Beauty Scientist
    Category: Entrepreneurs By : Gloria Haraito Read : 1991 Date : Monday, March 02, 2015 - 18:50:55

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    At 76, Retno Iswari Tranggono remains active as the co-founder of the Ristra group. She makes regular visits to the office and to the Grand House of Ristra in the Graha Ristra building in Jakarta. With total revenue over Rp 55 billion, Retno’s Ristra group is one of the biggest cosmetics brands in Indonesia, with 11 House of Ristra skin care centers under PT House of Ristra, and a cosmetics manufacturing company, PT Ristra Indolab. For her lifetime achievement, in 2001 Retno was awarded Entrepreneur of The Year by consultancy EY (formerly Ernst & Young).

    Retno started her company 32 years ago. Her path to becoming an entrepreneur started even earlier, as a medical student at the University of Indonesia (UI) in 1960s. After graduating, Retno continued her studies on venereal and skin diseases, with the aim to become a dermatologist. Since veneral disease was a taboo subject, many medical students did not like to specialize in this subject.

    At the time, cosmetodermatology, or dermatology for aesthetic improvements, did not exist. Women seeking beauty treatments went to a salon, not a doctor. Yet Retno had a personal reason to seek this treatment. When she was a teenager, she had problems with acne. The common treatment was one used by the Dutch colonialists, to a powder to hide the acne—yet nothing was done to treat the underlying problem, such as washing the face to clean the pores. So, instead of getting better, Retno’s acne became worse.  

    Then she washed her face with soap and found it helped cure the acne. “I learnt that Indonesian skin is different from Dutch skin. The Dutch climate is different as well. In Holland, it is a cold and windy climate so they do not use soap. But Indonesia, which has a tropical climate and is polluted, cleansing the face is the best way to avoid acne,” says Retno, co-founder and director of what is called the Ristra group.

    During her time at medical school, Retno and her husband Suharto Tranggono, an Air Force general, lived near Bo Tan Tjoa, the founder of Indonesian cosmetics brand Viva. In 1963, Bo asked Retno to be a teacher at the Viva Health and Beauty Institute as she was a medical student and had a flawless skin.

    After earned her degree as a dermatologist, Retno was a professor of dermatology at UI for two decades, from 1964 to 1984. With her vast knowledge of the subject, Retno became a pioneer of applying scientific knowledge to beauty care in Indonesia. Retno also inspired many others to study dermatology, which led to the establishment of many more skin care clinics in the country. Soon, Retno’s busy schedule got even busier. In addition to teaching at Viva and UI, she started a medical practice at Viva in 1968, and started teaching how to use medical techniques to improve beauty treatment.

    In her biography The Entrepreneur Behind The Science of Beauty, Retno says that she trained many of Jakarta’s beauticians. “Some of them would later become cosmetics entrepreneurs like me, such as Moeryati Sudibyo and Martha Tilaar,” says Retno. As a skin doctor, Retno still needed to get her medicines from a pharmacy. Yet finding skin friendly medicines was not an easy task, and only a few pharmacists were willing or able to follow her prescriptions. Her husband Suharto, 79, then helped Retno find a good pharmacist, and they founded a pharmacy in Tanjung Priok. In this pharmacy, she could create her own special formulas for treating skin problems, especially acne.