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This M’sian brand’s smart entry into the local premium skincare market? Sheet masks.

I’m a sheet mask collector. Every month, I’d get at least a dozen of them from SASA to try out different formulations that my skin could benefit from.

It’s a simpler way to explore new skincare products, as collecting moisturisers, cleansers, serums, etc. from different brands requires a higher level of commitment to use up. 

CLEF Skincare (CLEF) is leveraging customer behaviours like mine. Knowing that sheet masks are portable and easy to use, its founders were confident this was a product people would be most keen on trying, especially from a new brand.

Industry experts also advised them that sheet masks are the best revenue contributor to a skincare brand. Following this guidance worked, if CLEF Skincare’s 7-figure annual sales between 2020 to 2021 and its growth rate over 300% are of anything to go by.

Clean and effective

CLEF Skincare’s name comes from the words, CLean and EFfective, which are what its ingredients aim to be. They include various plant extracts that serve benefits such as skin regeneration, acne scar reduction, and anti-oxidation. 

To founders Oscar, Jeremy, and Kaii, developing a clean skincare brand sprouted from a mutual belief that the practice should be stress-free. 

Hence the introduction of the brand through its first product, the Copper Peptide Mask. The website states that the mask combines the functions of 9 different masks into 1, intended to work best for fading acne scars, dark spots, and wrinkles. 

Shop CLEF Skincare’s products on VP Label at an exclusive price now:

CLEF Skincare claims that obvious improvements can be seen after the use of 3 boxes in 21 days, which contain 5 pieces per box for RM135 (without promos).

Skincare comes with a lot of scepticism, with many consumers buying product after product that claims to do this and that, but seeing no results in the end.

For CLEF, the founders themselves are avid users of their products. Kaii has had his fair share of skin issues. He previously had serious acne scars with prominently gaping and clogged pores, but constantly using CLEF Skincare on himself has yielded results, he shared.

“Since using our own products, my skin’s condition has actually improved, and to this day, my skincare lineup is pretty much occupied by CLEF Skincare,” Kaii shared in our interview. He reaffirmed that the team will only sell products that have worked on their own skin.

Kaii’s before and after shots of using the sheet mask / Image Credit: CLEF Skincare

Getting it just right

While the brand launched in October 2019, the search for investors and a suitable R&D lab began 2 years prior, which the team described as their biggest hurdle.

They needed to find a manufacturer who was, A) willing to produce in small quantities, and B) willing to work closely with them as they fine-tuned their formulations. 

“Not many labs were willing to work with these conditions, especially when it came from a barely budding brand,” Kaii recalled.

After visiting 12 manufacturers, the team finally found one that shared the same values and beliefs, and it remains CLEF Skincare’s producer today. 

Behind the scenes of formulating the product / Image Credit: CLEF Skincare

In total, 1.5 years were spent on product development for the Copper Peptide Mask. It was also because much time was needed for the back and forth discussions with the lab in correcting the team’s slightest dissatisfactions.

One of them included the enhancement of the sheet mask as a whole, on top of the product’s formulation. 

“It can be really annoying when a mask’s essence would trickle down your neck, so we tested several materials, experimented with different thicknesses until we settled on our 0.25mm Tencel sheet,” Kaii explained.

Did you know: Tencel is a cellulose fibre that’s meant to be a more sustainable material compared to cotton.

Confident to compete

CLEF Skincare is coming into an extremely competitive market of cosmetic brands producing their own line of sheet masks. Scroll through beauty marketplaces like HERMO or Threebs and you’ll find a plethora of other local and international brands with similar offerings and prices.

How then did founders Oscar, Jeremy, and Kaii gain the confidence to compete?

“When it comes to skincare, people are usually more willing to try new products, because if there is a product out there that could make their skin better, it’s an opportunity worth taking,” Kaii justified.

So, CLEF Skincare’s focus is on building good products that ensure safety and comfort upon application to the skin, while effectively addressing the issues of its customers.

“We definitely had our concerns about competition, it’s a growing industry after all. But with good products, we have the confidence to stay and sustain,” Kaii added.

Influencing the market

Of course, getting users to actually buy and try their products was no easy feat. Thus, CLEF Skincare engaged the help of influencer or key opinion leader (KOL) marketing. 

Initially reaching out to 300 KOLs, only 50 were convinced to try and review the product of a brand with little customer backing.

“But we really nurtured our relationships with the 50 creators who agreed to work with us, which I believe led to their trust trickling down to their audience, boosting the online perception of our brand,” Kaii shared. 

Close-ups of the sheet mask / Image Credit: CLEF Skincare

CLEF Skincare is now able to onboard between 200-300 KOLs for each product launch. To further establish its brand presence, it made its way onto the retail shelves of SASA Malaysia in October 2020.

With the lockdowns and their negative effects on non-essential retail businesses though, I wondered what opportunities they saw in retailing their products in stores.

“We’re not too worried about entering retail amidst the lockdowns, because when spaces open up, people would flock to the malls and that would offset the performance from the lockdown,” Kaii projected. 

Additionally, CLEF Skincare’s sales are mostly coming in through its e-commerce channels, which has also enabled the brand to reach customers in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

Thus, Kaii is confident that online sales can sustain the brand’s retail pursuits. 

“Still, there is no better way to build solid customer confidence than through major, physical channels, which is why we’ve been aiming to enter the major retail market from the start,” he shared. 

Optimistic, the brand is looking to expand its retail footprint to more beauty and wellness retailers in Malaysia, and the team also plans to open a flagship concept store in the next 3 years.

Shop CLEF Skincare’s products on VP Label at an exclusive price now:

  • Learn more about CLEF Skincare here.
  • Read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Kaii, co-founder and CEO of CLEF Skincare

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