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Miss Universe’s new owner eyes an empire of perfumes, bras

JKN Global Group Pcl seeks to tap Asia’s pageant fandom even as interest in the event wanes in other parts of the world

Thai business tycoon Jakapong Jakrajutatip (AP)

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Miss Universe’s new owner plans to build an empire of makeup to lingerie across Asia, seeking to tap the region’s pageant fandom even as interest in the event wanes in other parts of the world. 

JKN Global Group Pcl, the Thai company that bought the Miss Universe Organization for $20 million this week, will initially re-brand products it already makes into themed merchandise, said chief executive officer Jakapong Jakrajutatip. The company plans to roll out a new line of vitamin water in Thailand by early next year, before potentially expanding into Malaysia and Indonesia, she said. 

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Other products being considered include lingerie, cosmetics and perfume, according to Jakapong, who is also known for being Thailand’s first transgender CEO. The company, which currently earns almost all of its revenue through broadcasting rights, will also offer other firms the right to use the Miss Universe brand on consumer goods, she said, as well as possible joint ventures for themed private jets and hotels.

Jakapong’s goal is for the Miss Universe business to generate 1.2 billion baht ($32 million) in revenue by 2025, driven primarily by emerging economies in Asia, where beauty pageants are popular. “It’s an aspiration for them to have a better life, representing their fantasy, the prestige of having a luxury lifestyle,” the 43-year-old said in an interview on Thursday.

Investors have backed the plan, with JKN’s shares surging 47% on the acquisition news. While they traded about 8% lower on Friday, the stock is still on course for the biggest weekly gain in almost five years.

Away from the business side, Jakapong’s purchase of Miss Universe comes with declining viewership in the US as well as scrutiny of the pageant that critics say has an outdated focus on women’s appearance, particularly a portion in which contestants wear swimwear. The competition also has historic ties to former President Donald Trump, who owned it between 1996 and 2015. 

Plans are being made to make the pageant more focused on “transformational leadership,” she said, adding that more details will be announced closer to the next competition scheduled for New Orleans in January. Jakapong has pointed to her own experiences with discrimination and sexual harassment from a teacher as a core driver in aiming for a more inclusive pageant. 

Progress has historically been slow. Miss Universe ended a ban on transgender participants in 2012, though only one such contestant has been featured, and will allow mothers and married women to compete next year. 

Back in Thailand, Jakapong wants to focus on advocating for changes to legislation that would allow people to legally change their gender. While the predominantly Buddhist country has taken steps to allow same-sex unions, the nation’s House of Representatives has stopped short of legalizing and recognizing gay marriage.

She’s also considering including segments that highlight LGBTQ rights in Miss Universe programming. 

“With my leadership, people will understand LGBTQ more,” she said. “It would be shameful if I don’t do anything with a global platform like that.” 

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