Align looks to cash in on China’s growing demand for ‘beautiful looks’

US firm sets up facility in Chengdu to cater to country’s growing demand for confident smiles and straightened teeth

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 8:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 10:41pm

In China where there are dozens of touch-up applications for people to have the perfect self-portraits, the desire for actually looking better -- not just in online posts -- is spiralling and boosting demand for nose jobs, double eyelid surgeries and orthodontic treatment.

Align Technology, a United States-based firms that makes and markets clear aligner therapy services used in dentistry, orthodontics and dental records storage, on Thursday opened its first software facility on the mainland in Chengdu to cater to the country’s growing demand for confident smiles and straightened teeth.

The Nasdaq-listed company , which makes a clear brace that can replace the old-fashioned metal brace, has seen a rising demand in China for its teeth straightening devices, which costs up to US$10,000 as Chinese consumers are becoming “more sophisticated and understand what they want”, said Julie Tay, Align’s managing director for the Asia-Pacific region.

According to Tay, the Chengdu facility will help orthodontists to design the best treatment solutions and halve waiting times for patients in China, the largest market outside the US for Align Technology.

The unit is the second of its kind in the world and a reflection of Align Technology’s long-term commitment in the country, said Tay in an interview to the Post on Thursday.

Tay, however, refused to disclose the investment on the Chengdu facility. It is “not small” as the facility is equipped with locally trained, locally hired technicians as well as Chinese language software, all designed to offer quality experiences for customers, she said.

China’s cosmetic surgery boom doesn’t look pretty when it comes to profits

Since entering the China market in 2011, the company’s team has grown from three to 300, driven largely by rising sales of Invisalign, a type of clear brace that “one can wear to job interviews and sport a confident smile without anyone realising that the person has undergone treatment,” said Tay.

The US market ,which is the home market for Align Technology, still contributed the most revenue for the company in 2016, while Asia-Pacific has been the fastest growing region for the past two to three years.

“A beautiful smile can be life-changing,” said Tay. In a recent survey conducted by Align in South Korea, more than 50 per cent of the respondents said that beauty was integral to success in job interviews.

This is very much the case in China also, she said, adding “at the end of the day, everyone wants to look good”.

Liu Di, founder and chief executive officer of cosmetic surgery social-networking app Gengmei, said in a previous interview that some young women in China view the investment on getting beauty procedures as a much better investment than getting into a good school or a good company.

China is the world’s third-largest market for cosmetic surgery lagging behind the US and Brazil. The cosmetic surgy market in China is estimated at 796.3 billion yuan (US$117 billion) in 2016 and is set to exceed 1 trillion yuan by 2019, according to Gengmei.