The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Front Page - WORDS YULIASRI PERDANI

With her up­cy­cled bags, 24-year-old Vania Santoso is si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and em­pow­er­ing women in ur­ban vil­lages, or kampungs.

At glance, the bags and clutches she de­vel­oped look like they are made of leather. In fact, they are used paper ce­ment sacks that have been pro­cessed with nat­u­ral color­ing and eco-friendly wa­ter­proof coat­ing.

Vania, a univer­sity stu­dent from Surabaya, East Java, uses her in­no­va­tive bags to em­power housewives in three un­der­priv­i­leged kampungs in the east­ern part of Java.

“It is about women’s em­pow­er­ment,” Vania said on her re­cent visit to Jakarta. “We want to show that housewives can do more than just the house­work.”

Un­der the brand of STARTIC — which stands for Stylish Art in Eco­preneur­ship, Vania part­nered with over 30 housewives in Surabaya and Si­doarjo in East Java, and also Wonosari in Yo­gyakarta. She taught the housewives to color the used ce­ment sacks with tie dye fold­ing tech­niques and to ap­ply the water color coat­ing.

To­gether with the housewives, Vania has de­vel­oped nu­mer­ous bag de­signs, sewing to­gether the col­ored ce­ment sacks with batik and songket wo­ven cloth to cre­ate eth­nic bags and clutches. Be­fore ini­ti­at­ing Startic in late 2000, Vania had al­ready gained a rep­u­ta­tion as an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist. Be­fore turn­ing 20 she had al­ready re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards for her in­no­va­tions in waste man­age­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal projects, in­clud­ing the Satya Len­cana Wira Karya award from the Pres­i­dent.

It is all started in the sixth grade, when lit­tle Vania and her big sis­ter Agnes – who was at col­lege, ini­ti­ated an en­vi­ron­men­tal NGO, AV Peduli.

AV Peduli, which bears their ini­tials, was es­tab­lished af­ter the sis­ters wit­nessed a flood in­un­date their house in Surabaya.

“It was an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence,” Vania re­called. “We learned that it was due to heavy rain­fall, and also hu­man fac­tors — they didn’t care about the en­vi­ron­ment […] Trash clogged the gut­ter.”

AV Peduli kicked off with sim­ple en­vi­ron­men­tal projects at Vania’s ele­men­tary school.

“Ba­si­cally, I gath­ered my school friends to­gether to do sim­ple things, such as cleaning up the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” she said.

The sis­ters’ green move­ment ex­panded to more schools as well as or­phan­ages and kampungs in Surabaya and be­yond.

Aside from hold­ing green-themed fash­ion shows and mu­sic events, the sis­ters taught the stu­dents and res­i­dents to sep­a­rate or­ganic waste and en­cour­aged them to plant more trees and keep the en­vi­ron­ment clean.

Vania re­called that some res­i­dents un­der­es­ti­mated her just be­cause she

was a child

“But, we would not give up that eas­ily. We kept on shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age. As time went by, I learned that I must lis­ten their con­cerns be­fore shar­ing my in­for­ma­tion.”

The chats and dis­cus­sions with kam­pung res­i­dents brought one con­clu­sion: the res­i­dents want to im­prove their liveli­hoods.

“I knew that we should not prom­ise them that they would earn money by join­ing the pro­gram. They would be dis­ap­pointed if we failed to de­liver such prom­ise.”

In­stead, Vania found ways for res­i­dents to save their hard-earned money. This came in the form of medicinal herb gar­dens, which are fer­til­ized by or­ganic do­mes­tic waste.

“By hav­ing this gar­den, they can save on med­i­cal ex­penses when their fam­ily mem­ber falls sick. They just need to take the medicine from the gar­den.”

Vania’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism be­came so­cial en­trepreneur­ship in 2007, when AV Peduli won the US$10,000 prize from Volvo Ad­ven­ture in Swe­den, an in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pe­ti­tion or­ga­nized by the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme (UNEP). At that time, Vania had just grad­u­ated from mid­dle school.

“We were think­ing about how to use the prize in a more sus­tain­able way. So, we de­cided to make up­cy­cled hand­i­crafts,” she said.

Us­ing used pack­ag­ing of cof­fee sa­chets and other do­mes­tic waste, Vania and housewives from the kampungs started to cre­ate ev­ery­thing from head­bands, belts and ac­ces­sories.

The crafts sold like hot cakes when Vania brought them to over­seas events and bazaars, but have met a luke­warm re­sponse at home.

“Peo­ple looked down on the crafts. They be­came un­in­ter­ested the sec­ond they learned the prod­ucts were made of trash,” Vania re­called.

“At that point, I re­al­ized that I should learn to bet­ter man­age this busi­ness. That’s why I took a man­age­ment ma­jor at univer­sity,” said Vania, who is cur­rently work­ing on her fi­nal the­sis at Air­langga Univer­sity, Surabaya.

Her stud­ies have in­deed helped her to in­no­vate, and she be­gan fo­cus­ing on us­ing paper ce­ment bags to make her prod­ucts un­der her eco fash­ion line, STARTIC.

“My fa­ther is in the con­struc­tion busi­ness. So, he can sup­ply me with ce­ment sacks. Aside from that, we also have trash banks that can sup­ply ma­te­ri­als,” she said, adding that they aim to in­vite more con­struc­tion firms to help with their project.

The univer­sity helped her to cre­ate wa­ter­proof coat­ing for the col­ored paper sacks, while her mother as­sisted Vania to give sewing lessons to housewives in the kampungs.

Startic pro­vides flex­i­bil­ity for the housewives. They can color and sew the fab­rics at home af­ter com­plet­ing their house­keep­ing and tak­ing care of their chil­dren.

The bag line soon gained pub­lic at­ten­tion and started re­ceiv­ing big or­ders. Startic prod­ucts can be found at startic.avpeduli.com and a hand­ful of stores in Surabaya, in­clud­ing at Juanda Air­port.

“It is the res­i­dents’ ex­cite­ment that keeps me go­ing,” Vania said.

“They were amazed that their bags could be sold for Rp 600,000 (US$45) each. They couldn’t be­lieve that their ef­fort has re­sulted in a Satya Len­cana medal from the Pres­i­dent.”

Vania also rep­re­sented In­done­sia at the Global Stu­dent En­tre­pre­neur Awards (GSEA), a stu­dent en­tre­pre­neur’s com­pe­ti­tion or­ga­nized by global busi­ness net­work, the En­trepreneurs’ Or­ga­ni­za­tion (EO).

“EO, as a global or­ga­ni­za­tion, has em­braced the GSEA be­cause we know that through this pro­gram we would be able to in­spire and ed­u­cate stu­dents who are in this ac­tiv­ity,” GSEA di­rec­tor for Asia Pa­cific, Jose Al­berto Di­mayuga, said in phone in­ter­view.

Vania said she felt lucky to be in the com­pe­ti­tion as she was able to re­ceive men­tor­ship from the ex­pe­ri­enced en­trepreneurs in EO.

“Tak­ing part in EO’s com­pe­ti­tion has helped me to ex­pand my net­work. EO mem­bers are top en­trepreneurs, like Lee Cooper, Con­tempo and Fem­ina Group,” Vania said.

“The net­work helped me to con­nect with an In­done­sian world-class de­signer, who is now in the process of col­lab­o­rat­ing with us.”

Through the up­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive project, Vania aims to tap into the wider mar­ket, in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing the bags to high-end fash­ion lovers.

“My dream is that more peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate and buy eco-friendly, hand­made prod­ucts. I want to make this main­stream.”

Photo by Yuliasri Perdani

GO­ING GREEN: Vania Santoso turns trash into fash­ion­able bags.

Photo by Yuliasri Perdani

Cour­tesy of Vania Santoso

Cour­tesy of Vania Santoso

AWARD­ING DAY: Vania Santoso re­ceives the Satya Len­cana Wira Karya award from then vice pres­i­dent Boe­diono.

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