“Starting your own business at a young age is extremely challenging because there is so much to learn. Every day is a learning process, trial and error,” says Kezia Toemion of Esqa Cosmetics. wearing Dior’s Pre-Fall 2019 Collection, she talks about her partnership with best friend Cindy Angelina. Liviani Putri reports.
After the final shots for her cover shoot have been completed, Kezia Toemion sits down with Prestige. She talks about her long-running love affair with the beauty business. And about how she and her since-childhood best friend Cindy Angelina got together to launch Esqa Cosmetics, the first “vegan” cosmetic brand in Indonesia, three years ago.
“First, I should say that starting your own business at a young age is extremely challenging because there is so much to learn,” Kezia declares. “Every day is a learning process; trial and error. We did make mistakes some days, but then you keep waking up and taking lessons from it. Everything is all about problem solving and trusting yourself, so that you can deal with anything that you have to go through.”
The lovely young entrepreneur, who recently got married to Bambang Aditya Trihatmanto, smiles as she tells us: “I’m very, very happy. We recently got back from our honeymoon in France and southern Italy. It was wonderful!”
Kezia describes herself as a cheerful, optimistic and happy-go-lucky person. This seems to be true, because from the moment she steps onto the location, her fresh and positive vibes light up the room. She greets everyone on set. Of course, she has done her own makeup – flawlessly. It doesn’t take long to dress her up in Dior’s Pre-Fall 2019 Collection, from classic suits to playful sweaters.
Kezia kept on smiling as she recalls her and Cindy’s initial struggles to get their business off the ground. “In spite of all the challenges and rough rides, I see it as a fun, adventurous journey because we are doing something we love. Like so many young girls, we fell in love with cosmetics in elementary school, playing with our mother’s makeup! Then it gradually grew into something we called a passion. Being an entrepreneur is not a nine-to-five job, Monday to Friday. It’s 24/7 work.
“Cindy and I are often still awake in the middle of the night, communicating with each other and brainstorming about our business. It’s really fun because we are constantly moving, innovating and improving on what we have. To put it simply, it’s like watching a baby grow, and we want to keep our eyes on it.”
Kezia earned a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Pepperdine University, California and then her Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She worked for a while at an accounting firm in L.A., “handling the finances of the celebrities there”.
She takes up the story again: “Cindy had just moved back to Jakarta, and she asked me when I would come home too, so that we could start a business together. Obviously I said yes to the idea, and we began to brainstorm what kind of industry would be really suitable for us.
“After nights of endless discussion, we agreed to start a cosmetics company, because our passion was in the beauty industry. At that time, in 2014, there were not many local cosmetics brands here, or even international ones. There was not much variety of products. All of which presented a great opportunity for us to create something new – and locally made at that!
They based their brand name on a Celtic word, eska, which means natural beauty. “We launched Esqa as the first vegan cosmetics brand in Indonesia,” Kezia said. “Why vegan? Because we basically don’t use any animal-derived ingredients.”
As Kezia and Cindy put it on the company’s website: “We vow to create high-quality and beautifully designed products that are formulated without harmful ingredients to enhance your natural beauty. We have been best friends for as long as we can remember. Growing up, we loved experimenting with makeup together. From spending hours trying out the newest makeup, getting tips and tricks from makeup tutorials, to putting on each other’s makeup while playing dress-up. Let’s just say, we are both obsessed with makeup!
“Since moving back to Indonesia from our studies in Los Angeles, we wanted to create affordable glam cosmetics with chic packaging that are formulated without harsh ingredients. We believe that every woman is naturally beautiful and makeup isn’t supposed to change your look, but to enhance your natural beauty. So, we developed innovative products that are on the cutting edge in the international makeup scene. This is how Esqa was born.”
Kezia and Cindy launched their company in June 2016, creating four shades of lip crayon and three matte lip liquids that are full-coverage and long-wearing, and enriched with a dose of nourishing vitamin E to keep the lips hydrated – perfect for going out. Fitria Yusuf, socialite and fashion model, worked with Kezia and Cindy on creating Viper Rose, of which Fitria says: “I love a lip colour that makes me feel sexy, powerful, powerful, feminine, and fearless at the same time.”
Launching a new business is never an easy ride. Kezia and Cindy started out with just one employee. They had to juggle between handling orders while listening to customer feedback. “On the first launch we did, we had to pack thousands of orders together, while Cindy had to keep communicating with the customers,” Kezia says.
“At that point, my Indonesian, especially the more formal way of speaking it, was not that good. So, it was Cindy who replied to all the customers’ messages and emails, no matter how detailed. But from that experience, we learned to listen to all feedback, because the customer is always right.”
““Actually, we have rarely had disagreements on anything, because the key is always to appreciate each other’s strengths”
Esqa has widened its still-growing product range to comprise eyeliner, brow pomade pencil, tinted brow mascara and a cheek palette that includes blush-on and highlighter. That Kezia and Cindy’s products are world-class is evident from the fact that they can be found at first-class retailers, such as Sephora, Glow Living Beauty and Bonheur. As for e-commerce, Esqa is on Sociolla, Shopee and Tokopedia.
Gaining international beauty industry powerhouse Sephora’s acceptance was a major breakthrough for the brand. Kezia can’t help laughing as she remembers the days when both she and Cindy were knocking on Sephora’s door. “I should say that persistence was the key. It was one long year trying to contact them every day. We kept calling and emailing, going to their office to present our products. Then one day, they finally gave us a chance and we felt so thrilled.”
It’s often been said that best friends should never go into business together. Somehow, Kezia and Cindy managed to do just that. “We’ve known each other since we were 4 years old, at kindergarten,” Kezia says. “Basically, we grew up together, went to the same schools until college. Actually, we have rarely had disagreements on anything, because the key is always to appreciate each other’s strengths. Marketing is really Cindy’s field. She is very good at it and I trust her at that. That’s why she’s the CEO. Meanwhile, I am in charge of finance and operations, so I’m both the CFO and the COO.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t have any differences of opinion. But I think what we do is to embrace those and turn them into creativity. Cindy has a brighter skin tone than me and she likes a natural makeup look. I have more of a tan. I like full-coverage, bold makeup with more contour with blush and highlighter. It was because of this that we decided to create a wider range of makeup, based on different skin tones and needs.”
Kezia launched a YouTube channel eight months ago. “A lot of people asked me to do some makeup tutorials, which I love to film myself,” she explains. “Smoky eyes are my go-to look. I also upload vlogs about my travels because I love taking my followers on my journeys with me.”
Living in digital era where everything happens so fast is no problem for this energetic young entrepreneur. She sees the issues from the bright side, while trying to keep her life in balance. “It really makes it easier to and more convenient to grow the business,” she says of new technology. “In the old days, people had only billboards and TV commercials. Those cost so much, millions of dollars for a few seconds.
“Today, everything is becoming more interactive. There are a lot more new creative platforms on which to advertise, including e-commerce and social media. On the other hand, keeping up with everything, the reading, the watching, the posting on social media, is so time-consuming. You have to set aside time for that. I spend two hours on Instagram every day, which is too much. I’m trying to reduce it by half.”
Kezia and Cindy have big dreams for Esqa. Says Kezia: “Of course we will keep expanding our product range to give customers more variety of choice. And hopefully, our products will succeed in the global market. We will launch a new eyeshadow palette soon. There will be three interesting shades that cater to all skin tones and needs. From natural to glam, it’s all in there.”
Photographer Andre Wiredja / Styling Brad Homes / Shot on location The Tribrata, Dharmawangsa Raya, South Jakarta 12160 Phone (62 21) 5203 159, thetribrata.com / Shield Back Arm Chair Barbara Barry from Moie / Styling Assistants Lintang Hutami, Marassi Joanne & Vivian Ng
Dior is in Plaza Indonesia and Plaza Senayan