I moved to Indonesia from Thailand, where the fashion scene, in my opinion, is one of Asia’s best. I loved the creative flair displayed not only by designers, but by youth and small clothing stall owners. Naturally, I was eager to explore the same side of Indonesia. What I first discovered was a creative culture founded on complexly patterned textiles and tinkling musical ensembles led by xylophone-like instruments and gongs. More recently, an increasing devotion to Islam in this moderate Muslim nation has distinguished fashion innovations here from places such as Buddhist Thailand.
As I dug deeper, however, I found a host of young minds creating new avenues to the future, proving that Indonesia has both respect for traditional heritage and a strong grasp on contemporary culture.
My first find was Winfred Hutabarat at Aksara, a trendy Jakarta bookstore that carries rare reads, fashionable stationary and eclectic accoutrements aimed at Indonesia’s growing middle class. Co-owners Hutabarat and Arini Subianto said the idea arose from a desire to bring their experience abroad to Indonesians eager for access to global brands, such Lomo and Moleskin.
“We’re not a supermarket for books,” said Subianto, explaining Aksara’s aim of capturing a trendy niche market. She described Aksara shoppers as savvy – they’re on Facebook and Twitter. They know what’s hot and don’t want to be excluded from trends happening in Paris and New York.
That pushes Hutabarat and Subianto to constantly reinvent their products. Technology and increased Internet use has also forced them to reshape their purpose as a seller of books. “We have to be ready for the digital world,” said Subianto, referring to Kindle and the wholesale closure of record shops around the globe.
Since its founding in 2001 Aksara has added cafes Casa and Canteen, and Hutabarat has partnered with Aksara Records, a sister music label that promotes young Indonesian artists. His latest venture: posh bar and restaurant Loewys, one of the places to be seen on a Friday in the capital city.
The next gem I discovered was Leonard (Leo) Theosabrata, a 32-year-old furniture designer, who runs the Indonesia arm of Accupunto, a collaborative design firm that recently received the Wallpaper Design Award for best dinning chair.
After receiving his education at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Theosabrata returned to Indonesia to focus on basic woodworking and craftsmanship. “I fell in love with the old way of doing things because people sometimes forget what quality is,” he said, explaining that while some people are pushing the envelope of innovation, he rarely see something that will stand the test of time.
Theosabrata’s designs focus on simplicity and local production, which he says is more important than putting a green tag on something. Buying locally and producing locally is such a good idea because it uses less waste and energy, he said. As imported goods become more expensive, local products also are finding a new spirit.
In addition to Accupunto, Theosabrata is part of a five-person team managing Whiteboard Journal, a website similar to the progressive magazine Monocle. The journal’s aim, said Theosabrata, is to create discussion among Indonesians about global trends.
Rounding out the trio is Julian Juwadi, 25, the young, energetic owner of Association Of Division, a fashionable art space in Jakarta that works to promote upcoming Indonesian artists. A.O.D. also supports three in-house fashion “misfits,” Notorious Fam, Proud Parents, and Bizarre. Raised in Jakarta, Juwadi thrives on bringing the element of surprise into his projects, the first of which “We’re All Millionaires” sold affordable art from up-and-coming artists for only USD100 and was publicized through guerilla marketing.