A Chinese-American, Yue-Sai Kan is often described as the most famous woman in China. China’s equivalent of Oprah and Martha Stewart combined; Yue-sai enjoys massive personal fame in China brought about by her television shows. A television personality and producer, she is also a best selling author, humanitarian and entrepreneur who built a hugely successful beauty empire in China.
Yue-Sai grew up in Hong Kong, but moved to the United States for her college education and eventually became a US citizen. While living in New York, she started her career in a local cable station broadcasting to the growing Chinese population. PBS saw her and asked her to host a series on PBS about China and the world called “Looking East.” She got rave reviews for her show, with New York Times writing about her:
“Few people are able to bridge the East and the West, but Yue-Sai Kan can, and does it with beauty, intelligence and grace.”
Her Emmy award-winning series got the attention of the Chinese government. She was asked by the state-run television channel in 1986 to host a series of programs in China about the rest of the world. Her show, “One World” was a travelogue that showed her in front of the world’s greatest landmarks. Given the extensive government control in China, particularly the media, her show allowed many Chinese to see beyond China for the first time. Yue-Sai, with her very American fashion sense, became their window to the world. With the state channel monopolizing television, Yue-Sei became a household name in China.
She parlayed her fame in television to business success. In 1992, she launched a hugely popular beauty and skincare line called Yue Sai Cosmetics that cemented her reputation as a lifestyle icon. She’s recognized as the first to introduce lipstick to China! In an interview with Paralelles.com in 2008, she explained her motivation for launching the cosmetics line
“I was frustrated by years of having to look my best on television, but not being able to find appropriate cosmetics for my skin tones, coloring and facial features. I wanted Asian women to feel beautiful, to celebrate their beauty.”
Yue Sai’s savvy management style paved the way for her to became the Number One cosmetics line in 1996, after spending only US$ 3 million in advertising since the launch. A rare feat even in those days and most especially today where to build a brand in China could easily cost a company with more than $75 million.
To further build her brand, she wrote a book “Etiquette for the Modern Chinese” that quickly became a bestseller in China. She even made a Chinese Barbie version made from her own likeness called Yue Sai Wawa dolls. In 2004, she sold her cosmetics line to L’Oreal.
In December 2007, she launched a lifestyle concept retail store called House of Yue-Sai. It was envisioned to be China’s first home decor brand. Using her own money to fund the business, the store offered a wide range of home decor products such as bath and bedding, tabletop and decorative accessories. Unfortunately, the global recession forced her to close the business (read Why Businesses Fail: Lessons from China’s Yue-Sai Kan )
Despite her many successes (and even her failures) – e.g. a postage stamp in China, Ambassador to UNICEF — Yue Sai is still not finished. As she mentioned in an interview:
“I’m almost never finished … like my home, like a human being … when is anyone finished?”