Propelling batik to the international market
Indonesians are rightfully proud that batik has been listed by UNESCO as part of the world’s intangible heritage. However, the textile has yet to achieve worldwide popularity. This has been the driving force behind Era Soekamto, the creative director of the Iwan Tirta Private Collection, as she sought to raise awareness among members of the British public on the beauty and cultural symbols inherent within the Indonesian batik. “Some 90 percent of the local batik market constitutes Indonesians. Expatriates in Indonesia, furthermore, only choose to wear batik when they are meeting public officials. Overseas, the textile has not been popular, due to the extremely long process required to make it,” Era told J+ during an interview. According to Era, one of the first steps needed to introduce batik to an international public is to educate people about the core Indonesian cultural values embedded within the Javanese fashion staple. “We have to communicate to the international public that batik is a sacred art. We have to be able to tell the story behind the patterns and motifs.” Era cites her collection Dewaraja as an example. The collection was presented at a mini-fashion show organized during the recent trip made by an Indonesian delegation to the UK. Era’s fashion label features new designs inspired by the original motifs created by Indonesia’s legendary batik maestro, the late Iwan Tirta. Era says that the patterns and motifs in the collection serve as symbols that literally illustrate the ideal Javanese leader. “The concept is rooted in the wisdom of the ancient Javanese kingdoms, whereby as representatives of God on Earth, kings should emanate a divine energy of compassion and love instead of being egocentric.” This concept of leadership remains relevant today, she says, as does local wisdom about the concept of God that is epitomized in many batik designs. Raising awareness, however, is definitely not enough to garner international-level success for handmade batik, Era says. Indonesia still has a lot of homework to be done to attain that goal. “We have to cater to the demands of the international market. To produce 1,200 batik pieces per month you need to be very disciplined, aside from actually increasing your production capacity and the quantity of your human resources.” Era also encouraged Indonesian batik designers to forge partnerships with prominent international fashion brands to gain more global popularity for batik. “We can do what [the Japanese designer Takashi] Murakami does,” she said, referring to the designer’s 2015 collaboration with wildly popular French fashion label Louis Vuitton.