Garut, a small town in West Java, has always been famous for its natural beauty. Situated about 2,500 feet above sea level, the town enjoys a cool climate and gorgeous views.
It has been a popular tourist resort since the colonial era. It is surrounded by tall mountains, scenic lakes and pristine beaches. Garut also boasts natural hot springs that have over the years enjoyed a reputation for their health benefits.
Garut is also a center of the Sundanese people, giving it a distinctive cultural flair where ancient traditions continue to have a life.
One of these cultural traditions that has lived on is batik Garutan. Unlike batiks from Central Java, which tend to feature dark colors and philosophical motifs, batik Garutan offer a fresher look that is more fun, with its soft pastel colors and pictorial motifs.
“It depicts the people’s simple and positive outlook on life,” said Ellen Erliana, the founder of Rasya Batik Garutan, a fashion line that specializes in batik from the area.
Though she has become a champion of Garut’s batik, the 43-year-old businesswoman is not originally from the town. She was born in Tasikmalaya, a small town about a two-hour drive from Garut. She studied to be a secretary in Bandung and then moved to Garut after marrying a building contractor from the town.
Ellen raised four children and when the youngest started school she suddenly found herself with plenty of free time. “I’m not a person who likes to sit around and do nothing,” she said.
So she started a little business from her home. With a couple of employees, she started to embroider and sell kebayas (traditional blouses). “The women who bought kebayas from me also wanted batik sarongs to pair them with,” she said.
So Ellen started to go around town to find batik Garutan to match with her hand-embroidered kebayas. What she discovered was that while there was a large selection of batik from Tasikmalaya in the markets, it was impossible to find quality batik Garutan.
“They said that batik Garutan was extinct,” she said. “The batik [in Garut] all came from Tasikmalaya.”
Ellen was perplexed by this and decided to visit all the traditional batik artisans in Garut she could to find out what was happening.
From these artisans, Ellen learned that the batik industry had exploded in Tasikmalaya. It had more sunny days and a hotter climate, so the dyed batik pieces dried faster, cutting the time and costs of production. And because it was only two hours away, the Tasikmalayan merchants sold their batik in Garut.
With so much batik from Tasikmalaya flooding the market, it was cheaper and more popular than the stuff from Garut, and pretty soon Garut’s traditional batik disappeared entirely.
“It was such a great loss to our cultural heritage,” Ellen said.
She abandoned her kebaya embroidery business and vowed to revive the batik industry in Garut. She named her new business Rasya Batik Garutan, after her oldest daughter, Rasya Adilla. To learn more about batik Garutan, Ellen collected old batik Garutan pieces from friends and relatives and cataloged their motifs and colors.
With the few batik artisans left in Garut, Ellen experimented with the wax and dyes used in coloring batik pieces to find a formula that would dry quickly, even on cloudy days.
It wasn’t long before batik Garutan was experiencing a revival. As the orders poured in, Ellen had to add more employees and enlarge her workshop. So she decided to apply for a loan from a state bank in Bandung.
Nuning Indrayani, the head of credit analysis at bank, was impressed by Ellen’s perseverance.
“She’s an Indonesian woman who really cares about our traditional culture,” Nuning said. “She had a feasible market plan and strong ambitions. We were more than happy to back her.”
With the loan from the bank, Ellen further expanded her business and took on more workers.
Today, Rasya Batik Garutan employs more than 20 people and exports its products to Singapore and Malaysia.
Rasya, the company’s namesake, who is 18, is also involved in the family business, designing men’s and women’s clothes using batik Garutan.
Her debut collection was presented during a gala fashion show, Batik, a Timeless Beauty, last Friday at the Alila Hotel in Jakarta.
“For me, batik is a timeless beauty,” Rasya said. “In fact, the older it is, the more valuable it will become.”
Rasya presented 29 women’s evening dresses and six men’s formal outfits during the show in the capital. Many of the pieces cleverly combined batik Garutan with sheer brocades, lace and chiffon silk for the dresses.
The most captivating dress in the collection was a sexy long number that combined batik Garutan and sheer white lace. The heart-shaped white lace went well with the white hurang, which in the Sundanese language means “shrimp,” motif on the maroon-hued batik. The combination was visually arresting and grabbed the audience’s attention.
“In my opinion, batik looks lighter and trendier when it is combined with sheer materials like lace, brocades and chiffons,” Rasya said.
For the men’s formal shirts in the collection, Rasya presented batik Garutan on hand-spun natural silk that was also made in Garut. The ornate motifs of the batik created a charming impression as the male models went by on the catwalk.
Ellen was ecstatic about the fashion show, and the future of Garut’s batik. “Now everybody can see that batik Garutan still exists,” she said. “It is modern and has been well accepted by customers.”
For more information, visit www.batikgarutan-rasya.com.