How Tmall’s ‘Pitch Fest’ Leveled the Playing Field of Niche Beauty Brands

Key Takeaways:

  • Thanks to Alibaba’s Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest, seven emerging US brands were able to launch on Tmall Global in time for the 11.11 Singles Day Festival.

  • To prepare for 11.11, California clean hair brand Vegamour rolled out a strong marketing campaign led by niche-yet-influential KOL and KOC groups that built awareness and created demand.

  • China is the world’s largest market for clean beauty, a growing trend primarily driven by millennials. In fact, a GMA study showed that 90 percent of Chinese consumers emphasized the importance of using clean beauty products — by far the highest rate in the world.

Alibaba’s 11.11 Tmall Shopping Festival has quickly become the most important retail event in China and the largest shopping event globally. And now, brands both big and small are vying to participate in the event, hoping to win over Chinese consumers. Yet, gaining entry into the China market during 11.11 could be a daunting and costly task for many emerging beauty brands as they face off with beauty giants like L’Oréal and Estee Lauder (the latter of which reported over $15.7 million (100 million RMB) in sales at last year’s festival).

However, with individualism and innovation continuing to drive China’s desire for niche beauty, some of the top emerging brands participating in the festival hope to use it as a launching pad to grow brand awareness and drive sales in this booming market. But do they really stand a chance? Now that this annual event has drawn to a close, many are eagerly awaiting the early results.

Thanks to Alibaba’s Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest, specifically created to help small and medium-sized US brands expand their businesses globally, seven emerging brands launched on Tmall Global just in time for the 11.11 Singles Day Festival’s first day of sales.

Alibaba Group’s Tmall Global announced on November 1 the winners of its second annual “Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest.” Photo: Business Wire

The selected brands are selling to China through the Tmall Overseas Fulfillment program, which offers brands greater inventory flexibility and reduces operational and logistical hurdles. Tmall Global also provides Pitch Fest winners with marketing advice, tools, and resources that help brands promote their products and increase brand awareness in China.

Among this year’s winners is California’s clean hair-care brand Vegamour, which took the hair and beauty world by storm since its inception in 2016 when the brand introduced a whole new game-changing category in hair called “Hair Wellness.” Inspired by functional medicine, this first-of-its-kind approach to hair care actively engages consumers to consider their nutrition, physical and mental health, and emotional well-being as crucial components to hair health and appearance.

To prepare for 11:11, Vegamour rolled out a strong marketing campaign where the brand partnered with and seeded niche-yet-influential KOL and KOC groups (Chinese students studying overseas, for instance), who build awareness and create demand. Together, they collected an overwhelming response for Vegamour’s GRO Collection of hair, lash, and brow growth products ahead of this year’s 11.11 event.

Vegamour tapped beauty blogger @anna_life_1104 to review its hair products. Photo: Screenshot, Vegamour’s Weibo

Meanwhile, the brand also carefully took the time to learn and invest in ways to communicate with their Chinese consumers (like sharing the brand story on China’s social media platforms) and relate to their experiences.

“Chinese beauty consumers are extremely savvy,” says Charlie Gu, founder of the cross-border marketing agency Kollective Influence, which advises emerging beauty brands on their China market entry. “They spend a great amount of time researching peer reviews and expert validations before making a purchase decision. While the market potential is huge, niche beauty brands need to focus their attention and resources on a small group of loyal and highly engaged consumers to drive an initial word of mouth and sustainable growth.”

China is currently the second-largest market worldwide for cosmetics, reaching total sales of $28.4 billion annually. Meanwhile, it is also the world’s largest market for interest in clean beauty, a growing trend primarily driven by millennials who have been early adopters of international beauty standards. In fact, According to a 2021 GMA study, 90 percent of Chinese consumers today emphasized the importance of purchasing clean or healthy beauty products — by far the highest rate in the world.

Given Chinese consumers’ holistic view of health and wellness and their growing affinity for clean and natural beauty products, it is no surprise that brands like Vegamour have rapidly gained a big following in China. “Participating in 11.11 was very important because it made it possible for us to extend our products directly to our customers in China, many of whom have been following our brand since we first began,” said CEO of Vegamour Dan Hodgdon. “China is also one of the leading markets in the world for beauty and newness and for emerging brands, being in China is a must to continue to progress and have long-term growth.”

Among the other six winners of Alibaba’s 11:11 Pitch Fest were California-based clean skincare brand Boscia, which has been at the forefront of the nontoxic movement for nearly two decades; Oregon-based Schmidt’s, the first deodorant in the US to get certified as natural by Ecocert COSMOS Natural; Hawaii-based Honey Girl Organics, a 15-year-old clean skincare brand with honey-based products that include an array of creams and balms; and SBLA Beauty, which produced the original Neck, Chin, and Jawline Sculpting Wand, a technology-driven, anti-aging solution that delivers a concentrated serum to boost collagen while smoothing and tightening the skin.

The other two Pitch Fest brands are New York-based basq NYC, a maternity skincare brand with plant-based moisturizers that are clinically proven to improve skin elasticity and relieve the tight and itchy skin associated with pregnancy, and Texas-based Bella Belle, a maker of exquisite and handcrafted bridal shoes designed to be both comfortable and beautiful.

“We know that beauty and the way we shop is constantly evolving, and Chinese consumers are increasingly becoming more and more intelligent in that they want to learn about every ingredient and the technology behind our products,” added Hodgdon. “It is therefore very important to us as a brand to make every ingredient intentional, and to focus on brand integrity as it relates to the quality, safety, and efficacy of our products, as well as innovation and on building long-term trust.”