College girls step into beauty controversy
With a white mask covering her face, Wang Xinli closes her eyes. Lying on a soft bed, the 26-year-old enjoys a massage and the fragrance the face mask brings.
This is only part of Wang's routine investment in body treatments. Each month, the young financial advisor from Huaxia Bank in Beijing spends more than 2,000 yuan (US$240), roughly half of her monthly salary, to beautify her skin, hair, hands and feet, as well as buying brand-name cosmetics and perfume like Chanel, Lancome or Christian Dior.
"It enhances my confidence and it's worthwhile," she claims.
"She is not an exception," said Zhang Qian, a personal image advisor in Beijing, claiming that a young generation of Chinese, born around 1978 when the country began its reform and opening-up, are better-educated, better-paid, and pay greater attention to fashion and their personal image than their parents.
"Nowadays, professionals like Wang not only compete in their professional skills, but also in their personal image because it could directly affect the first impression of future customers," he said.
While the traditional beauty sector in China refers mainly to such services as hairdressing, massage and face-lifts by medical means, the modern beauty sector expands to cover the areas of beauty-related education and marketing, the production and research of cosmetics and related instruments, and even includes ornaments, packaging materials as well personal image consultation.
Within 21 years, from 1983 to 2004, the sales volume of China's beauty businesses has increased 260 times, according to the country's first annual report on the beauty sector, recently released by four young Chinese economists He Fan, Ba Shusong, Zhong Wei and Zhao Xiao.
With a 15 per cent annual growth, the beauty sector is turning into another huge money-maker after the boom in the real estate, auto, electronics and tourism sectors. Moreover, the revenue of the sector is expected to reach 176.2 billion yuan (US$21.3 billion) this year and double in the next five years.
From the perspective of cosmetics, a similar track is visible: The annual average spending of Chinese on cosmetics, in the early 1980s, was about one yuan (12 US cents), the figure rose to five yuan (60 US cents) in the early 1990s, and 25 yuan (US$3) at the end of 2000.
In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the annual average spending on cosmetics has reached 80-100 yuan (US$9.6-12), although still much lower than the figures for many developed countries, roughly US$35-70.
China is currently home to 1.54 million beauty parlors and nearly 3,800 cosmetic companies, and almost 8 million people are actually working in beauty-related businesses, plus another 4 million whose jobs are connected to the sector.
A survey of five major cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Wuhan, shows that the most popular beauty items include SPAs, stone massages, Yoga, foot massages and nail treatments.
More growth expected
Despite the huge advances witnessed over the past two decades, "huge gaps still exist between China's beauty sector and its counterparts in developed countries," said Zhang Xiaomei, vice-president of the Beauty and Cosmetics Association of Central China's Henan Province.
Ba Shusong, one of the four co-authors of the report, shares a similar view.
"Compared with overseas beauty and cosmetics rivals, the domestic companies lack competitive advantages and are markedly overshadowed in such aspects as management, talent and brands," he said.
"Even the beauty chains with hundreds of outlets across the country are very often unknown to ordinary consumers."
Statistics from the annual report show only 11.72 per cent of the practitioners have a two-year college or higher educational background, while the practitioners who have a junior middle-school or an even lower education, and those who have a senior middle-school or secondary technical school education account for 38 per cent and 50.2 per cent of the sector's workforce respectively.
Zhao Xiao, another co-author of the report, highlighted several other major features of China's current beauty economy: Private investment accounts for 87 per cent of the sector; small-sized beauty shops with less than 50 square metres of work space stand for 65 per cent of the total; and more than half of the beauty shops cost no more than 50,000 yuan (US$6,045) of investment.
Zhao pointed out that in spite of the two decades of rapid development, China's beauty sector has been in a kind of disorderly state, "it's of great urgency to find a brand-new industry mode suitable for the 21st century."
He was echoed by Ba Shusong who also believes it's time for big investors to step into the industry and establish brand-name beauty shops.
An interesting phenomenon is that Chinese men are attaching more and more attention on their personal image as well. Across China, beauty salons have begun providing professional services for men.
Due to the fact that many successful men maintain such bad habits as staying up all night, smoking and drinking, which lead to skin and hair problems, "men need comprehensive and professional beauty services to enhance their confidence as much as women do," said Yi Dai, who owns a Men's Beauty Salon.
She claims her routine customers mainly include white-collar workers, private entrepreneurs and celebrities of various industries.
"Male models, actors, and celebrities are the pioneers," said Guo Xiaohua, an industry researcher from Xiamen.
"Of course, male consumers expect a kind of energy, instead of beauty, from the beauty services."
Zhong Wei, one of the four co-authors of the report and director of the Finance Research Centre of Beijing Normal University, is rather optimistic about the future of China's beauty sector.
"With the development of the fine-chemical industry, bioscience, materials science as well as the application of cell science in dermatology medicines, the beauty sector is sure to make headway in both depth and scope."
Zhong predicts that in the next five to 10 years, Chinese herbal medicines may play a bigger role in the domestic beauty market if researchers can solve such problems as purification techniques and conduct more scientific analyses on the nature and quantity of the effective elements of Chinese herbal medicine.
(China Daily 02/05/2005 page3)