Batik has long been a central element of Indonesian culture, not only as clothing but also as a traditional art form. Most historians agree that in Indonesia, the practice of applying dye-resistant patterns to cloth dates as far back as the 17th century.
But just because it’s traditional, that doesn’t mean batik is not still progressing and developing as an art (as can be seen by the number of articles newspapers regularly devote to it!).
One artist working at the forefront of modern batik-making is Jakarta resident Anita Asmaya Sanin. She was seduced by batik’s vivid colors and complex patterns as child and has engaged in a lifelong love affair with the art ever since. She developed a deeper appreciation for the symbolism of the textiles while working in marketing for an Indonesian batik brand.
What appears to be simple repeating waves of colors and patterns to the untrained eye, is, to Anita, a unique and detailed code, with a story inextricably linked to the history of the village and region where each piece of cloth was made.
But aside from deciphering the stories of the past through batik, Anita has also established her own story for the future — through establishing her own brand of batik clothing.
Anita opened her own store, Alleira, in 2005. Since its launch, Alleira has grown from a team of three people working from Anita’s house to a factory that employees over 150 workers, producing up to 2,000 items each month.
The store now has branches in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and Anita recently opened her tenth store, at the Gandaria City mall in South Jakarta. She has also recently unveiled plans to open a new store at Singapore’s exclusive resort, Marina Bay Sands.
Turning traditional batik textiles into vibrant, modern cuts is what the Alleira brand is known for — and has brought the business great success.
“Through Alleira, I want to preserve the styles originating from Pekalongan and Cirebon,” Anita said.
Batik produced in Pekalongan is known for its bold patterns, while Cirebon is known for muted patterns in vivid colors.
Alleira’s designs adapt the patterns and styles from Pekalongan with Cirebon’s vivid coloring, applied with a gradient effect, which has become the brand’s signature feature. Anita has found that plenty of people are interested in buying fresh, modern forms of batik. She said she often sells over Rp 25 million ($2,900) worth of batik in a single day under the Alleira label at a host of different bazaars and festivals in Jakarta.
While a few friends lent their marketing and finance skills to help get the Alleira line up and running, the design and production of the textiles are managed solely by Anita herself. Alleira’s textiles are all handmade in a bustling workshop in Joglo, West Jakarta. Workers are divided into different production stages, tasked with designing, tailoring and coloring. Ancient patterns and techniques are used to decorate the fabric with wax.
Each piece is then colored by a team of two workers. “You can’t buy our textiles at more than four meters long, because they are colored manually and two people can only do so much at once,” Anita said.
The greatest challenge of producing handmade batik is creating the unique colors for the dyes.
Through practice, Anita found that even in a controlled environment, the same formula of dyes and colors never produces the exact same shade when applied to the cloth.
“Quite often, the color turns out differently and we have to mix it again to get a matching hue,” she said.
This means that each item of handmade batik a unique piece. That’s why a spirit of surprise and exploration is at the heart of Alleira’s designs.
After coloring, the textiles proceed to the lorot stage, where they are dipped in hot water to remove the wax patterns. Airbrushing is used for the finishing touch, to give the textiles a modern, shaded effect.
Alleira’s new spring/summer 2011 collection is called Amethyst Ambiance. It boasts cocktail and empire dresses, as well as ready-to-wear pieces such as ruffled blouses and kaftans, with pieces tailored for both men and women. The new collection is available in shades of purple, mixed with pink and orange hues.
“I usually mix blue with pink, then pink with purple and add a gold element to polish the look,” Anita said. Ready-to-wear pieces are also available for men and children. The newest collection for Alleira Kids is dominated by bright, summery colors such as orange, pink, green and blue.
Former model Anissa Pohan is a brand ambassador for Alleira. She said one of the winning points of Alleira’s new collection is its use of color, specifically its shades of purple, which she said was a rare color to use in a Spring and Summer collection.
“What I like about purple is that it gives a mysterious feel to whoever wears it,” Anissa said.
Prices for the in-store Alleira line range from between Rp 400,000 to Rp 4 million, but the price for custom items can vary depending on the complexity of the style.