"To create something that no one has ever seen before." It was with these words that the cosmetics brand FLOWFUSHI debuted in 2010. In order to achieve "the ultimate mascara no one had seen or used before," the creators assembled a team of design and product development professionals. The cosmetics industry has come up with countless new products, but this was the first such attempt to develop something new, something that would appeal to all women who seek beauty and amaze the whole industry. This brand appeared out of nowhere, like a shooting star; snatching the crown. We would like to share with our readers the daring story behind this winning product.
Anyone who calls themselves a makeup fan is familiar with the new release calendar. From luxury to drugstore cosmetics, the release calendar tells you when every brand launches their new products. There are more than thousands of launches throughout the year and only a handful manage to snag the spotlight and win over customers. Today, the cosmetics market is fiercely competitive, and only growing more so.
But a new contender has entered the fray, a cosmetics brand that has managed to win over women throughout Japan; FLOWFUSHI, most famous for their mascara, "MOTEMASCARA".
The founders? Two former middle school classmates. They had never worked at a cosmetics maker and had no experience with cosmetics. We dug into the secret behind how two people who didn't even know the ABCs of cosmetics managed to both start a new brand and become major players in the industry in such a short time.
"It all started when I got acquainted with this one mineral," said Hiroshi Imamura, one of FLOWFUSHI's founders. He had been working in the medical field at the time. "Medicine has made incredible advances. We're living in a time where things we couldn't do yesterday are possible today. But on the other hand, no matter how much medicine progresses, there are some diseases we can't cure."
That was when we started to get interested in a story that seemed beyond belief. "I heard this story about patients with incurable conditions and how their symptoms could be controlled with this 'certain thing.' At first I thought it was just talk, but it seemed interesting because I heard about it from someone who's both a mineralogist and a medical doctor."
So what is this mystery substance?
"It's called 'Endmineral.' It's a natural mineral that is used in medical treatments for its ability to stimulate the circulation of blood flow and lymphatic system. At first, I didn't know anything about the mineral, but when I saw its effects for myself, I was amazed."
It emits the same high concentration of negative ions found outside in nature, giving Endmineral its ability to balance and maintain circulation. "It got rid of bloating for me and my face line got slimmer," said Mr. Imamura.
"I wanted lots of people to have the experience that I had,” said Imamura
"We made a prototype gel cream that contained Endmineral, and we received a lot of feedback from women who used it, saying their skin complexion had improved because blood circulation has been stimulated. I hadn't expected to hear that they were so happy with it," said Mr. Imamura.
He had always wanted to do work that would, in his words, “make people happy, move them and surprise them”. Next, he set his sights on creating a cosmetics brand to make his wish come true.
We spoke to the other founder of the company, Masayuki Kuwajima, who laughed as he told us, "We didn't know anything at all about cosmetics, so we didn't even know how to go about making something. Thinking back now, it was pretty reckless." When Mr. Imamura contacted him about starting a cosmetics brand together, Mr. Kuwajima decided he would quit his job.
"I felt like if I was going to do something, I wanted to do something interesting. I got so excited listening to Hiroshi talk about making the impossible possible. It was like, all right, let's do this." But where to start?
"I'd never even touched a cosmetic product before that. So first off, I went to the drug store to check out what kind of products there are in the first place," said Mr. Imamura.
Out of all the products he found, Mr. Imamura decided to make something that no one would expect to give the kind of results Endmineral provides. Mr. Imamura was determined to create a mascara of his dreams.
"Eyelashes are the only three dimensional parts for makeup. Since mascara is the only cosmetic product that works in three dimensions, and we felt people would be least likely to associate the effects of Endmineral with it. That's why we thought it would be worth making. If something that seems unbelievable turns out to be real, it really impresses people. So we decided to try our hand at creating a mascara," said Mr. Imamura.
However, making a real mascara turned out to be a major challenge. "It really was, since we had never made one before. After we learned the basics of how to make mascara, we gave it a try, but the formula was watery and drippy. No one could have used it," laughed Mr. Kuwajima.
Failure after failure, just when they were about to give up, they acquainted a certain "Doctor Mascara."
With experience in developing makeup products for several cosmetics brands, particularly in making mascara, eyeliner, and foundation, the so-called "Doctor Mascara" is a whiz at creating products that use brushes and other tools.
"I can still remember when I asked Doctor Mascara for help in making a mascara that used Endmineral, and the response was 'Honestly, I wouldn't expect too much.'"
Still, both founders did not give up. Endmineral is a rare, expensive material, and handling this was extremely difficult, so the developing process required meticulous care.
"When we were doing the aging stability tests, we got word from Doctor Mascara that 'changes in the bulk product occurred,'" said Mr. Imamura. In the doctor's words, "something was causing these effects."
(Above: FLOWFUSHI's first generation of MOTEMASCARA, released in 2011)
So, it was back to the drawing board. The container was redesigned in order to protect the contents from UV exposure and prevent evaporation, resulting in an aluminum-coated design.
"I was beyond amazed when the prototype was finished. I was deeply moved. Even better, it was finally a proper mascara. [laughter] I got some people I knew to test out the sample, and the reviews were excellent," said Mr. Imamura.
Feedback in hand, they completed "MotemasCara" in 2011. They later changed the name to MOTEMASCARA.
Ever since founding the company, Mr. Imamura and Mr. Kuwajima had hoped to create a unique, one-of-a-kind product, and now they had finally finished their mascara. However, they ran into yet another wall. "It was selling reasonably well, but we thought it should be selling better considering how well it functioned," said Mr. Imamura.
"We worked so hard to create this product and we wanted to make sure it was sold somewhere everyone could buy easily. That's why we wanted to sell it in drug stores and variety stores. But that was a little naive of us, I guess," said Mr. Imamura.
"We didn't even know what we had to do to get stores to stock it. So I brought a tube of mascara with me and went to pitch the product to a store manager. I just walked in like 'hey I brought the world's best mascara!' [laughter]. Of course they turned me away at the door," said Mr. Kuwajima.
Unable to find a retail niche, FLOWFUSHI's mascara ended up getting its start online. It's one of those anecdotes only seems funny now that their brand has reached its current level of popularity.
Word of mouth spread, and sales crept upwards. Finally, their mascara made its retail debut at PLAZA department stores. This next anecdote is from Moe Masuzawa, section chief of Health & Beauty at PLAZASTYLE COMPANY, StylingLife Holdings Inc.
"When they first got in touch, they didn't know how the process of sales negotiations worked, so I heard from a buyer at the Ginza PLAZA store in the Sony Building that a walk-in salesperson had come in without an appointment. Later, they contacted us through the company's merchandising department and we had them in for a formal discussion. In the end, it was a unique product, so we decided to introduce it in stores. Walk-in sales are something that we don't get that much of these days, and not often in the old days either. [laughter] The passion and motivation that these developers had for their product was very impressive."
FLOWFUSHI's sales were seeing steady growth, but its creators still weren't satisfied.
"We were making minor change after minor change, gradually honing the product, but we realized that just being effective wasn't enough to become a product everyone really loves," said Mr. Imamura. So they went all in on one big bet. They did a complete revamp of their mascara.
"Once you use our mascara, you would understand its value. But I was always asking myself whether that would be enough," said Mr. Imamura.
They had made the best mascara in the world, but something was missing. With no solution in sight, everything turned around with a single phone call.
"A friend got in touch and said, 'I'm trying to come up with a ramen menu, do you have any advice?' I tried a bunch of different ramen flavors, and they all tasted great, but there was something about the dishes they were in... I suggested changing up the bowl’s material and size to help show the different flavors, and I had this sudden realization. This could be said for our mascara," said Mr. Imamura.
With a bit of inspiration from a bowl of ramen, the mascara revolution began.
"They all have different results and uses, so shouldn't they have different designs? I started to consider whether we were getting the best performance out of them that way. I wondered if there was a way to give every girl the lashes of their dreams," said Mr. Imamura.
The two founders set themselves the challenge of launching 5 different types of mascara, all with different features and beautifully unique designs.
The issue was the combination of formula, design, and price. Their mascara had to strike the right balance of all three.
"We were aiming for something anyone could afford, but with luxurious design to differentiate from drugstore brands," said Mr. Imamura.
Taking on that challenge was designer Yuji Tokuda, who now heads up FLOWFUSHI's design and communication for mascaras and other products.
"We went with a theme of 'metamorphosis' for the design. We aimed for a fusion of beauty and pop, something that captured a sense of flirty fun along with uplifting, playful color," said Mr. Tokuda.
"When designing products for FLOWFUSHI, we are always aware of the three Fs: Function, Fashion and Fun. We have Function in mind for a design born not just for decoration, Fashion for a sexy, refined, modern, classic design and never forgot the key to Fun. We keep these three qualities in mind to capture that FLOWFUSHI essence."
In 2014, MOTEMASCARA debuted with a fresh new design. At the first press release, Mr. Imamura recalls a "bigger reaction than [he] had ever expected." With ad placements on TV, public transit, and magazines, their strategy relied on getting as many eyes on their product as possible. Within a year of launch, sales had increases five-fold. They had caught lightning in a mascara bottle, and with it came a sudden growth in sales.
To continue that momentum, they launched a product line with 9 different mascaras in September of 2017. MOTEMASCARA was now 7 years old. Despite returning to their roots as a mascara brand, FLOWFUSHI never forgot what made them unique. "It's more fun to be able to change your mascara like you would change your outfit," said Mr. Kuwajima.
PLAZA has been a staunch supporter of MOTEMASCARA since the first line came out, so we went to have a chat with them about the new mascara launch.
Q: What are customers’ impressions?
A: MOTEMASCARA’s customers are mostly 19-28 year old which makes up about 40% of our customers. “Impact 1” and “Natural 1” are about equal in popularity, followed by “Brown” and “Micro”.
Q: What are your impressions of the 9 types of MOTEMASCARA launched last September?
A: I think it was really interesting to introduce a lineup of 9 products divided into three categories: “Natural”, “Impact”, and “Technical”. The shape of the Micro Mascara brush, the bottle size, and how it feels to use are all particularly good. I was surprised at how easy it is to use it as a normal mascara instead of just a partial mascara and how it catches every eyelash.
Q: What do you think is outstanding of FLOWFUSHI?
A: I think it’s amazing how their products contain Endmineral and it treats the eye area as well as the eyelashes. Also it’s cool how all the products answer different needs. With this kind of stylish, fresh PR to accompany every launch, it's no wonder these products buzz every time!
After MOTEMASCARA's quick success, FLOWFUSHI continued to introduce new products; a stick foundation, eyelash serum, and more. Last summer, they revealed a colorful range of 5 different lip treatments called "LIP38℃."
"From dryness to chapping, hyperpigmentation, lack of healthy color, the lips can suffer from many serious problems. If FLOWFUSHI was going to make a lip treatment, we didn't just want to make it out of moisturizing ingredients. We wanted to make something that addressed the root causes of these problems," said Mr. Kuwajima. He explained that the plan to develop a lip treatment came together at an early stage.
"The color of the lips can completely change how healthy the face looks. For the lips to be an ideal, healthy, flushed color, the lips should be at a temperature of 38℃ [about 100℉]. From that starting point, we developed 5 lip treatments to address different problems that the lips can have," said Mr. Imamura.
"If you improve the circulation in the lips, their color becomes healthier and they have a fuller appearance. A lip treatment is a product where I think you can really feel the effects of Endmineral," said Mr. Kuwajima.
But FLOWFUSHI didn't stop there. These treatments not only contain Endmineral, but are also the world's first lip product to contain the lactic acid bacterium "La Flora." "The bacterium known as 'La Flora' is a normal human skin flora, and is known to increase the Staphylococcus epidermidis, conditioning the lips and providing moisture; sometimes referred to as the 'beauty skin bacteria’," said Mr. Imamura. So these lip treatments combine the effects of Endmineral to improve blood circulation and La Flora for preserving moisture.
"There are a lot of lip treatments for dryness and chapped lips, but it's rare to find a lip treatment that encourages the skin's ability to moisturize itself. Even if some product comes off during a meal, the bacteria stay on the lips, which helps keep the lips in good condition. It also helps the lips look glossier," said Mr. Imamura.
The design also reflects the strong desire to be more than just a normal lip treatment. "Lip products are in the makeup category, but their sense is somewhat similar to jewelry. They can't just be effective, they have to have a fashionable, cute design," said Mr. Imamura.
With this in mind, they decided on a simple design and a single material, with the unusual result of a completely transparent container. In order to give perfect results with a single application, they chose a teardrop-shaped applicator with a carefully designed size and shape. It is a perfect fusion of practicality and aesthetics.
Reviews and social media posts about this revolutionary lip treatment spread quickly, with people commenting, "Just carrying it around makes me feel happy!" Over the New Year’s holiday, they released a 10,000-bottle limited edition run of a glitter version. You might have caught word of "LIP38℃ Glitter Coat -2℃ #Sheer Black," all thanks to its surprise launch! That kind of marketing strategy is one of FLOWFUSHI's greatest strengths.
FLOWFUSHI's promotional efforts continue. Ahead of its national launch on April 16, a pre-sale event for a new LIP38℃ product ran from April 1 to 8 in Tokyo's trendy Omotesando area. The new release? A spring-summer limited edition version of LIP38℃, "LIP38℃ +1℃ SWIRL."
They opened a pop-up store to allow the public to experience the FLOWFUSHI philosophy in action: "Liberate Beauty." Their promotion was aimed at anyone who wanted to reawaken their inner beauty.
Young women lined up around the block for days, all to try out the new gems from FLOWFUSHI.
"The spring makeup trends included colorful eye looks. In order to balance out the eye makeup and achieve a modern look, a nude lip would look perfect," said Mr. Kuwajima. They took their temperature concept and 3 swirling glitter shades of +1℃ warming "RED", the cool, vein-toned "BLUE," and natural "GOLD" shades were born. With a perfect formula for this year's nude lip colors, the users can easily achieve a trendy look.
"We want to offer more than excellent results. We want users to have fun and feel good. When we found the brand, we focused on quality, but now we also want to entertain and excite users. We want to create something that's more than just a product. Now I feel like we can be what more than people expect and surprise them," said Mr. Imamura.
Just like the limited edition Glitter Coat released over the New Year’s holiday, these shimmery swirls of color prove that FLOWFUSHI's commitment to fun and excitement is more than just words.
"This year's theme is 'FUN.' We dug deep to find new ideas, both a playful spirit and some entertaining elements, so we hope we can really surprise everyone," explained the two founders. Even more exciting is the news that offers have even come from abroad.
"Products that offer something exciting aren’t limited within borders. We're hoping to show the world plenty more surprises in the future."
"Our mission is to meet people, exchange ideas freely, and create new value. We can create a culture of beauty that is full of wonder and creativity." It looks like FLOWFUSHI is going to keep their eye on the prize to create more daring, more challenging cosmetics.
Chief Executive Officer/Creative Director. Born in Kagawa Prefecture. Graduated from technical junior college. Founded FLOWFUSHI in August of 2010 with Mr. Imamura, former middle school classmate, then assumed the position of Chief Executive Officer. Also serves as creative director in a playing manager role.
Product Planning & Development. Spent much of his childhood in Kagawa Prefecture. After graduating from high school, he worked in hospital administration. There, he met the doctor who developed Endmineral and went on to developing a mascara. Founded FLOWFUSHI in August of 2010 with Mr. Kuwajima, former middle school classmate. In charge of product planning and development.
※Our pages are translations of articles published on Japan's @cosme. All products introduced in the articles are sold in Japan.