Cosmetics Clan Heir Wulan Tilaar: Future-Proofing the Martha Tilaar Empire


Cosmetics Clan Heir Wulan Tilaar: Future-Proofing the Martha Tilaar Empire

Whether it's taking on the mantle of running the family business or a simple desire to live up to her own expectations, Wulan Tilaar admits that she could have chosen life on easy street – being the daughter of Indonesian beauty and cosmetics icon Martha Tilaar. But the businesswoman is adamant to walking in her mother's footsteps and bring the brand to the global stage.

Wulan Tilaar is not reticent to reveal her thoughts on being the heir apparent to the Indonesian cosmetics and jamu empire, founded by her mother Martha Tilaar.

“A big stone,” is how she describes the expectations that came along with the namesake brand. “I was involved (in the business) since young. But still, the big name, the iconic name became a burden,” says Wulan.

Her mother’s story - the founding of the Martha Tilaar Group - began in 1970, in 4 x 6 sized room in Menteng, Jakarta. That was where Martha set up her first beauty salon, in her parents’ garage.

In the span of over forty years, the Martha Tilaar brand became a household name in Indonesia, so much so, the senior Tilaar was widely regarded as ‘Ibu’ or ‘mother’ of beauty and personal care in the nation of 260 million.

Its success breached Indonesian borders, taking a foothold in neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, particularly through its popular Sari Ayu-Martha Tilaar brand.

Wulan Tilaar: Don’t Let Other People Define You

“I started questioning in my early thirties -  is this the one? Or did my parents groom or ‘brainwash’ me to be in this business?” says the mother-of-two, whose radiant smile accentuates her unlined face.

My mum already laid the foundation; a very strong one; beautifying by using our own natural resources and culture

“But once you change your mindset, the burden becomes a challenge,” she adds, describing a moment of epiphany a decade ago. “When I started asking that question - is this the right calling? Is this the way of my life? Finally, I said yes.”

“My mum already laid the foundation; a very strong one; beautifying by using our own natural resources and culture.”

So, instead of forging a path outside of her mother’s shadows, Wulan decided to walk in her footsteps. And wanting to prove herself worthy of taking over the company, she worked from the bottom up selling cosmetics in department stores in Jakarta before branching out to establish a chain of spas in the Indonesian capital.

She is now Vice Chairman of the Martha Tilaar Group and director of is Spa business. The group also recently celebrated the opening of its 78th franchise outlet in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.


Long before it was considered ‘good business’ to jump on the women empowerment bandwagon, Martha Tilaar, since the beginning, had employed local women, using local products to help lift local communities.

“We realise that 70 percent of Indonesia’s population are women. You know, in Eastern culture, women tend to be behind the screen and just raise children. But if you educate one woman, you educate one generation,” Wulan emphasises.

“One of the consistent work we do is educating the spa therapists. We have almost 5000 therapists,” Wulan adds. “The skills will be with them forever; it depends on how they can improve but the basic skills are there. So, we are not only giving them money and opportunity but skills too.”

Wulan Tilaar: We Are Not Only Selling Cosmetics

“Nowadays, we only focus on outer beauty. People are trying to be someone else instead of themselves.”

“(That is why) I find my purpose of being here, to share my experience in empowering myself, to find the inner beauty in everyone of us,” Wulan explains the philosophy behind Martha Tilaar, which also enjoys a strong presence in Jamu (herbal medicines) segment.  


Wulan’s work is cut out for her -  to expand and future-proof the 47-year-old empire - an uphill task, seeing as the Martha Tilaar brand tend to be associated with the older generation.

“Honestly, the product itself is idealistic. It’s not just selling products, it has a very deep philosophy and maybe not relevant to the younger generation. And that’s our challenge - how to be relevant to them.”

Competition in the beauty and cosmetics space, she adds, is getting tougher too, with the emergence of local and independent brands.

“The plans is bring local wisdom, go global,” answers Wulan when asked about expansion plans. “Short term is ASEAN countries because we have the similarity in terms of culture and climate. But we are looking at the Middle East countries - countries that are most predominantly Muslim.”

“People tend to think that everything from outside the country is better; cosmetics from Paris or Japan is better than what Indonesia and Malaysia produce. The mindset is very hard to change,” admits Wulan.

“But we never give up. We try to help people to love and feel proud using the product.”

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