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Amanda Fisher (Reporting from Sao Paulo) / 19 May 2013
The Brazilian hair industry has intimate knowledge of all hair types, and produces innovative products for all kinds. More than 30 Brazilian hair and skin care companies market their products overseas, generating over $137 million each year.
“Brazilians are very ugly,” the president of the country’s cosmetic industry group tells me plainly.
“The majority of the population are not handsome on screen. We only take the pretty ones. The ugly ones are watching it.”
President of the Brazilian Association of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Industry (ABIHPEC) Joao Carlos Basilio dashes my preconceptions in one fell swoop.
The image of an ugly Brazil seems a far cry from Carnival, Rio and voluptuous, tanned women in itsy bitsy bikinis.
I can’t tell in my short four-day trip whether he is on the mark, but I know Brazilians have hair. Lots of it — well, on their heads, at least.
“They are vain, nevertheless,” Basilio continues, “and any characteristics of their beauty, they like to highlight, and that’s good. The more (a woman) can highlight her beauty, the more products she’s going to buy. For long hair, she has to have well-treated hair. In Europe, people have short hair and they wake up and don’t have to brush it...the European women are practical. If the Brazilian woman has to wake up an hour before to go out with a better look, she will do that.”
And the preening undertaken by the people of this vast and varied South American nation is not female-specific.
“The Brazilian man is also very vain, he likes to take care (of himself).”
Basilio tells me he has good news and bad news for me.
“The good news is we’re going to live longer, our life expectancy in Brazil is growing, children being born now are probably going to live to more than 100 years of age.”
The bad news?
“We’ll need to continue working for much of our lives (and) your looks are important...everybody wants to live with good-looking people.”
Basilio says while there is no magic in his industry, there are products to help delay the aging process.
“The benefits will come...the men have to discover this still in most countries all over the world,” the youthful 69-year-old face instructs me. This is a big challenge we have to get society aware of. I want to live more but with quality of life (not just) lying in a bed.”
Of course, Basilio concedes quality of life is also just as much about healthy living. But the Brazilians do like to have fun.
“We have huge social differences in our country, but there are common characteristics...we are a hard-working country but we also like to have fun with life... the Brazilians are the most sensual, seductive (people). Most women have long hair and they use long hair to seduce men.”
Basilio says it’s this fixation on long hair which makes Brazilian women expert on – and demanding of – their hair products.
“They pass their hands over their hair 200 to 300 times a day. This means the women get to understand their hair very much, without even having to look into a mirror they get the feel of whether the product they use is good or not, just by feeling it.”
“When we want to develop a product on the world market, we test it first on the Brazilian. If the product is successful in Brazil we deliver it for the whole world...we have all the possible races here, you can find any type of hair here.”
Sao Paulo has the largest number of Japanese people outside Japan, Brazil has the highest number of Italian descendants, while there is even more people of Lebanese extraction in Brazil than in Lebanon. There are also large numbers of Germans and African descendants.
“This mixture made a different kind of people with skin characteristics, different hair, and our industry has to offer products for all those kind of ethnic groups.”
This means the Brazilian hair industry has intimate knowledge of all hair types. “This makes us competitive in other markets, we have a huge population of Japanese, we can definitely sell in Japan.”
UAE a ‘priority market’
There are at least 30 Brazilian hair and skin care companies which market their products overseas, generating $137 million each year, from the massive 2,342 total manufacturers in Brazil.
Of that, at least 10 are available in the UAE, one of the identified “priority markets” for ABIHPEC’s international wing, foreign trade director Silvana Gomes says.
The Middle East may be the most significant market for Brazil after Latin America, given the amount of dispensable income and potential for growth, she tells me.
“(Targeting wealthy markets) is what you have to do.” The market was worth $10 million to Brazilian companies working with ABIHPEC last year. She says she is hoping to up that by half a million this year, of which she hopes $8 million in sales will stem from trade show Beautyworld Middle East, happening in Dubai from May 28 to 30.
Market research has shown Middle Eastern consumers believe Brazil makes high quality products that work, she says.
“The first product that was a massive success in the Middle Eastern market was hair moisturiser.”
Leave-in hair conditioner was created in Brazil and its manufacturers had many moisturisers before they became in vogue, Gomes says.
Brazilian hair care manufacturers have since moved into hair vitamins, including keratin, and hair straightening products. Gomes says Brazilian brands should be performing better overseas. “Since we’re the third largest consumer, we can be positioned as a better exporter, better than the 24th. We have, of course, capacity in production, we are competitive.”
And Dubai is the hub where most products are stored for distribution around the Middle East and North Africa, so with an increase in sales, Dubai businesses should expect to benefit.
But the Middle Eastern market also comes with cultural complications for outsiders hoping to break in.
“It’s not easy with the Arabian market in general because of the way you do business...everything’s mixed. It’s not the time for being social or doing business, everything is together, you have a relationship with your partner, sometimes it’s not that familiar — they don’t like to have contracts, it’s a kind of trust.”
Basilio echoes this.
“You have to have a quick understanding of what’s happening, so as not to damage the (early relationship). Here we are Brazilians, we hug people, kiss people, and you go to Japan, you can’t touch them, you can’t even shake hands.”
But trading with emerging markets is the way forward, he says.
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