Entrepreneur / March 2016
Yohana Irawan brings Il Bisonte, Metaphor and Braun Buffel to the young professional.
Text Ranjit Jose Photo Gugun A Suminarto
As you browse the top collections at luxury outposts Braun BÜffel and Il Bisonte, it is clear that the brands have made their mark on the fashion conscious among us. From exquisite leather handbags for women and wallets for men, the brand has the market cornered when it comes to high-end luxury products for the modern, fashion forward connoisseur, and it’s the family of Yohana Irawan that one must thank for the gift of access to such fine products.
As a girl, Yohana Irawan spent time at her parents’ office, watching them work in the luxury accessories industry, while she absorbed herself in the rigor of her training as a classical pianist.
Her grandfather had a small shop in Jakarta’s Chinatown which sold accessories and basic clothing. Over the years the business grew and her mother took over eventually, expanding the line to include several international brands and finally focusing on the most successful, Braun BÜffel.
Now the family business involves the high-end brand and Yohana has taken charge of the marketing of Il Bisonte, a brand that has become as synonymous with luxury products. Stepping into the vast confines of her office in the uber-plush new construction Landmark Towers in Pluit, North Jakarta, Yohana leads us into casual conversation. Eluding a sense of casual, yet elegant sophistication she tell us about her early years, and it is immediately apparent that the future of such brands is in good hands.
Born in Jakarta and raised in Singapore and Germany, Yohana took to the piano at a young age, undertaking formal training at the University of Sheffield.Often practicing long hours – 10 at most – she performed in concert venues and churches in England until an injury put a damper on her plans but sent her on a path that she has embarked on successfully
Now involved in the luxury industry herself (she works with both the Il Bisonte and Metaphor brands) she retains her interest in the creative industry albeit in a different vein. “I was very influenced in business,” she begins, “as my parents are business oriented. They helped bring Braun BÜffel to Indonesia 25 years ago,” she continues.
Under 30 and an all-round achiever, Yohana’s work is part of the luxury brands’ plans to revamp the labels for a younger audience. She has her hands in Braun BÜffel too as its social director. “I look for places in malls and liaise with landlords for space in the high end malls,” she says of the work that hopes to target the young generation. It’s the young executives the brand targets, with their penchant for luxury clothing as they develop their careers. “My mother is strong in finance and she handles that aspect of the business, but it’s important to have a young person’s perception of the market and that’s where I come in,” she notes.
Jakarta is well-known for its residents’ proclivity for designer labels and well-established brands. Shoppers here tend to go for internationally-acclaimed brands with labels that have been in the market for generations. High-end malls have responded accordingly, renting to such companies. To compete in this market, Yohana says, it’s important to appeal to the high-quality nature of the product. “It’s not just about the label. It’s about creating awareness of high-quality products,” she says. Metaphor’s products fit that bill with material such as cow hide footwear. “We have great designers here in Indonesia and there is a lot of creativity, but it’s missing that ‘just perfect’ element and that’s what I’m trying to do with Il Bisonte, to give people that brand loyalty but with quality that lasts,” she says.
Yohana has been in the industry for just under five years now but hopes to eventually combine her love of music and art with her current line of work. “In the future, I would like to establish collaborations with the brand, perhaps with the Opera Society to work on an exhibition,” she says of her plans to create events that she hopes will bring together the world of fashion, art and music.
While Jakarta is home to some fine arts institutions little has been done to promote it. Perhaps via collaborations with people in other realms such as design and similar creative fields may help create more awareness of the country’s rich heritage – in music and dance. “People who appreciate good design and high-end brands also know music so it would be great to collaborate and eventually bring music into the picture, too,” notes the professional who names 19th-century Hungarian virtuoso Franz Liszt her favourite composer, who introduced the piano to the larger orchestra centuries ago.
While she no longer performs professionally, it’s hard to forget the decades of dedication to the piano and we are treated to a musical interlude. Her deft movement across the keys provided those who had gathered with a taste of her innate, admirable, musical prowess.
With Kartini Day this month and the increased focus on women entrepreneurs, Yohana hopes that eventually cultural norms will break free of recognising women solely by the name they bear (via the family) and focus entirely on what they’ve achieved. The day is named in honour of Lady Kartini who came from a prominent Javanese family and is regarded the pioneer of women’s education and rights in Indonesia. While Indonesian women now reap the fruits of Lady Kartini’s efforts, Yohana believes that the government’s development policies should address human trafficking (which greatly affects underprivileged women in Indonesia and around the world) at the base before eventually addressing other issues affecting women.
She also calls for increased awareness of Indonesian design and designers to be recognised outside the country. Although there is a western focus on the clothing here, local designers tend to have more of a patriotic focus and usually incorporate Batik in their designs, Yohana says, noting that it will help market the product overseas. While local ministries can promote such products nationwide, Yohana hopes more involvement from the private sector will encourage development in the world beyond the archipelago.
When she isn’t playing the piano and finding ways to help grow the many labels she is involved with, Yohana, who is fluent in German and easily conversant in Mandarin, enjoys travelling (although, she says, she has not had a proper vacation in a while) and hopes to bungee jump in New Zealand some day.
With her cool, casual, elegant and poised demeanour, Yohana Irawan can truly be named a rising star in Indonesian business and is certainly one person to watch out for as the country makes its foray into the global market. This is one businesswoman who is certainly going to place the archipelago on the world stage.
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