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“Shame on you, Martha! You’re an Indonesian yet you don’t know about your culture – go back to learn to and save your culture,” a teacher once said to a student regarding her final term paper about indigenous make-up at the Academy of Beauty Culture in Indiana, U.S. The student was no other than Martha Tilaar, who once she recovered from the shock, vowed that she would preserve her own culture in the world of beauty.

There were not that many books about Indonesia’s beauty culture back then, so she researched everything from scratch by going back to the roots of local wisdom – by finding the traditional practitioners, the “witch doctors,” and midwives in small villages.

“People called me crazy that, for someone educated abroad, I would go to such remote places,” Martha said. “But my husband, who was a professor, was very supportive and helped me collect my findings.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 11.10.13 AM.pngHer extensive research uncovered key aspects about the technology and the green science behind jamu, a traditional herbal concoction. It also has contributed to the Martha Tilaar Professorial Chair at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands for 10 years, and led to the start of Martha Tilaar Innovation Center.  

“My mindest once thought that all the things from the West were all the best,” she said, “But from my experience working in the salons back in the States and from my research, I found out that we are all different and unique in some aspects, such as our skin types and colours, local wisdom, and much more.”

Combining science and technology with indigenous culture and rich natural resources, the Martha Tilaar Group (MTG) was born.

This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribehere.

[ Photographer: Agung Wibowo, Styling: Anindita Saryuf, Wardrobe: Ghea Fashion Studio, Make-up and hair: Puspita Martha Salon]