Mary Kay is calling ... Chinese women

The Texas-based cosmetics company is selling capitalism -- and pink Cadillacs -- to hundreds of thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs.


Sarah Karnasiewicz
December 8, 2005 11:54PM (UTC)

A remarkable story by Katherine Yung in today's Dallas Morning News introduces readers to Hao Xiaojuan -- a 40-year-old Chinese woman who, as China's newest national sales distributor for Mary Kay makeup, has found herself at the forefront of a entrepreneurial craze sweeping the country.

Yung narrates as, in front of a room of admiring recruits, Hao reads a personal letter from Tom Whatley, president of global sales and marketing for the cosmetics company. "You are now a role model, just like Mary Kay," she proclaims to the crowd of young women.

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Who knew? It seems that Mary Kay cosmetics, the Texas direct-marketing company best known stateside for its saleswomen's signature pink cars and puce polyester suits, is now en vogue in Asia. Yung writes, "Four years after the death of Mary Kay Ash, nearly 350,000 Chinese women are emulating the icon, some earning big money selling Time Wise cleansers and facial-whitening masks. In every province, they're reading her books, which have been translated into Chinese, and singing her songs, like 'That Mary Kay Enthusiasm,' in Mandarin."

The craze has made China the second largest market for Mary Kay cosmetics in the world. In 10 more years, experts believe, China could easily surpass the United States in sales.

Yung attributes Mary Kay's success to "an amazing marketing feat" -- namely that "in a nation still coming to terms with memories of Mao Zedong ... Mary Kay has gotten Chinese women to identify with a Caucasian cosmetics mogul with big hair."

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As both customers and potential businesswomen, Yung says, Chinese women are drawn not only to Kay's image but also the story of how Ash "overcame poverty, a tough childhood, on-the-job gender discrimination, divorce and widowhood to build a nearly $2 billion company from an initial investment of only $5,000." But as Yung notes, Chinese "women are even more impressed by the way [Ash] lived her life, from putting God and family ahead of her career to practicing the Golden Rule."

This is not chump change we're talking about, either. According to Yung, last year Mary Kay China's top national sales distributor took home a whopping $665,446. Another national distributor, Yang Fan, gave up a career as a doctor to work for Mary Kay. Now her husband, also a surgeon, has left his practice to open his own hospital -- a move that was aided in large part by the $24,691 a month his wife earns as a sales manager.

With all that money, is there anything Yang still wants? Well, now that you mention it, this year she's trading in her old Buick for a brand-new pink Cadillac sedan.

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Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit thefastertimes.com/streetfood and Signs and Wonders.

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