From Black Swan to Head of a Beauty Empire

BY VIVIENNE KHOO
Jun 01, 2011
*Special to asia!

That she was once a tomboy makes Martha Tilaar’s success story even more remarkable.

Martha Tilaar is a well-known Indonesian businesswoman who is owner and director of Martha Tilaar Group, a company that runs spas and manufactures beauty products.

In “Jamu – the Ancient Indonesian Art of Herbal Healing”, Susan-Jane Beers recounts Martha’s life story. She was born into a family of wealthy landowners who owned beef and dairy cattle.

She was darker and considered the “black swan” of the family. “My brother and sister were fair while I was dark. My features were totally different too – I didn’t look like any of them.”

Martha reacted by not caring about her looks. Instead she became a rebellious tomboy.

After she finished school, Martha went to a teacher’s training college in Jakarta. At the start of her first teaching job her mother took her to the home of a friend who was a beautician for a consultation that was to change not only the young woman’s attitudes, but also her future.

“Until that moment I didn’t care about beauty at all,” she said. “But when I was shown what to do and saw the difference a few professional touches made, I was convinced.” Instead of shunning beauty treatments and cosmetics, Martha Tilaar became enthusiastic about them.

She got married, worked as an Avon lady in the U.S. as an expat wife, and then returned to Indonesia to set up a Western-style spa. She developed products for the spa which were deeply rooted in the jamu tradition, even garnering recipes from Indonesian royalty to maintain their authenticity.

Today she is an attractive woman in her early 70s. She is known for her impeccable grooming, personal style and magnetism.

Her 1,500 items of cosmetics have been produced in four factories employing over 5,000 employees, sold mainly in Indonesia, but also in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. The company’s turnover of the business reached around 500 billion rupiah (US$58.5 m) in 2002.

The Sariayu Martha Tilaar line was voted Indonesia’s Most Favourite Youth Brand in April this year.

vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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