“Mystic” concepts such as feng shui, zodiac, and tarot cards are emerging buzzwords in China’s Gen-Z beauty market.
Young consumers’ current attraction to mysticism is tied to both the economic climate and China’s age-old superstitions.
To tap into this trend, brands will need both the romanticism of good storytelling and the pragmatism of useful products to convince Chinese consumers.
In the realm of beauty products, mysticism has emerged as a sexy new concept for young Chinese consumers.
Over the past year, an increasing number of product launches inspired by “mystical” ideologies like astrology, feng shui, and tarot has popped up on Chinese beauty social feeds and shopping platforms. In 2020, Pony Park, a Korean beauty blogger with a large Chinese following, dropped a tarot card-themed makeup line in collaboration with MAC Cosmetics. Meanwhile, Benny Dong, an A-list Chinese beauty influencer, has popularized a video series called “Mysticism Classroom” (玄学课堂), in which he shares products and fragrances with fans inspired by big ideas like yin/yang duality and Greco-Roman mythology.
This rise of esoteric beauty collaborations is connected to young China’s growing curiosity about the mysteries of the world. From digital communities to real-life businesses, spiritual practices from Western and Eastern traditions have grown in popularity with younger generations.
On Gen Z’s favorite video platform, Bilibili, the hashtag #Tarot reached over 16 million views, while #Zodiac videos hit over 200 million plays. Now, the corporate world has taken note of this young appetite for mysticism. Fortune-telling, a traditional Chinese practice of interpreting one’s destiny based on birth information, is now a venture capital buzzword. According to the directory site Tianyancha, there are circa 175 fortune-telling businesses operating in China now, while 31 of them have successfully scored investment money.
It is natural to think that, in uncertain times, young consumers worldwide might want spirituality for a sense of certainty. “Gen Zers are facing challenges in life, work, and studies,” said Miro Li, founder of the market insight firm Double V Consulting. “They feel lost, lonely, and can’t find the answers by themselves. That’s why they naturally turn to the mysterious to seek answers.”
Outside of China, beauty trends based on Western Esotericism, such as zodiac-themed lipsticks, eyeshadows, or chakra-activating crystals, have long permeated the China market. The global wellness trend, epitomized by a Goop-esque lifestyle that uses mystical experiences to attract anxiety-stricken and increasingly atheist young consumers, has also become familiar.
But China’s new mystic beauty trend is more than a universal need for younger generations to seek spiritual comforts, even in a year plagued by a pandemic. Chinese beauty consumers’ relationship with mysticism has an older, cultural-specific dimension: the superstition of luck.
Over China’s thousand-year-long folk traditions, superstition states that wearing specific objects or resembling certain features will offer a prosperous, happy life. It is said that one can promote luck through a rigorous set of luck-enhancing practices, such as wearing a yang-strengthening gold necklace to offset the “yin” qualities of one’s birth index. As such, Chinese consumers look for luck-enhancing criteria when shopping for luxury and fashion.
Even among China’s young Gen Zers, this superstition is a factor for achieving wellness. In 2018, a “repost a koi to get luck” Weibo campaign launched over millions of images of koi (a fish traditionally believed to be a lucky symbol) via netizens who believe that doing so would help them pass an exam or interview.
Today, a popular myth of luck power is also found in images of beauty. “Nowadays, young women are seeking plastic surgery advice from fortunetellers because certain face structures can them bring luck,” said Miro Li of Double V Consulting to Jing Daily. “It’s the new kind of superstition for young generations.”
Some beauty brands have already adopted this trend, turning age-old superstitions into chic, social-friendly product concepts. Last year, C-beauty label Perfect Diary launched a Koi-themed eyeshadow palette, which later led to a “Lucky Koi” makeup look content feed, which collected 7.8 million views on the lifestyle sharing platform Little Red Book. During that same period, the DTC brand Girlcult launched its best-selling palettes by drawing inspiration from an ancient Chinese myth called “Mountains and Seas.”
Myths hailing from Western traditions are in vogue, too. An emerging C-beauty label called FlowerKnows recently became a social media star with a makeup line of Roman column-shaped lipsticks and powder palettes with baroque angel motifs.
Molsion, a fashion contact lenses company, also made waves among Gen Zers with its zodiac-themed collection that allows consumers to match the eye colors with their zodiac persona.
In addition to leveraging our culture’s current interest in magic, these mythology-infused products offer consumers a way to self-categorize themselves outside of traditional demographic groupings, such as through zodiac signs or other fate-telling disciplines. The heart of this mystic beauty trend lies in customization: The more consumers associate personal identities with mythical ideas, the more the products will feel special.
However, using romanticism to build a mystic-chic concept isn’t enough to convince China’s beauty consumers. Brands need to pragmatically through the market competition, as well.
According to beauty consultant Miro Li, it all boils down to Western and Chinese consumers’ different expectations of the same industry buzzword. She illustrated Chinese consumers’ practical mindset through an example. “When it comes to clean beauty, Western consumers will care if the product contains harmful ingredients to the body or the planet,” she said. “Chinese consumers care much more about efficacy. Even the successful clean beauty brands in China would rather highlight product performance. ‘Esoteric’ concepts may be one of the selling points but not all. Brands still need to highlight performance.”
After all, Chinese beauty consumers are, at their core, results-driven.