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Japan|THREE's Brand Globalizing Acceleration: An interview with President of ACRO, Ishibashi Yasushi About International Branding Strategy

Aug 29, 2018.Manabu TakamuraTokyo, JP
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Photo:Nobuki Kawaharazaki

Organic based Japanese cosmetics brand, THREE is celebrating its tenth anniversary next year, which are in top form in sales and the expansions overseas. Fiscal sales ending in December 2017 reached 8 billion yen (US$ 71.9 million*) , that increased 30% over the previous year, and has also deployed to 49 stores in seven countries and regions in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Launching THREE and represented as brand producer of a global brand representative of J-beauty is ACRO's president of Ishibashi Yasushi. In his previous position, he brought up RMK and SUQQU which both grew into popular sought after brands and his presence drew attention from oversea medias claiming him as the "Godfather of J-beauty". Given the opportunity, I sat down to talk about the brand strategy concept of THREE with Mr. Ishibashi.


The popularity overseas seems apparent in the figures you have.

The overseas sales ratio in the first half of 2018 (January to June) reached 20%. However, this is a shipping base figure for our overseas agencies. On the basis of customers' purchase amounts, when considering sales by duty-free shops and purchases by foreigners to the sales in overseas seven countries / regions transactions, the sales ratio of Japanese and foreigners are on par in competition.

Was THREE aiming to become a global brand from the beginning?

It has been 10 years since I founded ACRO, but I was conscious of making global brands originating from Japan before that. I would travel to various countries, and the more I go abroad, the more I realize the splendors of Japan. Because Japan’s geological form is a narrow elongated country from the north to the south, where you have Hokkaido in the north and Okinawa in the south which allows us to enjoy all four seasons. It’s safe and clean, and all of these things make me appreciate Japan even more. Today, as many as 30 million foreigners come to visit and the inbound rate etc is three times as much as it was 10 years ago. I know that Japan will be attracting more and more attention even after 10 years and because of that, I want to make a brand that is world-class Made in Japan.

What are the reasons why THREE is being supported in Japan and abroad?

First of all, cosmetic brands around the world have all been compacted into Japanese department stores, are they not? Since we wanted to introduce a new brand into the department stores, naturally, without being known or existing proves impossible. If you create something that has already been realized, there is no way you can stand out. You’re not playing in the same field as your competitors. Simply put, I chose to make something that hasn’t been done before.

European and American brands have an overwhelming presence in the makeup industry, while Japanese brands’ strengths are in skin care. Most brands have both areas covered and needless to say, I needed to create a brand that also supported both. The bottomline of cosmetics is they’re composed of chemicals. THREE is a line that uses 85% to 100% naturally-derived ingredients for skin care. In other words, there were no existing brands in the world that combined natural skin care and fashion-forward makeup. Where we stand, there are currently no competitors who can provide the same stance. It’s a strength that we have and I think is the reason why were being supported by domestic and foreign customers.

When did you realize that the brand was gaining considerable attention from abroad?

From the first time it debuted. Ever since we debuted at Isetan Shinjuku Department store in September 2009, an immediate offer came from abroad. At the time however, it was our first debut so I wanted to first prioritize the consolidation in Japan. After that was achieved, we started presenting the brand overseas in Europe, the United States, and Asia at the same time to see how people reacted. At that time, I felt confident that I was able to expand abroad.

What kind of reaction was received?

The packaged container in a simple glass bottle was received positively. Generally the idea of most luxury brands are packaged in a neat resin bottle, and most of THREE products are packaged that way. Most Western brand containers are gorgeous and decorative and in contrast, we made it extremely simple that’s written with the logo, THREE. I’d hoped that this showed our ‘cosmetic dignity and quality’ in pure form. The scent remains light and natural as it’s derived from natural botanical ingredients and the formula penetrates well into the skin while the texture is comfortable to the skin.

Brand deployment in Asia is moving along, are there any thoughts of entering the European and US markets soon?

We would like to participate and stand proud as a Japanese brand to compete with our European and American counterparts that are sweeping the world. However, if  THREE advances into the West, it will be necessary to make adjustments to making it local. Because many Japanese brands have an illusion that they can succeed elsewhere in the world, they don’t realize the importance of presence, which obviously, will lead to failure.

How do you feel about the J-beauty spreading popularity abroad?

Both Japanese people and Asians have a flat face. Skin qualities are similar, whether skin tones are dark or not, but most Asians have the same components. The weather environment are also similar. In Japan, we have a temperate monsoon, and in Southeast Asia a tropical monsoon. We all have a rice diet which is common in Asian cultures. So most demands are by far the same. Feeling that Japanese products are relatable to other Asian countries, therefore, it’s only natural that it’s easy to buy.

In comparison, Caucasians have a three-dimensional face, live in a cold and dry environment and have different coloured irises compared to Asians. Take blue eyes for example. Primary colours and especially red shades would stand out for blue eyes. Therefore, many European brands have many primary colours in their palettes. Asian people generally have dark brown eyes which given the colour spectrum would only feel a subtle difference in certain colours used. With that being said, it’s only natural that Japanese brands don’t do well in Europe simply because what’s provided is different.

I also think that Japanese women's cosmetic techniques are by far the best which I think is causing the phenomenon of J-beauty. Japanese women know how to polish themselves and know how to work their features to create the three-dimensional look. They know how to groom themselves and I believe that this accumulation in traditional Japanese aesthetics is attracting attention from abroad.

* 1 JPY = 0.00900129 USD (As of August 28, 2018)

  • Manabu Takamura

    Minimal Inc. President/SEVENTIE TWO Publishing Director

    The Aoyama flagship store had many botanical plants planted and is actually used in THREE products. There’s spaces for dining and a spa area firmly defines how the brand wants to be perceived. This spatial store is a good example to show as it expands globally.