Metta Murdaya teamed up with three like-minded friends to create the jamu-based, luxury cosmetics line Juara Beauty.  (BeritaSatu Photo/Uthan A. Rachim)

Juara Beauty Aims to Win Over Indonesia


FEBRUARY 01, 2015

Jakarta. Though France and the United States continue to lead trends in the beauty industry, the market is opening up for luxury brands from both local and  international players.

Entrepreneur Metta Murdaya aims to be a winner. That, at least, is the basis for her range of beauty products, which the Indonesian-born, US-based entrepreneur aims to transform into market favorite in Indonesia.

Juara Beauty, the skincare line that took the United States by storm, is coveted by celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Keri Russell and Ashley Greene, and has since 2013 been making inroads in the archipelago.

“Indonesia is uncharted territory for niche prestige brands. People will buy based on  brand names so the niche market for prestige brands that are indie and more unique  are not fully developed here. I saw that as an opportunity and a challenge,” Metta said.

“In the US, the market looks at the prestige niche section to see what are the latest  trends. So I think it is a good time for Indonesians to start learning about what else  might be out there and the options available other than traditional, well-known  brands,” she added.

Inspired by the concept of jamu, herbal medicine of centuries-old origin, Juara means “champion” in Indonesian. This is the underlying message of a brand which purports to contain ingredients that are 100 percent vegetarian, paraben-free  and cruelty-free.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens  are health-threatening agents used to prevent the growth of microbes in cosmetics products that can be absorbed into the body.

“Juara is also a mental value system and empowerment. So it is about developing skills  and abilities in your own life, to be a ‘juara’ in your own right, starting by making smart  decisions for your own skin,” Metta said.

Metta and her co-founders — Yoshiko Roth, Jill Sung and Tami Chuang — are childhood friends.

Yoshiko, 40, attended New York University’s Stern Business School with Metta and worked for a  skin care company before she was roped into the enterprise. Metta met Jill, 38, an endodontist, during a Chinese language program in Beijing, China.

Tami, 38, who has since moved to London, was a friend during Metta’s days in the UC Berkeley jazz choir.

“We all had complementary skill sets and share similar values,” said Metta.

In 2006, the four friends combined their Asian heritage with their western upbringing to create Juara’s skin care range that fused eastern traditions with western  science. Though often assumed to be an Indonesian brand, Juara is in fact an American company that markets to global consumers.

Based in New York as the brand’s president, finance and creative director, Metta took on the Indonesian sales and marketing roles when Juara entered the archipelago in 2013. She now travels between the two cities to focus on growing distribution in Indonesia and developing a strong presence in the local skin care market.

Metta, 40, did not set out to become an entrepreneur despite being born into an  entrepreneurial family. During her time at Stern, she worked as a consultant for the  Urban Business Assistance Corporation (UBAC), a non-profit affiliated with NYU to advance women and minority-owned businesses. She followed that with stints at Deloitte  Consulting and Home Depot before starting Juara.

“Starting a business was the next step. If you come from parents who own their own  business, the risk of starting your own business doesn’t faze you. But I see no glory in  owning. It’s not just running a business but how you run that business that impresses  me,” said Metta.

Loisada Labs Juara Skincare was established in New York with $60,000 in  capital raised between the partners — who are also the company shareholders — and a  $100,000 bank loan.

“This really was a grassroots operation of four girls pursuing a  dream. This limitation, although difficult, helped develop our culture of being tight-knit,” said Metta.

Though the business grew organically, it had its share of growing pains. Metta used to go from store to store with samples, cold-calling potential accounts and chasing UPS trucks down because the company was too small to have regular pickups.

“There was  one time I had to sneak into our warehouse at midnight to use the electricity to power a label machine so we could label our own jars,” said Metta. The partners shared the hardship.

“I will always remember walking in a snow storm to my first retailer meeting after the cosmetics purchasing manager had told me she was not interested. But I insisted that she at least take a look,” said Yoshiko, who is in charge of  distribution, marketing and public relations strategy for the US market.

“She placed a pre-order the same day.”

Juara’s products are currently sold in the United States, Canada, South America and Indonesia.

The company has had to change its business model several times since the partners faced the  2009 financial crisis and its aftermath. They began with a brick-and-mortar model, switched to an online presence when their accounts were halved during the recession and  finally rebuilt their distribution channels with an online-offline strategy to survive the  more competitive, post-recession market conditions.  Through it all, Metta and her partners remain focused on the brand message.

“A lot  of businesses disappeared, but our brand name was bigger than before the recession  because we maintained our core-value proposition,” she said. Since then, Juara has turned into a global beauty brand with an expected $2 million in annual revenues in 2015.

“In general, you have to clear at least  a million in revenue to support our kind of distribution of prestigious and demanding  accounts. The important thing is the channels we support require a certain amount of  capital and business demand generation,” said Metta.

Partnering with others is a vital aspect of Juara’s continued growth.

The firm keeps overheads low by remaining streamlined with a staff of 10 and outsourcing  work.

Expansion in the United States is focused on growing through third-party retailers — online, offline and on TV. According to Metta, this is very capital-intensive with little margin  for error as the market is incredibly competitive.

But Juara’s creative director knows to keep her pulse on the market and goes through  phases where she uses a competitor’s products to keep up with trends and new  technical ingredients. Since Juara’s target market is women aged 25-50 who prefer a  more natural way to care for their skin, competition comes in the form of other  prestigious skin care lines that use natural ingredients such as Kiehls or Laneige.

“The fact that we started in the US, a highly competitive cosmetic market, we knew  that we had to stay selective in our distribution and focus on creating a few ‘hero’  products to earn the trust of retailers and consumers,” said Yoshiko.

According to NY-based brand strategist and marketing consultant Nadia Yousif, the  brand has more than just a unique story.

“The women behind the brand understand what it  takes to build a brand and have been very careful and tactical in the decisions they  have made thus far in the growth and expansion of the brand into the market such as  being selective in who they choose to partner with and which products to launch.”

In Indonesia, Juara discerningly chose its partners such as select Sogo outlets, Glow boutique and Tugu luxury hotels.

“We decided to collaborate with Metta as we shared  the same mission of proudly introducing ancient Indonesian cultures that are almost  forgotten and packaging it to luxury products,” said Annette Anhar, director of Tugu. “We think that the unique combination between east and west is a unique  selling point that is not often carried out by other competitors or other beauty products.”

Juara has also worked with like-minded individuals whose products share the dual culture of Indonesia and America, such as designers Ardistia Dwiasri and Auguste Soesastro.

“It is about putting Indonesia on the map. There is no reason why it can’t  be a recognized nation with its own merit and expertise in a particular area and  segment that people don’t necessarily know about,” Metta said.

The hard work paid off as the beauty brand steadily gained recognition worldwide. It is now featured in high fashion magazines such as Allure, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar.

Juara also partners with Delta Airlines, supplying amenities for their first-class  lounges. Locally, the products are in high-end cosmetic boutiques and luxury hotels  and on their website.

Currently, the brand carries around 25 unique, core products, not  including travel sizes, special holiday or seasonal products and limited edition sets.  They focus on launching three to five new core products per year.

The Turmeric Anti-Aging Serum and Turmeric Antioxidant Radiance Mask have quickly become customer favorites. Arini Subianto, mother of two and owner of Aksara bookstore is a fan of  the mask, which she finds calms down her skin.

“What I like about Juara is that it uses the traditional ‘jamu-like’ blend that I’ve been familiar with since I was small. I’ve used traditional turmeric scrub growing up, so I was excited to see the turmeric base mask in a tube!” Airini said.

Juara now aims to accelerate expansion and  increase brand awareness through engaged market connectivity in a way that is  appealing to both Indonesians and Westerners.