Taking Pride in Wearing Local

FEBRUARY 09, 2015

Fashion is a hot industry in Indonesia these days. Like a blossoming young girl, she attracts a lot of attention with everything she does.

The local fashion industry employs some 3.8 million people, a third of all Indonesians working in the creative industries.

Jakarta, the heart of the nation's fashion scene, hosts at least four major fashion weeks a year, and there are scores of smaller though no less spectacular events held regularly at virtually every mall in the city.

But despite all the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry, local brands continue to be sidelined for better-known foreign brands.

Trying to change this state of affairs is 5asec Indonesia, a chain of dry-cleaning outlets, which recently carried out a small survey at a number of high-end malls in Jakarta.

"We asked some of the visitors to the malls to name five fashion brands, both local and international, within a few seconds," says Fian Asfianti, head of marketing communications at 5asec Indonesia.

"And the results were quite sad. They could all mention five international brands without any problems. But when it came to the local brands, they all seemed to struggle."

This lack of recognition among local consumers about homegrown brands jars against the rising profile of some Indonesian designers on the global stage, Fian says.

"The creativity of Indonesian fashion designers is truly astounding, and many of them are getting international recognition. But at the same time, they're not being appreciated in Indonesia."

5asec Indonesia is taking a stand for Indonesian brands by launching the "Let's Wear Local" campaign, in which it encourages its customers to choose local fashion products over international ones.

As part of the recently launched campaign that will run for a year, 5asec Indonesia will present a series of talk shows and public discussions involving local designers, retailers and celebrities.

"We've also collaborated with a number of Indonesian labels, such as Barli Asmara, Ikat Indonesia, Major Minor and Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan to give their customers special discounts when they bring their items to us [to clean]," Fian says.

In the first talk show of the campaign, the dry cleaner invited designer Didiet Maulana, behind the successful ready-to-wear label Ikat Indonesia; Cynthia Wirjono, an executive at retail outlet The Goods Dept; and jazz singer Andien to speak in front of customers at a 5asec outlet in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta.

The speakers addressed several factors for why Indonesian labels were not a preferred choice in their own country.

"There's a perception among the people that Indonesian fashion items must be cheap," Didiet said.

This perception, he argued, puts off richer Indonesians from buying local products out of concern about the quality and workmanship.

But often these fears are unfounded, said Cynthia, whose stores sell a wide range of homegrown products.

"About 85percent of our merchandise is local, but they're all of the same high quality as international ones," she said.

She acknowledged that while some designers just starting out "find it hard to maintain the consistent quality of their collections," The Goods Dept takes pains to curate the local labels that it chooses to sell.

Cynthia said she believed that Indonesian customers were genuinely fashion savvy.

"When they see that the local products are well-made, they're willing to pay the right prices," she said.

Another reason why Indonesians tend to shun local fashion products, especially those that are made with traditional fabrics, is the amount of work and care needed to keep them in tip-top condition.

"Some of my friends don't like to buy local fashion made with traditional fabrics because they're so high-maintenance," Andien said.

Most traditional fabrics are made of natural fibers, such as silk or cotton.

"The rule of thumb is to always dry clean the silk items," Didiet said.

He added that silk was generally softer and more fragile, and thus required the special treatment that was not as harsh as laundering.

Cotton, on the other hand, is more resilient and can be hand-washed.

"If you love the textiles, you should never machine-wash or tumble-dry them," Didiet said.

And when hung up to dry, clothes made with traditional fabrics should ideally be kept away from direct sunlight, which tends to make the colors fade.

Most clothing items come with detailed washing instructions on the inside labels, but if this is too much of a challenge to follow, then there's a solution.

"If you're unsure how to treat them, just bring them to a reputable laundry and dry-cleaning outlet," Didiet said. "They'll know what to do."

There is also a small but growing group of Indonesians who collect clothing items and fabrics that are typically more than 50 years old.

These kinds of items, Didiet said, should never be washed or dry cleaned.

"Textiles this old are usually not wearable any longer," he said. "They're usually just stored for their historical value."

Preserving these old traditional textiles is an art in itself.

"Make sure the storage area remains dry," Didiet said.

That may sound simple, but in a climate as humid as Indonesia's it is a formidable challenge. One way to keep the storage are dry and mildew-free is to scatter packets of silica gel inside.

"Cabinets made of cendana [Indian sandalwood] are the best for storing textiles)," Didiet said.

These vintage textiles should also never be hung. Instead, they should be folded with a piece of acid-free paper in between to allow minimum abrasion.

"Once a month, you should air them somewhere that doesn't get direct sunlight, so that they remain fresh and dry," Didiet said.

Andien said that while caring for traditional textiles seemed like a lot of hard work, it was worth it for the quality of the clothing.

"After all, they're handmade and one-of-a-kind. It makes me really proud to wear them," she said.

For more info about the "Let's Wear Local" campaign, check out 5asecindonesia.com.