Byravee Iyer
Aug 16, 2013

Aesop: Beauty with a cause

ASIA-PACIFIC - Leave the big budgets and audacious advertising to the Unilevers and Procter & Gambles of the world. Australian-headquartered skincare brand Aesop prefers to keep it simple, with no advertising and minimal promotion.

Nicholas Mulcahy
Nicholas Mulcahy

“We’re not a company that advertises," said Nicholas Mulcahy, general manager, Asia-Pacific. "We believe that the best way to be discovered is through word-of-mouth.”

According to Mulcahy, thinking small has paid off. He wouldn't reveal top-line numbers, but said the company has been growing about 30 per cent year-on-year.

Another indication of Aesop’s success is its expanding retail presence. The company, which started out with just two stores in 2006, today, has about 69 stores across the world. Mulcahy is in charge of the 43 stores in Asia-Pacific, and there are plans to open about 15 more stores in the region this year. Aesop is present in almost every major market in the world: Australia, the US, the UK, France, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Taiwan and Malaysia.

It is not present in countries it doesn’t see as viable business opportunities or that require it to go against its business philosophy. For example, despite the potential in China, Aesop is quite clear that it will not enter the market because it doesn’t believe in animal testing, which is required for some products. India is another large market the company has steered clear of owing to issues of size and scope. Aesop also doesn’t plan to enter Thailand and Laos due to strict import regulations.

Aesop is present in three categories: skincare, haircare and fragrances. Skincare accounts for more than half of its sales in terms of volume, and much of its research and product development targets this category. The company is strictly against using artificial colours and ingredients. As such, it is not present in highly lucrative categories like skin lightening and anti-aging.

Instead, Aesop is concentrating on its growing retail format—its greatest marketing investment. Each store is designed uniquely focusing on aesthetics, music and scents. In its recently opened store in Singapore, the company has used cooling themes and elements. The store’s theme includes muted greys, felt, flannel, blackened steel and cement coalesce with glimpses of colour in display cabinets. Service and staff are equally important. There are no price tags on products so trained consultants play a key role.  “We are very old fashioned in that sense,” Mulcahy pointed out. “Today retail is more about efficiency when it should be about creating an environment and experience.”

Aesop has recently started branching out and looking at new avenues of growth. In line with that, it collaborated with apparel company A.P.C. to launch a fabric wash for fragile clothing. This unexpected move into clothing cleanser isn’t necessarily a business proposition, but simply a desire for Aesop director Dennis Paphitis and A.P.C founder Jean Touitou to collaborate, Mulcahy said. Aesop also teamed up with Finnish fashion house Marimekko to launch a body scrub and balm. “We’re not looking at too much collaboration, but if something is genuinely interesting we’ll do it to stay engaged with people.”

Of late, the skincare company has begun tying up with arts and cultural organisations, foundations and festivals. Although averse to terming it a “marketing initiative”, Mulcahy is keen to promote Aesop at such events. It recently helped sponsor a contemporary art fair in Tokyo, a key market where it plans to open three or four stores per year.

Earlier this year, the company expanded its relationship with Singapore-based PR company Media Flair Communications, entrusting it with all PR and marketing initiatives in Singapore and Malaysia, which include media engagement and event partnerships.

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