Yaumi Sugiharta: The brand builder revolutionizing skincare through tech and sustainability

Meet Yaumi Fauziah Sugiharta, a brand builder on a mission to make people more comfortable in their own skin using technology and sustainability.

Antler in Southeast Asia

December 8, 2022
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The largest open landfill site in Southeast Asia towers 15 stories high above the outskirts of Jakarta. Spread over 200 soccer pitches in size and accepting over 7,000 tons of rubbish per day, the Bantar Gebang trash mountain has almost reached maximum capacity. An estimated 3,000 families live and work on the foul-smelling site, picking through the rotting debris amid the bulldozers to scavenge for recyclable materials they can sell for cash.

“It’s like the opening scene in the WALL-E movie where the robot is processing waste and piling it up tall. It’s as high as a forty-meter skyscraper. It’s a crazy situation because the waste affects the quality of life of everyone who lives nearby—the smell and air pollution are terrible. So, it’s not just an environmental issue, but a healthcare one too. It’s scary to think that, without any recycling effort, our products will end up there. It makes me and my co-founder feel hugely guilty—if we’re not doing anything to combat this, we’re just adding to the growing landfill waste.”

These are the words of Yaumi Fauziah Sugiharta, co-founder of Base, an Indonesian personalized direct-to-consumer beauty, skincare, and wellness company. Launched by Sugiharta and her biochemist friend Ratih Permata Sari in January 2020, Base champions diversity and inclusivity, catering to the beauty needs of Indonesian people by offering vegan skincare powered by the brand’s own Smart Skin Test feature.

“What’s so scary about Indonesia is that, as a country, there are no strong regulations in terms of sustainability—especially with regards to recycling,” says 32-year-old Sugiharta. “The waste just piles up every month, every year.”

With this in mind, a strong sustainability ethos runs through Base’s business model. All packaging is either biodegradable, or made from recyclable glass, sugarcane plastic, or reusable materials such as ceramic bowls (“which make excellent flowerpots,” Sugiharta adds). In addition to this eco-conscious stance, Base provides affordable products of exceptional quality, ethically and locally produced, and free from harmful ingredients like parabens, dyes, perfumes, phthalates, sulphates, and GMOs.

Growth through sustainability

Born to civil service parents on Java Island—the world’s most populous island and home to 55 percent of Indonesia’s population—Sugiharta spent most of her childhood on the far smaller Selayar Island. Just 50 miles long and a maximum 10 miles wide, Selayar has a population of around 138,000 and is renowned for its pristine white beaches, crystal clear tropical water, coral reefs, and rainforests. 

Her father’s job at the Ministry of Forestry exposed Sugiharta to the sustainability causes helping to protect Indonesia’s huge biodiversity. “My parents taught me how important it is to be conscious of the environment,” she says. “Everyone I meet is surprised by my colorful childhood because Selayar is a very small island—and I’m now sitting here as one of the youngest executives in the beauty industry. People don’t expect that.”

Her parents taught her to make her own choices and take responsibility for her actions—an ethos which helped build her confidence and belief that anything is possible through dedication and hard work. But her surroundings and her father’s line of work also ensured that Sugiharta would not compromise on her ideals in her entrepreneurial pursuits. 

“My different environments as I grew up allowed me to meet different kinds of people. Being so close to nature helped shape me to being the person I am today—an adult who is more conscious of sustainability and the need to protect the environment,” she says. “The kinds of values that I upheld in my childhood, I also bring into the company I formed.”

Making waves in her industry of choice has been a challenge that Sugiharta—who lives in Singapore with her husband and son of seven months—has tackled headlong while remaining true to herself and her ideals. “I appreciate that the beauty industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental pollution, given the manufacturing waste from the products and all the packaging that contributes hugely to the landfill waste,” she says. “But these things just made us more conscious of our responsibilities in the effort to work out what we could do to make a good sustainability effort.”

Beauty blogger to CEO while joining forces with a friend

Had Sugiharta not co-founded Base, she is adamant that she would still be working in the beauty sector. Before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship by joining Antler’s second residency in Singapore in March 2019, she was product marketing head at Go-Jek, Southeast Asia’s leading on-demand lifestyle service provider. In her role, she spearheaded the launch of six different products for markets across Indonesia—all while keeping up a skincare blog as a passion project.

“Being in beauty or fashion was always my cup of tea,” she says. “Without Base, I would have probably tried to become the chief editor for a fashion magazine. I always told my friends that I wanted to be the CEO of one of the largest beauty companies in the world. That’s why I managed to get a job at one of the largest FMCG companies in Indonesia early in my career. But it never crossed my mind that I would one day co-found a beauty company of my own—that was kind of a plot twist.”

The would-be business partners met in 2015 when Sugiharta worked for a corporate strategy consultancy firm and Sari had left the biochemistry industry to take on a digital product manager role in the tech space. They became friends and then, in 2018, colleagues at Style Theory, a Singapore-based e-commerce platform allowing users to rent, subscribe to, or buy designer clothes and accessories. 

While engaging with her blog readers on social media, Sugiharta received numerous queries from young women across Indonesia requesting advice on choosing the right skincare products. As early as 2017, she saw a gap in the market catering to a younger generation of consumers seeking out brands that resonate with local heritage, sustainable products, and eco-consciousness above more mainstream and less discerning global brands.

Sugiharta and Sari, now 29, decided to join forces and enter the Antler residency together with the initial goal of finding a third co-founder during the process. “We knew we wanted to do something in the beauty industry, we just didn’t know what. Joining the program helped us a lot in terms of validating the market and the pinch points from potential consumers and identifying the minimum viable product as well.” It also helped them realize that they did not need a third partner. 

Base founders Ratih Permata Sari (right) and Yaumi Fauziah Sugiharta (left).

Back to basics: an organic, clean, sustainable product

A comprehensive survey identified that over two thirds of 600 potential consumers felt market choices did not speak to them or cater for their needs. Most notably, their research indicated that over 70 percent of women in Indonesia suffered from having too much choice when it came to buying beauty products—all while being needlessly pigeonholed. 

“Indonesia is a very diverse country with more than six hundred ethnicities. We have so many different skin types and hair types. But I feel the media and advertising from the current beauty players in Indonesia adhere to a beauty standard that dates back to our grandparents’ era. It’s always about getting a brighter, whiter, fairer skin—but no one talks about the actual beauty situation that the consumer is facing. We don’t say that at Base. We offer something else.”

On base.co.id, consumers can take a skin analysis survey which helps diagnose their skin type and work out their skin goals. “The Smart Skin Test feature assesses and connects our consumers’ skin goals with suitable Base products to tackle and improve their skin’s conditions,” Sugiharta explains.

Through the five-minute survey, customers discover the curated ingredients that are most suitable for their skin type and will help tackle the issues corresponding to their lifestyle. They can also view a list of Base products curated specifically to their needs. The perfecting of this consumer-facing platform and in-house algorithm makes Base just as much a data-driven tech company as an affordable luxury skincare brand. 

Beyond the groundbreaking tech-enabled product, the company’s USP operates on numerous levels. On the product side, Base is a clean beauty brand using ingredients that are certified organic and entirely safe to use. “We’re really proud to say we’re one of the vegan pioneer brands in Indonesia,” Sugiharta elaborates. “We are 100 percent vegan and plant based, and all our products have Halal certification.”

Providing eco-conscious, accessible, and sustainable products not only honors the company’s values, but such transparency simultaneously caters to the needs of their core market. “What makes us unique—what no one has done before in Indonesia—is that we’re championing diversity and inclusivity,” Sugiharta stresses. This is reflected not just in the range of gender-neutral products, but in Base’s marketing material and across its platforms. 

“We are very young-driven and are looking to forge a relationship with this new and younger audience—the Millennials and Gen Z. That’s why our brand features and products are more colorful and playful, and why they instigate positive vibes.” And why “Base”? “Skin is the largest organ in your body and we feel that if you’re taking care of your skin well, then you will feel good. Someone who feels better about themself feels more balanced. We call it Base because it’s back to basics—a basic treatment for your body.”

Building a brand in a time of uncertainty

Almost four years have passed since the co-founders came up with their idea at Antler, during which Base has established itself as what they believe to be the first DTC beauty and skincare company in Indonesia.

Being featured in the September 2020 edition of Vogue Singapore helped drive traffic to the company’s website while improving the brand’s presence on social media. “People were saying it’s very cool to see a homegrown local brand like Base being featured in a renowned lifestyle magazine like Vogue. That kind of coverage helped us shape better brand awareness towards potential users or consumers.”

On top of digital paid advertisements on channels such as Facebook, Google, and TikTok, Base uses content creators and influencers to help spread the word. Media agencies help launch new products or features, while traditional above-the-line marketing means are occasionally employed in smaller cities where offline penetration remains large. One effort proving fruitful in driving growth is affiliate marketing through a collection of around 400 loyal consumers—or “nano-influencers” —on social media.

“They promote Base as a brand and post why they love our products,” Sugiharta explains. “We give them a unique voucher code which they can include on their posts. We can trace how many people use these codes and they receive a 10 percent commission for each sale.”

While Sugiharta focuses on demand—in particular branding, marketing, and growth—Sari, a keen runner who recently completed the Tokyo marathon, takes care of the supply side of the business. A product innovation and development team—overseen by Sari—assesses the current market trends and predicts what will be hot within the sector, before creating prototypes which are then tested before being scaled up with the manufacturer.

A new-found respect for fellow female founders

COVID was not the only early challenge facing Base. Seven months ago, Sugiharta became a mother for the first time. “It was unexpected but my co-founder and I had already discussed what would happen if either of us got pregnant,” she recalls. “We’re both women and we knew that we always wanted kids, so we had talked about all these crazy scenarios, so we already knew the drill. But the responsibility is different now that we’re not working for other people. We have a huge obligation as co-founders—a lot of livelihoods depend on us and our capability to ensure the company lasts.”

Despite their preparations, the timing was far from perfect. “I was actually fundraising during my last trimester, so it’s been a real rollercoaster ride. We tried to optimize all the working hours that we could, and we were very transparent with our business partners. ‘These are the circumstances,’ I said. ‘I need to go into labor, and we still have another meeting with you to finalize the deal—but can you wait?’ Thankfully, they were very supportive and understanding.”

Sugiharta took three months’ maternity leave during which she still worked part-time. “It was okay because I felt capable of doing it and it wasn’t affecting me emotionally or mentally, which was good. But there were some days when I just couldn’t open my laptop,” she admits. Vocal about the sacrifices female company executives must make, she explains that she took the difficult decision to get additional childcare early on and stop breastfeeding after six months. “My advice for anyone who thinks having a baby will affect their work is that they shouldn’t worry. The key is just getting all the help you need,” she says.

Becoming a mother while juggling work commitments has given Sugiharta “a very deep respect” for her fellow female founders and entrepreneurs. “It’s a really hard job because after you get home from your 9-to-5 you have your 5-to-9 nightshift with your kid. It’s never-ending and some days are very tough.” She certainly has less time to ride horses—a hobby she took up well before her co-founder days.

It’s perhaps not surprising that she counts Serena Williams, who famously won the French Open in 2018 just nine months after giving birth to her daughter, among her main influences in life. “I adore her resilience and drive. She’s a woman, a mother, an athlete, and an entrepreneur; technically, she wears many hats and yet she can do each role fantastically. She broke the glass ceiling by becoming the second-most Grand Slam winner. Her ethic inspires me to keep moving.”

Cracking the huge domestic market and facing up to failure

The global beauty market is worth a staggering $500 billion per year. While Base has some orders coming in from overseas—primarily the Middle East, Europe, the US, and other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea—the numbers are small. They come primarily from Indonesians who live abroad, or beauty influencers exposed to the brand on social media. But this is no cause for concern given Indonesia’s beauty market is projected to hit around $10 billion by 2025—fueled by the vast growth of hair, body, and skin care categories.

Such robust market opportunities—with an annual growth rate of around six percent—puts Base in the right position to scale up and become a prominent player in the domestic market, off the back of a reported ten-fold revenue growth in the past year. With the sector in Southeast Asia still dominated by foreign brands who retail at prices beyond the comforts of the average consumer’s disposable income, Base has an opportunity to buck traditional consumer expectations and show that high-quality products don’t need to be prohibitively expensive.

To date, Base has exploited its unique brand and scientific, tech-enabled product development process to deliver its products to all 34 provinces across Indonesia while catering to consumers’ diverse beauty and wellness needs. “In the next few years, we will focus on the Indonesian region alone,” Sugiharta confirms. “Within Southeast Asia, the largest revenue in the beauty sector is driven by Indonesia and Thailand. Knowing there’s a large population we can serve—especially the young generation that we target—we feel it’s important for us to be the market leader in Indonesia before we branch out into new markets.”

Sugiharta has not ruled out the possibility of Base evolving beyond its current skincare focus. Building on the company’s main revenue drivers of moisturizers, sunscreen, and serum, the next target is to enter the color cosmetics market, to coincide with the company’s third anniversary. “Over the next five years we envisage branching out into more and more categories other than beauty itself, but all under the Base brand,” she confirms.

Ultimately, the plan would be to expand abroad. “But for the short term, there are still so many opportunities in the Indonesian market. For instance, we don’t have our own flagship stop yet. I think traffic is starting to come in as part of the pandemic recovery—and the market here is definitely large enough to accommodate us.”

While more than 70 percent of current sales come from Base’s website, the co-founders have already given a lot of thought towards moving their digitally native brand partially offline with the opening of a physical store. Bandung and Surabaya—the biggest Indonesian cities outside Jakarta—are preferred locations because the operational costs would be lower than in the nation’s capital, where the market is already saturated and commercial rents dear.

Base also aims to increase its “omni-channel” sales at other retailers and online marketplaces on rising platforms such as TikTok Shop. On a marketing plane, Base is about to launch “a very exciting line” of lip product with the help of a strong brand ambassador, the Indonesian singer-songwriter and record producer Stephanie Poetri. Sugiharta envisages what she describes as “a pretty lean organization” of 40 people will rise to a workforce of 130—plus interns and graduate hires—by the end of 2024. 

It all amounts to quite an achievement for a new mother who, despite claiming she had no regrets in life, still has a hang-up about not winning a place at her university of choice. “I failed to get into one of Indonesia’s prestigious public universities—the same my husband graduated from. We always discuss this ‘what if’ situation. But he always says, ‘You always wanted to work in FMCG companies and, moreover, in the beauty sector. Now you’re there so, at the end of the day, the endgame is the same.’ He’s right because my goals never changed; I am where I am today because I faced that failure.”

Sustainability to remain the basis for expansion

Before the next phase of Base’s development Sugiharta is going to treat herself to her first holiday in three years—and a first ever visit to Europe. “Before the pandemic I used to travel to new countries once or twice a year. But we have been in work mode since 2019 and I haven’t taken any kind of leave since,” she says. After Christmas and over the new year, she plans to visit Italy and France with her husband and son. “I’m quite a foodie so I’m looking forward to the culinary delights. I’ve always loved sightseeing and historical sites—that’s why I’m so keen to see Florence and, in particular, visit Pompeii.”

On the eve of her first trip abroad as a family of three, Sugiharta openly admits that becoming a mother has changed her outlook on life while reinforcing certain non-negotiable cornerstones of how she wants to operate her business. “Now that I have a son, I think about Indonesia’s landfill problem even more,” she says. “Obviously, we can’t solve the issue on our own—we all have to share the responsibility.”

To that end, Base works with Waste4Change, a 100 percent holistic waste management platform for companies, individuals, and government agencies in Indonesia. The organization aims to change people’s behavior towards waste so that environmental disasters such as the Bantar Gebang trash mountain are never repeated. “We are working to ensure that all our packaging can be recycled or turned into something else without harming the environment even further,” says Sugiharta.

“It’s really important for us to continue as we do because, at the end of the day, if our company operates for the next 100 years, can you imagine how much waste we could contribute to the landfill over that time? It’s scary to think about. I don’t want my son to live in a world where I actively contributed to an environmental sin on that scale.”

Explore Base’s skincare products.

To find the people and funding you need to build a game-changing company in Southeast Asia, join our residencies in Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

About the author

Antler in Southeast Asia

Antler is the most active investor in Southeast Asia, with offices in Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

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