French Bull founder Jackie Shapiro is a former fashion designer, a creative mastermind and a bit of a rebel who finds inspiration in the art, music and fashion of her native New York City. Her optimistic, urban attitude is reflected in the colorfully patterned everyday products she designs and even in her brand’s mascot, a little French bulldog named Happy whose silhouette is featured on all French Bull products and packaging.
The company’s motto—“Live Vivid!”—is a call to action that is reflected in its aesthetic. French Bull products incorporate bright geometric and floral patterns, along with striking black-and-white designs, to give everyday items a modern, vibrant twist. The company’s range includes tableware, kitchenware, apparel, bowls and utensils for kids, and even items for pets.
Inspired by customer feedback, French Bull also offers bundled products that mix patterns and colors, such as sets of four plates with different, but complementary, designs. The company has recently expanded its line to include on-the-go items, too, such as lunch bags, totes and suitcases.
Shapiro says that just about anything can spark a pattern design idea, including a great vintage find, a playful typeface on a poster or beautiful flowers. The more colorful, artful and fun, the better.
“When it comes to pattern, there is really no right or wrong,” says Shapiro. “Choice is subjective—and usually emotional.”
French Bull has already built a strong customer following in the US and South Korea, where its customers tend to be fun-loving individuals who appreciate design, like to entertain and are great gift-givers. Shapiro is confident that the French Bull brand—and the French Bull attitude—will be an excellent fit for the Chinese consumer audience as well, particularly the young millennial and Gen Z shoppers.
As French Bull prepares to expand into China with Alibaba’s help, Shapiro says she is “so grateful to be able to connect to the other side of the world in a language we both speak, pattern and color.”
When Garrett Greller was creating a formula to help alleviate his own chronic arthritis pain, he had no way of knowing that, just a few years later, the brand he would go on to co-found would count Magic Johnson as an equity partner and Toni Braxton and Jane Fonda as celebrity brand ambassadors.
Greller had been diagnosed with arthritis as a teenager and had tried numerous remedies and prescriptions to treat his chronic pain, to no avail. As a sophomore in college, he began working with an accredited lab to create a hemp-based topical pain reliever that would work for him and millions of other Americans who were dealing with daily pain. The resulting product, Uncle Bud’s Topical Pain Reliever, is now part of the Uncle Bud’s range of 72 different hemp and CBD products that span skincare, personal care, feminine care and even pet care.
In just its first 24 months on the market, Uncle Bud’s launched with 27 major retailers in the US and the brand’s products are now sold in some 15,000 stores. Greller’s partner, co-founder Bruno Schiavi, is a retail veteran who has launched a number of successful brands in the US over the last 25 years. He says educating US consumers by sharing high-quality information about hemp and CBD products, and using celebrities to help spread the word, have been key to the rapid growth of the Uncle Bud’s brand.
Expanding into China had always been part of the company’s strategy and the Uncle Bud’s team views Tmall as the leader in the retail sector in China. Schiavi says Chinese consumers’ “great attitude toward skincare, health and natural pain relief” make the country a “great match” for Uncle Bud’s. When the brand was named one of the winners of the Tmall Global Pitch Fest, Schiavi said the team “wanted to go all in” with its launch in China by not only selling during the 11.11. Global Shopping Festival, but also launching a flagship store on Tmall Global.
Schiavi says his early conversations with the Tmall Global team convinced him of the importance of using local key opinion leaders (“KOLs,” as influencers are known in China) to help share the brand’s story in addition to American celebrity endorsers. The experts at Tmall also suggested that Uncle Bud’s launch with an expanded assortment to see which products resonate most with Chinese consumers.
Accordingly, the company is offering 20 different items as it launches in China, including pain relievers and skincare products that range from CBD and hemp face masks to eye serums and creams, a sugar crystal facial scrub, an antibacterial hand and body lotion, a daily moisturizer, and a personal lubricant. All of the brand’s products are cruelty-free and made in the US with only US-manufactured ingredients. Uncle Ben’s products are also free of GMOs, parabens and THC.
When asked what the brand hopes to get out of participating in the 11.11 festival, Schiavi said that educating Chinese consumers about the benefits of CBD and hemp products is the first priority and that Magic Johnson will help on that front through interviews and public appearances, as will celebrity ambassador Toni Braxton and local KOLs in China.
“We’re partnering with Tmall and Alibaba exclusively in China,” added Schiavi. “We’re partnering for the long run.”
Sisters Katherine and Alison Ragusa took their inspiration from the farm-to-table movement to launch a brand that would transform clean beauty—Lab to Beauty. The company keeps the focus on plant-derived ingredients in its unisex collection of vegan, cruelty-free, CBD-infused products and relies on the expertise of a team of scientists, farmers and botanists when developing new formulas.
The Ragusa sisters, who come from a long line of successful merchants, have been making news in the natural beauty industry for over a decade. Their collection of products are formulated for use on all skin and hair types and include face, body and hair care as well as bath and wellness items. The Green Cure Mask, the Quick Fix Serum, and the Ultra Lush Body Butter are three of the brand’s top sellers. The hemp-derived CBD that is infused into all Lab to Beauty products offers natural anti-inflammatory and moisturizing benefits and contains no THC.
“We identified CBD at the very beginning of its rise to popularity and immediately knew there was an opportunity in the clean beauty space for it to live,” said Katherine Ragusa.
Lab to Beauty products are already featured at Saks Fifth Avenue, Revolve and the renowned Lapis Spa at Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel as well as at prestigious Italian department store Rinascente. Now, the Ragusas are ready to bring their spa-grade luxury products to more consumers worldwide through Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival.
“We’re so excited to launch in the Chinese market,” said Katherine. “To ensure a successful launch, we’re currently working with 25 US-based KOLs and we’re going to grow that list to 250 by year’s end. We’re sending through their unboxing and storytelling on social media and they’re helping us to really begin the conversation in the Chinese market.”
As a winner of the Go Global Pitch Fest, Lab to Beauty will have a streamlined entry into the Chinese market, with Tmall Global’s industry experts guiding the way. The digitally savvy Ragusa sisters are particularly interested in creating original digital content to share the Lab to Beauty brand story with Chinese consumers and educate them about the products and the hero ingredient CBD.
“We understand the importance of having multiple digital and e-commerce touchpoints…we’re super excited to begin livestreaming to educate consumers in China on the benefits of CBD,” said Katherine. “We want to listen and learn from Chinese consumers to curate the best assortment for them.”
Volition Beauty – a San Francisco-based brand that makes all its products in the U.S. – is shaking up the beauty industry by shifting the product development process into the hands of consumers. Recognizing that real consumers were being brought into the process far too late and that product development teams were often disconnected from the people who actually buy beauty products, company co-founders Brandy Hoffman and Patricia Santos decided to tap into the larger community of beauty enthusiasts to solicit ideas for products.
Unlike any other beauty brand, Volition Beauty only offers products that have been created based on a suggestion from a real consumer with a specific skincare concern. Anyone can submit a product idea via the company’s website. After making the initial cut, the crowdsourced ideas are sent out to the vast Volition Beauty community for a vote. Ideas that garner enough votes are put into production and sold on the company’s website.
As Paul Deacon, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, says, “Who better to know what the consumer wants than the consumer herself?”
This unique process has generated some powerful results. One of the company’s hero products is the Snow Mushroom Water Serum, which Volition Beauty thinks will be extremely popular among Chinese consumers, who particularly value serums. The product contains a moisturizing ingredient made from a mushroom that can hold 500 times its weight in water.
US Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin suggested the idea for the company’s Celery Green Cream moisturizer, the first celery-powered skincare product on the market, which will also be offered during the Alibaba 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. The company will also introduce its Prismatic Luminizing Shield SPF 50 to Chinese consumers. All of Volition Beauty’s products are clean, vegan, cruelty-free and devoid of toxic ingredients, parabens and sulfates.
Volition Beauty’s community currently includes half a million beauty enthusiasts from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This group has already submitted some 4,500 ideas, resulting in the creation of 25 high-performance beauty products that are now available on the company’s website and through various other channels.
The next step in the company’s evolution is to work with Tmall Global to find and engage Chinese beauty enthusiasts who also want unique products to meet their own individual needs. By working with Tmall Global to introduce Chinese consumers to the brand, Volition Beauty will be able to fast-track its global expansion and reach a new consumer audience that especially appreciates clean beauty products.
Founded in 1838, C.O. Bigelow is the oldest apothecary in America. The one-of-a-kind pharmacy’s famous customers have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain and, legend has it, Thomas Edison, who is said to have stopped into the store to purchase a salve for his burned finger when he was working on inventing the lightbulb.
Today, the retailer serves a diverse clientele from its online shop and its landmarked brick-and-mortar store in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, where a dedicated team fills prescriptions, provides personalized service and sells a wide array of beauty and personal care products from the company’s namesake brand and third-party brands from across the globe. C.O. Bigelow products are also sold in luxury boutiques, lifestyle stores and department stores in the US and abroad.
Ian Ginsberg, third-generation owner and president of the company, is a trained pharmacist, as is his son, who represents the fourth generation of company leadership. Ginsberg notes that many of the company’s product formulas are either based on or inspired by the apothecary’s original recipes, some of which have been archived for more than a century. Even the company’s labeling hearkens back to the graphic styles used on the original packaging.
C.O. Bigelow’s unique product range, brand heritage and store location have long drawn international tourists looking to enjoy a memorable shopping experience and premium products. One of the key ways Chinese consumers learn about new brands is by traveling and, prior to the pandemic, C.O. Bigelow was a popular shopping destination for Chinese visitors. C.O. Bigelow’s products were also accessible at high-end hotels in New York, offering another touchpoint for Chinese tourists with the brand during their visits. Many of them took the brand’s Rose Salve tins home as gifts, and the product has frequently popped up across social media in China.
“Now more than ever, with all that’s going on, people really crave authenticity,” said Ginsberg, who sees participating in the Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest as the “opportunity of a lifetime” and an excellent way to expand his company’s international visibility.
C.O. Bigelow was an early US adopter of livestreaming and Ginsberg has strategically continued to build awareness of the brand and develop relationships with Chinese customers through livestreaming from the store in NYC. He says the company is primed to further leverage livestreaming and KOLs to help build excitement in China in the run-up to 11.11.
“We wanted to enter the China market when we were in a position of strength, because it’s a major investment,” added Ginsberg. “When we saw the Pitch Fest competition with Tmall Global, we said, ‘Hey, let’s enter that!’ We believe that the opportunity in China for us is limitless.”
The Pitch Fest process will give C.O. Bigelow a new way to learn about the intricacies of selling in China and to gauge consumer appetite for its various product ranges. Ginsberg says he knows the company will benefit from having one-on-one access to professionals on the Tmall Global team who have expertise in marketing directly to Chinese consumers.
Shivelight Premium Beverage Company is a new American West success story. The Montana-based company offers four flavors of all-natural drinking vinegars called shrubs, which have long been known to offer medicinal and health benefits. The beverages contain no stabilizers or preservatives and are made in small batches with raw, whole ingredients that are grown locally.
“Shivelight,” the interesting word in the brand name, is a traditional English term that describes sunrays breaking through the forest canopy. The word evokes the pristine landscape and rich natural heritage of Montana, the source of the brand’s premium ingredients.
Shrubs, traditionally made with just apple cider vinegar, fruit and honey, are rapidly growing in popularity alongside other functional beverages that offer health benefits. Shivelight’s beverages are low in sugar and carbohydrates, at 15 calories per serving, offering a wholesome alternative to sugary sodas. According to the company, the shrubs help with blood sugar moderation and appetite control as well as aiding digestion.
Shivelight uses raw, unfiltered knapweed honey sourced from local beekeepers to sweeten its shrubs, rather than cane sugar. Its Flathead cherries come from an orchard on the shore of Flathead Lake in the western part of Montana. The huckleberries in its recipe grow naturally at high elevations and along the Pacific Northwest coast. Even the ginger Shivelight uses is Montana-grown, although the root is usually cultivated only in tropical climates. The brand partners with a local farmer who is able to grow ginger by tapping a natural hot spring to irrigate his greenhouses—he’s the only commercial ginger cultivator within 500 miles.
The brand’s four shrubs—which can be consumed as sipping vinegars or used as soda bases or cocktail mixers—were developed in a home kitchen, where the creators tested their recipes before taking their products to a local farmers’ market in Missoula in 2017. The Shivelight team then knocked on the doors of local bars, restaurants and natural grocers to bring their product to even more consumers. Wider distribution in the Northwest region followed, and the brand is now offered online and in some 175 locations, including national grocery chains and a number of independent grocers.
Expanding internationally with Alibaba’s support was a natural next step for the brand, as Chinese consumers have long sought the medicinal and health benefits that drinking vinegars provide, even if they are less familiar with the kind of flavored shrubs Shivelight produces. Shivelight first started looking into selling globally through Alibaba’s international wholesale marketplace Alibaba.com. From there, the brand learned about the Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest and decided to explore the opportunity of selling to Chinese consumers via Tmall Global, Alibaba’s cross-border B2C marketplace.
“The more I look into the heritage of drinking vinegar in China, the more excited I get—it’s a natural fit,” said Shivelight Founder Derrick Smith. “There’s a drinking vinegar culture [there] and we’re offering a new flavor profile that most Chinese consumers haven’t seen, along with the highest-grade product.”
Smith is confident that the brand’s focus on “pristine landscapes, clean ingredients and clean water will resonate” with Chinese consumers and that the company’s short videos, which highlight the local farmers who produce the ginger, apples, cherries and honey used in Shivelight’s various shrubs, “will transport anybody in the world to Montana to see for themselves.”
When Daya Fields learned about the Tmall Global Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest, she whipped together an entry submission for Pipette®, the clean baby and mother care brand she helms as President, in record time. The beauty industry veteran immediately recognized the scale of the opportunity that working with Alibaba would present for Pipette, which has seen phenomenal growth in the US since launching just over a year ago.
“The opportunity to expand Pipette’s footprint into China is a significant milestone for the brand and an important endorsement of our unique product line by the top ecommerce retailer serving this market,” said Fields, whose previous experience includes senior-level marketing roles at Estée Lauder Companies and Alaffia.
Headquartered in Emeryville, California, Pipette is owned by Amyris, a leader in biotechnology innovation and the delivery of sustainable ingredients to clean health and beauty companies. Just one year post-launch, Pipette has become an award-winning brand well known for offering clean, high-performing, sustainable skincare products for babies, moms and families.
The brand’s exceedingly high ingredient standards are what really set it apart in the increasingly crowded baby and personal care space. Each of the brand’s 32 products has undergone rigorous safety and clinical testing and is verified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants and corporate accountability.
“We are setting a new standard in the personal care category by banning over 2,000 potentially harmful ingredients from our labs and all of our products,” said Fields. “The United States FDA only bans 12 ingredients while the UK and EU restrict just over 1,300. At Pipette, those guidelines didn’t meet our differentiated standards. We felt we needed to raise the bar for infants, babies, mothers, and their families.”
The brand’s hero ingredient, which anchors all its product formulas, is a proprietary, sugarcane-derived moisturizing emollient called squalane, which provides weightless hydration on and throughout the skin.
When asked why such a young startup would be so eager to enter China, the first international market that Pipette will “expand into,” Fields said: “The Chinese market has been very receptive to clean Western products that promote formula & packaging sustainability. To be able to venture into China through Tmall Global - which has a phenomenal ecommerce footprint and reputation in choosing the right brands to introduce to the Chinese consumer - Pipette is now accessible and part of the solution in offering safer product options for the whole family.”
For young US-based brands like Pipette, Tmall Global can serve as an important lifeline for global expansion. Since being named one of the Pitch Fest winners, Pipette has begun working with Tmall Global’s business development experts and Fields says her team is already learning key nuances in targeting, engaging and connecting to young Chinese mothers and actively involved grandparents.
In the past, startups could not have taken this step into a huge international market so early, but Tmall Global is changing the game. Fields readily admits that Tmall Global is making it easier to launch in China and that the experience of introducing Pipette to Chinese consumers during the upcoming 11.11 Global Shopping Festival will help the brand learn even more about the market and be in a better position to succeed in China long term.