Jakarta. Batik's vital role in Indonesia's fashion industry is not just as a cultural icon, but also as a reliable product for many small and medium enterprises to carry overseas. However, hemmed in by the trend toward more sustainable fashion, what has batik got to do to survive?
Galeri Batik Jawa owner Nita Kenzo said using natural instead of synthetic dyes to color batik is one of the ways to make batik more eco-friendly and keep it attractive in the global market.
"Natural dyes will help batik stay alive in the global market since the world is leaning more and more toward green fashion. We should use 100 percent natural coloring to gain trust from customers around the world," Nita said at a press conference for Gelar Batik Nusantara (National Batik Exhibition) at Jakarta Convention Center on Wednesday (07/06).
Common natural dyes are made from indigo plant, mango leaves, sappan wood and mahogany barks.
Using them helps reduce harmful waste that fast fashion produces by the handful.
Despite the environmental benefits, producing eco-friendly batik comes with its own challenges.
Colors produced with natural dyes often look faint compared to synthetic colors. Nita said it takes 15 to 20 dips in a natural dye to get the color to be strong enough, which means that mass production is still not viable.
"It also hikes the price of the fabric, though it can vary since there are many other elements in a batik, such as how neat the wax-patterning is," she said.
Washing and caring for the fabric pose another challenge. Detergent is a no-no, according to Nita. To keep colors vibrant, batik must be washed using lerak (natural detergent made from lerak, a stone fruit) or failing that, baby shampoo.
"Chemicals will make batik appear washed out," Nita added.
Industry Minister Airlangga Hartanto said his ministry will assist batik makers to find solutions for these problems.
"We will seek ways to make natural dyes as strong and as durable as synthetic ones," he said at the opening of the exhibition.
The minister said Indonesia is already the market leader in batik production.
"Our batik industry rules the global batik market," Airlangga said.
Last year alone, export value for batik reached almost $150 million. Japan, the United States and European countries were the main importers.
Nationwide, the batik industry employs around 15,000 people, most of whom work for small and medium enterprises.