By Elaine Dunn | November 2021
During last year’s pandemic lockdown, many women gave up applying makeup on a daily basis. However, that did not have a negative effect on the sales of that all-important makeup tool, the makeup brush. Apparently, sitting home encouraged lots of online shopping, and sales of Chinese-made makeup brushes proved more than robust.
The use of makeup brushes in developed countries have been growing at a swift pace. Sales of brushes in the U.S. reached $347 million in 2016, averaging in price from $18 to $450 a set!
For the uninitiated, all brushes are not created equal. A good quality brush will make your face look smooth and well-contoured. Low-quality brushes not only work poorly, but can make your makeup look “streaky,” can scratch your face and cause other skin irritations.
Specific brushes are used to blend the makeup into the skin of particular parts of the face effectively. The list of brushes is endless: foundation brush, concealer brush, blush brush, highlighter brush, eye shadow brush, eyebrow brush … you get the drift. Furthermore, the type of bristles needed depends on the application. For example, natural bristles are soft and work best for applying powder blush, face powder, eyeshadow or lipsticks; whereas, synthetic bristles are great for oil-based products like eyeshadow bases, cream eye-shadows and concealers. And, of course, the volume of online pages devoted to brush reviews and best ways of using those brushes are as numerous as the hairs in the brushes!
Makeup brushes are believed to be invented by the Egyptians. For centuries, they were used by servants to apply makeup to their well-to-do mistresses’ faces before mirrors were mass produced (1835).
This bronze makeup brush handle was found in a grave in a Saxon Cemetery in eastern England in 1925. It is believed to be buried between A.D. 500 to 600.
The Chinese and Japanese who had been using animal hair-brushes for calligraphy in the B.C. days were able to transfer that brush-making skill into making brushes for applying makeup!
As of the end of 2020, there were more than 21,000 manufacturers of makeup brushes in China. And more than 6,400 were newly set up in 2020, according to a report by the Xinhua Daily Telegraph, a Chinese language newspaper in Beijing. Big business!
Qingxian County in east Hebei Province, has about 141 makeup brush manufacturers that have set up shop there, 30 of which are South Korean-owned. It is one of China's largest makeup brush-manufacturing areas. According to Shenzhen MyColor Cosmetics Co., Ltd., Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, has hundreds of makeup brush manufacturers as well.
Makeup brush production is labor intensive. Brush hairs are tied, trimmed and shaped by hand. So cheap labor is an advantage.
Qingxian has a population of 441,000, of which 16,000 are employed in making makeup brushes. In addition to availability of low labor costs and favorable local government policies, Qingxian County boasts convenient transportation to two major cities and the Bohai Sea. It is located approximately 105 miles southeast of Beijing and 50 miles southwest of Tianjin, therefore attracted investments from South Korea. There are also 1,000 factories making related and supporting materials located there.
Since the 1990s, the county’s manufacturers have produced brushes for luxury international brands. "About half of the brushes made domestically are from the county and the quality of our brushes can compete with big name international brands," said Kang Shaoxing, president of the Qingxian Makeup Brush Industry Association.
The makeup brush industry in Qingxian topped $232 million last year, with exports taking up approximately 15%. Local brands number in the 500 range, and can be found on 2,000 e-commerce stores on various online platforms.
One of those pioneer Qingxian makeup brush old-hand is Shao, a 47-year-old woman who has been involved with the industry from the very beginning. She began working at a South Korean-invested factory in the 1990s, holding and gaining skills at various posts throughout the production process in the five years she was there. When she told her boss she wanted to open her own factory and “chase her own dream,” she was encouraged to do so. So she and her husband, who also worked at the South Korean company, set up their own factory making only bristles that met overseas standards, and supplied them back to her old employer’s company. By 2007, her factory began making and supplying complete sets of makeup brushes for international brands through her old employer. Itching to experiment with her own ideas about brush design and function, she decided to register a brand ( Fix+) under her own company, the Qingxian Donghua Cosmetic Applicators Co.
Shao figured out what bristles and what shape of bristles worked best with which makeup application. She also developed comfortable handles that went with each type of application. Her company now produces more than a million makeup brushes and sell about US$6.26 million annually on the two top e-commerce sites in China. She plans to make brushes of the highest quality possible because she wants her customers “to have the best experience” using her brushes when applying makeup.
Many other Qingxian residents who started out as workers in foreign-invested brush manufacturing companies shared the same dream. They have broken out and created their own factories and brands by the 2010s. Some of the most popular domestic brands include Energy, Fix+, Huayang, Qinzhi and Shoushoulang.
Qingxian county has built a solid foundation for developing the industry. There are companies producing raw materials to the end-product, and there are resources to help with promoting and selling the finished brushes.
The Chinese Makeup Brush Industry Association president said, "The local government is enhancing its support for the industry, because it has seen a great potential to develop the industry, especially after the pandemic, when makeup brushes have seen booming sales."
However, sales for the makeup tools category (and brushes included) saw a decline of 6% in the U.S. last year as customers shift more of their dollars from makeup to skincare. The brush segment is getting more competitive, forcing brush makers to be more creative.
Some American companies are working with their long-time Chinese manufacturing partners to retool their brushes to allow users to achieve the trending, less-contoured look. And, the real innovative ones are now creating and offering brushes for applying skincare products such as masks, moisturizers and serums. And, charcoal- and collagen- infused brushes are beginning to appear on the scene.
So, as the old saying goes, when you can’t beat them, join them!
Keywords: Cosmetics, makeup, makeup brushes, makeup tool
Trimming and shaping natural bristle brush by hand.