ON RADAR | Made in Indonesia

A case of irony: Luxury fashion houses boast the exotic appeal of made-in-Indonesia products while the locals are on the hunt of the next (insert prominent designers' name here).

I procrastinate a lot. And I think my procrastination really mounts while writing delaying this post. Perhaps that is because my heart slightly sank every time I encounter really fresh, immaculately designed pieces that are crafted from Indonesian materials, but not produced by Indonesians. A French fashion brand Maiyet, as an example, commits to support Indonesian batik artisans and reworks the fabric into beautiful dresses for their spring 2013 collection. They employ sustainable systems, managing various sources of original craftsmen to produce batches of high quality materials without neglecting their quality of life. Such practice is definitely positive, and responded positively, too as justified by the pricey tag they put on the finished products. Analysing it further, however, the success of Maiyet in sourcing their material from (mostly) developing countries arises a question: Who really gets the benefit here?

Dries Van Noten applies batik for the spring/summer 2010 collection. John Hardy establishes a workshop in Bali and has its business soaring across the globe. Vianel releases a card case made of Indonesian ring lizard's skin. Shall Indonesians be proud or worried? With the cost of doing business and acquiring natural resources is relatively low here, I wonder how the supply chain of those fashion products goes. On one hand I am excited that several elements from my country are highly appreciated (thus the price), but on the other hand I still sense the deteriorating condition of people being in the ground zero (places where those companies source their materials). I am definitely in no place to judge since some of the aforementioned companies claim to have a sustainable operation in this country, but how far can one monetise what supposedly belongs to the nation?

Simultaneously, we have mushrooming growth of local fashion industry here; there is undoubtedly a growing number of local business pushing forward an empowerment of other local sources. But awareness of those products remain low. Instead, people try to find references to the "international" fashion. The media echoes brilliance of local designers with certain fashion powerhouses as benchmarks. Just like the analogy of chicken and egg, there are also numerous designs that recall to "high fashion" pieces. The adoption of aesthetics even goes as far as reworking the traditional clothes into series of hopeful "avant-garde" pieces. So which triggering which?

Those three paragraphs with three question marks by the end of them should really signal something to you. Because really, the whole "made-in-Indonesia" conundrum is not an easy one to solve. What we can perhaps do, as detached watchdogs or mere consumers, is knowing exactly where we spend our money on. Be it something locally produced or internationally branded, make sure you pick the right side.

Image is from Maiyet.

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