Now it’s time to take a look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy.
Blemish balm creams help cover up blemishes and improve skin tone. Facial masks provide nutrients and moisture to the skin, while a makeup product known as a cushion pact is a combination of skin foundation and powder. These are some of the popular Korean beauty products that are drawing attention from the global beauty industry. Facial masks, in particular, are emerging as one of the signature K-beauty products, enjoying huge popularity in North America and Europe as well as in China, where they are posting an annual growth rate of more than 20 percent. With countless manufacturers jumping into the lucrative market, one company merits attention for its innovative ideas. Let’s hear from Ahn Jong-jin, vice president of this company, “Firstmarket.”

Firstmarket was set up in 2007. Our brand “Kocostar” stands for “Korea Cosmetics Star” and it contains our wish that we will grow globally as a star of Korean cosmetics. We wondered what Korean cosmetics would prove competitive in the world market, and we chose facial masks. But other manufacturers had already been producing facial masks. To differentiate our product, we decided to make mask packs that would cover every part of the body from head to toe.

Firstmarket started as a distributor to introduce Korean cosmetics to foreign markets and it launched its own mask brand Kocostar in 2013 with a distinctive concept, “from head to toe.” Mr. Ahn explains the products in more detail.

Kocostar’s first product was the “5 fingernail pack.” A lot of women are greatly interested in nail art, gel nails, and manicures to decorate their fingernails. But there were very few products designed to protect fingernails. No company ever thought about caring for fingernails with a mask pack. We created a pack shaped like a thimble and put various substances, including Argan oil and milk protein, in it. Users put the small pack on their fingers and wait for about 20 minutes. The pack provides nutrients to their fingernails and makes them shiny and strong. The pack is also designed to allow users to still use their smartphones. This product created a great sensation at an exhibition in Italy.

Many women have manicures regularly, but these treatments use chemicals which can damage nails. The company noticed this and developed its “nail pack” product. Its facial masks also boast their distinctive benefits.

One of our most popular products is the “Kocostar slice mask sheet.” Fruit and vegetable patterns are printed on the front side of the sheet, while the other side is transparent. The mask sheets can be applied piece by piece. Users can apply them separately to any part of the body they want. Many YouTubers and Instagramers have given a demonstration of the mask sheet. A foreign media agency evaluated it as the most innovative and trendy mask pack in the world. This product is receiving the most attention these days.

N: When using a traditional facemask, users first take the sheet out of the packet and apply it on the face in line with their eyes, nose and mouth. But the slice masks are different. Just like slicing a cucumber and putting each piece on the face, users can peel off the mask sheets from the film and put them to any body parts they want—the face, neck, arms and legs. With its unique concepts, the company is expanding the scope of mask packs. It is now exporting its products to some 50 countries.

It’s been less than four years since the Kocostar brand was launched in December 2013, when it began to export products to Japan, China and Southeast Asia. The export volume was insignificant, though. In 2016, we managed to pave the way for exporting goods to Spain. Buyers of the prestigious Spanish department store, El Corte Ingles, which has some 80 branches, loved our products and were eager to sell them at their stores. After that, Italy’s La Rinascente, which was selected as the world’s best department store in 2016, asked us if we could provide them with our goods. So we advanced into the Italian market as well. Most recently, we have made inroads into Galeries Lafayette, which is an upscale French department store chain. No other Korean brand has ever entered there, as far as I know, although some large companies in Korea have attempted to do so. Previously, we wished that we would someday sell Kocostar products in France, the home of cosmetics. We’re very happy and proud to finally realize that dream.

Firstmarket has been offered space in some 20 prestigious department stores around the world, including Galeries Lafayette in France, as well as in ULTA Beauty, which is the largest beauty retailer in the U.S. The global mask pack supplier is a rising star that brightens the future of the Korean cosmetics industry.