A large segment of the Bangladeshi middle and upper class depend almost exclusively on international brands for beauty products. There are hundreds of traders who import these products regularly in the country, paying somewhere between 10% to 40% in taxes.
Tosimul Haq Rony was one such trader who joined the industry in 2010.
After a while, Rony began noticing certain patterns in the industry.
Bangladesh does not produce international quality beauty products, but there are factories here that produce knock-off beauty products, and because of their cheap price tags, they dominate a fair share of the market.
"Moreover, I realised, as demand for international brands grew, they would directly set up shop here and traders like me would become redundant," says Rony.
In 2014, Rony began importing a brand named Guerniss, founded in 2009, that was based out of Hong Kong. By 2017, Guerniss - manufactured out of France - became one of the most popular brands in the country both at physical and online stores.
That year, he discovered the original owner of the brand, Albert Jerry, was looking to sell the company and he immediately bought it out and took over as CEO.
Guerniss has a lineup of 75 products and is registered in 14 countries. Rony set up 180 booths in the country, and Guerniss products are available in around 500 shops. It employs around 275 people.
Starting this year, the company plans to produce around 20 percent to 25 percent of products in Bangladesh, including essential oils, body lotion, cream, facewash, moisturizer and baby products. Guerniss has already hired two Bangladeshi chemists to run the factory, while an international chemist from international brand Avon will join once the factory goes into operation.
Although the products are currently being manufactured in Hong Kong and France, extensive research is carried out to ensure the products suit South Asia's weather, skin types, textures, etc.
"Doing research was not as difficult as it will be to convince people once we start manufacturing in Bangladesh. Yet, I believe people will learn to prioritise the quality with time," said Rony.
To promote their products, Guerniss is currently selling and also providing tester and sample packs to customers to gain trust over the brand.
"We want to promote our country internationally. Our garments industry is already well known around the world because of its quality. And as we are not willing to compromise with quality, I believe we will be able to establish Guerniss in exactly the same way. I believe it will help our local brands grow too."
Pollution and weather are impacting the growth of this industry in Bangladesh. People are becoming more reliant on makeup and skincare products, and a few counterfeit brands are taking advantage of this gap by producing harmful and substandard products.
"It is impossible to import a high quality face wash and sell it for Tk200 to Tk300 as the importer has to bear additional costs and import duties for fine goods. But this price tag is very popular among the masses. To dive into this market and attract this customer group, we had to think wisely and use different strategies to execute our plan. Then, we figured that once we manufacture it in Bangladesh, it would be possible to serve this target audience at their preferred price, as our costs will reduce by around 300 percent," explained Rony.
Like the garment sector, we can eventually contribute to the GDP as this has high demand, both nationally and internationally. Most of our popular local brands are usually repacked, imported goods. Nonetheless, Rony aims to export Guerniss products by 2030 as there are a few raw materials available in Bangladesh.
Vietnam, Turkey and Indonesia are growing faster in this sector than Bangladesh. Rony says we are not ready. He says the existing brands should analyse the market, update packaging and promotion strategies, improve quality and have their own growth forecasts. Only then can they dive into the global market.
"There is no mentionable institution in Bangladesh for the industry from where students can receive training on the artistry of makeup," Rony added.
Rony has plans to introduce Gueriness outlets in nine more countries by next year. He also plans to attend more fashion expos around the world to promote the brand. In the future, Rony aims to open studios in Bangladesh to train people on makeup, beauty products and skin types.
Guerniss is going to launch an app by the end of January, 2021, through which people will be able to learn about its products and get a lifetime discount of 25 percent on the products.
Guerniss also has attractive sales, offers and discounts during Ramadan. However, they could not make any profit this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the company incurred a loss of around Tk5 crore.
"It will take around one or two years to recover from the damage," Rony said.
Guerniss considers itself a competitor to international brands operating in Bangladesh.
"A few brands like The Body Shop, Golden Rose and Flormar are doing well in the market but I believe Guerniss is best in terms of quality and in the near future, it will be the market leader," a hopeful Rony said.