November 13, 2012 / 11:10 AM / 6 years ago

Indonesian fashion designers turn eyes to the wider world

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian fashion designers paired clean, urban styles with traditional batiks and designs inspired by ancient temples at the sixth annual Jakarta Fashion Week.

Local designers in Asia’s fourth largest economy looked to the past and their heritage to gain a foothold in the international fashion market, a hope expressed in the week’s theme “Indonesia Today, The World Tomorrow.”

“This collection sums up 40 years of my work,” said Josephine Komara, who is also known as Obin, a noted batik artisan who showcased eclectic designs with radiant silks.

Although Obin has shops in Singapore and Japan, she is most successful in her own country. There are other success stories like hers but Indonesia lacks a brand with global recognition, unlike its Southeast Asian neighbors such as the Malaysian Vincci and Singapore’s Charles & Keith.

But the London-based Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) hopes to change this, propelling young Indonesian designers to the international stage through a mentoring program. Experts say one of the biggest problems is inexperience and a short history of aiming at international markets.

“By going international, it means they have to be ready for what the market needs,” said Toby Meadows, a CFE consultant. “It might be overwhelming for them because creating winter wear might never have crossed their minds. But if you have a brand, the buyers expect you to have a Fall/Winter collection as well.”

The fundamentals for international recognition are already there. Designers Yosafat Dwi Kuniawan and Jeffrey Tan offered high fashion and urban cut pret a porter collections, while Barli Asmara and Albert Yanuar went for glamourous dresses with a costume-like touch.

Dian Pelangi, in a nod to local fashion, showed contemporary designs incorporating the hijab that many Indonesian women use to cover their heads.

All are among eight local designers and labels in CFE’s mentoring program, which they hope will propel them onto the international scene.

None of the designers have dealt with international buyers, although Barli and Yosafat have showed their collections in fashion weeks overseas. Most are still struggling with branding and business plans over creativity and design ideas.

“I went for a showcase in China Fashion Week in 2009, but there wasn’t any actual trading,” said Yosafat, 23, whose designs are inspired by the ancient Javanese Borobudur temple.

“I simply don’t know how to sell and deliver and I’ve made some big mistakes in my business.”

The CFE mentoring program, which is backed by the Indonesian and British governments, includes three years of training in branding, pricing, production and marketing. It also helps connect young designers with prospective buyers and to decide which market suits them best.

“I made some dresses for overseas clients in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore,” said Albert Yanuar, whose designs are inspired by the shapes of traditional Wayang shadow puppets. “My dresses seem to fit into Asian markets such as China, Korea, Hong Kong or Singapore.”

One success story is Ardistia, who started her label when she was based in New York and later expanded to the Indonesian market with her clean, urban look. Her designs have been shown in department stores in the United States, Canada and France.

Given the growing wealth and middle classes of Asia, Meadows encourages Indonesian designers to broaden their outlook and not just target the most established, traditional fashion markets.

“People often aim for New York and London, while purchasing power is big in Asia,” he said. “So why not also target that, and not just focus on the U.S. and the European market? It would be silly to overlook Asia while it’s so near and feasible.”

Reporting by Andjarsari Paramaditha; editing by Elaine Lies and Patricia Reaney

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