Indonesia's most promising young designers are increasingly incorporating traditional textiles in their work. (The Peak Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Putting Indonesia's Fashion-Forward Tradition First

AUGUST 10, 2015

Jakarta. Indonesia is blessed with a rich variety of traditional textiles, each with its own story and unique characteristics. With such great potential, the country's fashion industry should prosper.

But the opposite is true. Many of our designers and traditional artisans are struggling. Many bewail the great difficulties they face in the industry due to government regulations and imported products — which are often more innovative and cheaper than theirs.

These difficulties seem to have stunted the growth of the industry.

Few would rise up to the mount of challenges and use their resources and creativity to develop the industry.

But among the commendable ones is Fashion First.

The local retailer, based on Jalan Cikajang, South Jakarta, offers various collections, ranging from accessories, daily wear, office wear to party dresses all made by the country's own up-and-coming designers.

Advertising specialist and fashion enthusiast Deli Makmur established the Fashion First boutique in Senayan City, Jakarta, in 2008.

"From the start, we've always been committed to showcase Indonesia's young fashion talents," said Deli — a finalist of the British Council’s International Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award 2008.

The first boutique, which carried 12 chic local fashion labels was a favorite among Indonesia's hip youth visiting the mall. But unfortunately, the boutique had to move from the mall at the end of their contract and the business came to a halt.

"I became tired of asking the malls to support us," Deli said. "At the end of the day, we really have to be independent and stand on our own feet." So, Deli skimped and saved for three years and in 2013 he bought a house on Jalan Cikajang, renovated and established it as the new Fashion First boutique.

"It feels good to have our own place," said Deli. "Now we can truly focus on our business."

Today, the boutique carries over 30 brands by local designers. On its second-year anniversary of the Jalan Cikajang venue, recently celebrated at Skye, Central Jakarta, the local retailer introduced a line-up of young designers who have come aboard with them in a fashion show themed "The Legacy."

"The Legacy is about passing of the baton of Indonesia's fashion industry over to young designers," said Deli.

All new designers at Fashion First were encouraged to use traditional textiles for their collections presented in the fashion show.

"But they have to make them into something chic and modern," said Deli.

All of them proved their talents and innovations on the runway. In their hands, batiks and tenuns become trendy fashion must-haves.

Here are some of the most notable collections.

Flowers by Krishandi Hartanto

The alumnus of Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan offered an easygoing collection made of batiks from Solo, Central Java, and Cirebon, West Java, during the fashion show.

He made these batiks into cute tank tops, shorts, pencil pants, mini skirts and full-blown skirts, embellished with floral appliques, beads and rhinestones. It was Krishandi's debut collection for his second line, Rakris Heritage, which is currently exclusively available at Fashion First.

"This label is especially dedicated to Indonesia's traditional textiles," said the designer.

Krishandi admitted that he was proud of using Indonesia's ethnic textiles in his designs.

"Indonesia's traditional textiles are internationally famous now," said the designer that is fluent in four languages. "Many of my friends abroad speak highly of them. [They] have indeed gone global."

Rakris Heritage fashion items are priced between Rp 1 million ($73) and Rp 8 million.

Mooi Indie by Amelia Kartikasari

Amelia's fashion collection stole the audience's attention in the fashion show.

Her batiks were gorgeous. The designs combined currently hip patterns, such as chevron and herringbone, with traditional ones, such as Parang (knives), Buketan (Flowers) and Sinaran (Lights).

She made these batiks into culottes, long vests, cropped jackets and lovely summer dresses which looked adorable on the models.

"I designed the [batik] patterns myself and have them made by artisans in Solo and Cirebon," said Amelia.

Amelia, who is based in Surabaya, graduated from Esmod Jakarta in 2001. Currently, she and her mom manage a very successful bridal house in Surabaya.

"In January, we wanted to do something different," said the first winner of Femina Group's Fashion Design Competition (LPM) 2002. "And since my mom and I love batiks, we then decided to venture into designing batiks."

Under her eponymous fashion brand, the items are priced between Rp 600,000 and Rp 6 million.

"Indonesia has been independent for 70 years now," said Amelia. "And I believe it's now time for our textiles to take the center stage."

Era Gelora (Revival Era) by Anthony Tandiyono

It was the first time Anthony Tandiyono used batiks in his designs. And he loved it.

"For this collection, I conducted an in-depth research and talked to the artisans," said the alumnus of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). "And I love it. I love learning about the motifs, the process and the history."

For this collection, Anthony used batik from Lasem, Central Java, which boasts intricate motifs. He made this into chic cheongsams, kebaya-inspired tops and pareo-inspired skirts, enhanced with elaborate draperies.

"These batiks are made painstakingly by hands," said the designer. "So, I try to cut out as little as possible when designing."

Under his zero waste approach, Anthony collects the batik cut-outs to be made into clothes or accessories for his next collection.

"I think Indonesia's traditional textiles are experiencing a revival these days," he said. "People are proud to wear them. And many designers are getting more creative in designing with them."

Anthony's collection for his ready-to-wear label AT is priced between Rp 700,000 and Rp 2.5 million.

Minimalist Duo by Luthfia Tjakraamidjaja

Luthfia has become a merchandizer for a number of top fashion brands in Jakarta, when she realized her own talents in fashion designing.

"I love designing my own clothes," said the alumnus of Marymount University's School of Fashion Merchandising in Washington DC. “And I love batiks. I love making edgy and minimalist fashion items from them.”

So, when her husband studied in London in 2011, Luthfia took short courses in fashion designing in the world's fashion capital. When they returned to Jakarta in 2014, Luthfia started her own line Almaina.

In the fashion show, Luthfia offered a simple, yet chic collection made of hand-stamped batiks from Tasikmalaya, West Java, in dual color combinations, including red-and-white, indigo-and-white and navy-and-white.

She made these batiks into loose-fitted tops and draped midi skirts, which were reminiscent of the traditional kains (pareos). The models wearing her collection looked effortlessly chic and elegant.

"With this collection, I want to show that batiks should not only be reserved for formal occasions, as they normally are, but can also be worn for everyday occasions," said Luthfia.

The mother of one is very happy to be included among Fashion First's new designers.

"Fashion First has become the first stop for people in Jakarta when looking for new trendy items," said the mother of a one-year-old. "I think it's a great platform for me to introduce my label and collections."

Fashion First aims to replicate the success of the famous concept stores Collette in Paris and Corso Como in Milan.

"They've become the main destination for international tourists when looking for local designers," said Deli. "That's where we're aiming to go."

The Peak

Fashion First Jl. Cikajang No. 48 Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta Tel. 021 728 00 919