on Tmall in May. To promote the brand in China and the rest of Asia, Revlon has tapped Jessica Jung, an American-born K-pop star and model, as its new global brand ambassador. Jung will appear in campaigns this year for Revlon’s Super Lustrous and ColorStay franchises, and launches such as the TotalColor permanent hair-color line making its debut this fall.

“We’ve always emphasized inclusivity and diversity,” said Revlon global brand president Silvia Galfo. “But we didn’t have an Asian brand ambassador.”

Jung is known internationally for leaving the K-pop group Girls’ Generation and forging her own career path. Galfo said Jung’s streak for individualism is likely to resonate with young Chinese women.

Revlon isn’t the first struggling American brand to tap a Chinese influencer to help its push into Asia. Victoria’s Secret this month revealed it had appointed Yang Mi, one of China’s most successful and highest-paid actors, to help boost its resurgence in Asia.

The China launch comes at a challenging time for Revlon Inc. The company has struggled with slumping sales for years across all brands except Elizabeth Arden, which has done well in China. Facing a liquidity problem, Revlon hired Goldman Sachs in 2019 to explore sale options, and is trying to solidify a refinancing that would allow it to pay off debts and funnel some money back into the business. The company also said it would implement a restructuring plan that would include significant layoffs.

Revlon is looking to China as a growth opportunity. It is not the first time the brand has sold in the market there. Revlon exited China for the first time in 2014, when beauty brands were sold mostly at physical retail.

Now, using Tmall as a distribution platform and influencers — or KOLs, key opinion leaders, as they are known in China — to help drive sales, Galfo said this time, China could become the brand’s biggest market after the U.S.

“The consumer is evolved, and Revlon is all about self-expression and empowerment — I think it’s a good fit,” said Galfo.

After launching on Tmall a few months ago, Galfo said the brand is already seeing strong sales of some of its key franchises, such as Super Lustrous lipsticks and ColorStay foundation. Other core franchises, such as the  ColorStay Look Book palettes, the Ultra HD collection and Super Lustrous lipsticks in matte, are due to launch in the summer.

Lipstick is huge in China — or was prior to the pandemic — said Galfo, and Revlon’s lipsticks have sold well thus far.

With a strong contingent of beauty-obsessed consumers, China has become a key growth market for many beauty companies. But that could be subject to change given the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not clear yet whether young Chinese consumers, who once spent freely on luxury goods from European and American designers and brands, will be as enthusiastic about makeup as they were prior to the pandemic.

Galfo’s thinking is that Revlon’s lower prices will be attractive to the Chinese consumer. And there’s still the fact that Revlon is an American brand — while Revlon has struggled to retain a young consumer base in the U.S., in China, the brand’s heritage gives it a “cool vibe of American lifestyle,” said Galfo.

Galfo said while there was a lull earlier in the year, spending is starting to pick back up in China. “The market is starting to rebound, especially online,” said Galfo. “In China, everyone is wearing a mask, so eye and face makeup are a little higher.”

While the U.S. beauty market has struggled enormously due to the pandemic — prestige beauty sales were down 14 percent for the first quarter, according to The NPD Group — China has struggled less thanks to livestreams, said Galfo. For whatever reason, Chinese consumers are buying more from livestreams than Americans are. Revlon recently did a livestream with KOL Li Jiaqi, known in China as the “Lipstick King,” to introduce its Super Lustrous franchise. Galfo said the livestream drove significant sales for the franchise.

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