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Capturing the Spirit of Brazil in a Jar

Sephora helped build awareness for Sol de Janeiro and its Bum Bum Cream.

While Korean-born Heela Yang appreciates the buzz around beauty from her homeland, it is Brazil that inspired her to codevelop a body-care brand called Sol de Janeiro.

Yang, a former beauty executive with experience at Lancôme and Clinique, discovered the opportunity after she moved from New York to São Paulo with her husband. She couldn’t help but notice differences in Brazilian beauty routines that sparked the idea to capture the spirit in a bottle. She met another ex-New Yorker, Marc Capra (he moved to Brazil after becoming enamored after a visit), who shared her fascination with the culture and the duo conceived the line.

“There is really something different about women and beauty in Brazil. It is all about attitude and confidence. It’s always about head-to-toe beauty, rather than a sole focus on the face like Koreans,” said Yang. “And they are even obsessed with feet.”

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Brazil, according to Euromonitor, is the third-largest beauty market in the world because of a population that overindexes in many categories. The climate of Brazil encourages fastidious grooming to all body parts, added Capra. “Your whole body is exposed all year-round. And with the hot weather, you need two or three showers a day. They revel in it as a ritual.”

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With Brazil as an inspiration, Capra and Yang now spend most of their time in New York meeting demand for their fledgling line.

Sol de Janeiro bowed in March 2016 with three items — Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, formulated with guaraná said to help stimulate circulation and keep posteriors smooth and tight; Samba Two-Step Foot Fetish Care, and Brazilian Golden Body Veil, a body hair lightening system.

“We launched products based on Brazilian’s favorite body parts — their butt, feet and body hair,” quipped Yang. “These are areas people don’t usually talk about in premium cosmetics.”

The unique positioning caught the attention of Sephora, where the Bum Bum cream is one of the top selling stockkeeping units in skin care. The company was honored as Rookie of the Year by Sephora in skin care. Yang has her sights set on becoming a top 10 skin-care brand at Sephora.

“We have exceeded our plans five to six times with Sephora,” she said.

Sephora has since given the green light to expand to Canada and in 600-plus J.C. Penney doors, bringing total distribution to more than 1,000 stores. Next month is the company’s international launch in Selfridges, Douglas and foreign Sephora units as well as online. It has been busy enough, Yang said, to prompt a move of the company out of her home and to staff up to 10 employees.

Buoyed by success, Sol de Janeiro has built out the assortment to seven products, including Açaí Body Power Cream, Brazilian Kiss Cupuaçu Lip Butter, Brazilian 4 Play Moisturizing Shower Cream-Gel, and Brazilian Crush Body Fragrance Mist. Prices range from $18 for the lip butter to $45 for the Bum Bum cream.

The fragrance is an example of how quickly the company can react to demand. After Bum Bum hit the market, both consumers and Sephora asked for a fragrance emulating the signature scent. Within four months the company had it ready. “People have even told us they get dates wearing it,” added Yang.

Yang said every product must nourish, provide an antioxidant benefits and hydration. To that end the company created what it calls its Brazilian Beauty Blend concocted with coconut oil, açaí  and cupuaçu butter.

There are a slew of new concepts in the pipeline including a hand cream, more shower items, sun care, bronzing and a line for pregnant women. “Brazilian women look so hot when they are pregnant,” said Yang, who became pregnant just after arriving in Brazil.

Despite its economic struggles, Brazil is a country making noise in beauty. Beyond the legends of Brazilian waxes and blowouts, ingredients from the Amazon such as açaí and castanha are gaining notice. Natura Brasil decided the time was right to expand stores in the U.S. as did Beleza Natutal. “Everybody loves the concept of Brazil,’ concluded Capra. “It has universal appeal.”