DYNAMIC DUO. Dana Maulana and Liza Masitha have built Danjyo Hiyoji with a distinctive vision. Gabriela Yosefina sits down with the two co-founders
Working with your best friend can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because you have already known each other to one another’s habits; a curse, because once things fall apart, there is no turning back. Dana Maulana and Liza Masitha, two best friends who founded Indonesian brand Danjyo Hiyoji, took that chance when they were just two college kids and have not looked back since. The two creative minds share responsibilities with incredible ease: Masitha handles the design department while Maulana oversees the management and operational aspects. The fruits of their labor can be seen from how Danjyo Hiyoji has attained cult status, thanks to their innovative contemporary designs and origami-like cutting. Despite the brand’s strong aesthetics, each piece is utterly versatile and brilliantly designed to add a definite edge to a wide range of personal styles.
Gabriela Yosefina: Hi Dana and Liza, is fashion something you are passionate about since early on?
Liza Masitha: Since I was small I have already been into style and fashion by mixing and matching clothes. [Laughs] In my junior and senior year I started designing clothes for me and my friends. During that period, too, I met Dana, and we have been best friends ever since, thanks to our similar take on fashion.
Dana Maulana: I guess my initial attraction to fashion more or less unfolded in the same way as Liza’s. But our passion for fashion got serious when together we established a small fashion business right when we were just starting college in 2001. We bought two sewing machines and hired a seamstress as well as a pattern maker. But if it wasn’t with my best friend Liza, I wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity of running a fashion business.
GY: How did the business take shape in 2001, and how did it develop into Danjyo Hiyoji?
LM: At first the name was only Danjyo, without the “Hiyoji.” Back then we only ran a small-scaled operation, with only five to ten designs for each collection. Mostly we produced womenswear, and we allowed customers to personalize the designs they were interested in. A lot of the orders that came in were from students who wanted to customize their alumni or varsity jackets. They usually ordered in bulk, and that was our bread and butter.
DM: Yes, and then we got busy with our lives. The business was still running, but we didn’t oversee day-to-day operations. I continued my education overseas and Liza started working for a company. In 2009, we finally redirected our focus back to Danjyo after a request to participate in what was going to be a pioneer in Indonesia’s pop-up market phenomena— Brightspot Market—arrived at our door. Following our participation there, another offer came to us. We were asked to join a competition in Jakarta Fashion Week, and we won. From then on we added “Hiyoji” to represent our new menswear line.
GY: What does Danjyo Hiyoji mean? Is there a philosophy behind the name?
DM: In 2001, the Indonesian fashion industry was fixated on Japanese culture. So, we looked for a fitting Japanese name and found danjyo, which means men and women, or boys and girls. On the other hand, “Hiyoji” has no particular meaning—it was simply added to represent the menswear collection. As a local brand, I think our name is one of our selling points. When we joined several international tradeshows, people were curious about our origin. They thought that we are from Japan, but they were later surprised to find out that we were from Indonesia. The reaction to that, thankfully, was positive, and people started to acknowledge Indonesia’s potential to do something impressive.
GY: As a matter of fact, your design does seem to draw some elements from Japanese aesthetics. So, what would you say is your brand’s signature?
LM: Unisex. To us, unisex is not about men trying to dress like women and vice versa. Unisex is androgynous. The concept allows each gender to interpret our pieces in different ways. We want Danjyo Hiyoji to relate to people with different characters and to give them the freedom to show their own version of Danjyo Hiyoji.
GY: Nonetheless, it’s quite intriguing how your unisex concept has made its way into collections that are differentiated by gender.
LM: Although we create collections labeled specifically for men and women, the concept of unisex means that they can borrow each other’s clothes. It is just the matter of how one styles the piece to suit their gender and taste. Nevertheless, when we design the menswear collection, we cannot be as experimental like the way we treat womenswear. Men in general tend to look for classic, timeless outfits that they can wear for a long time. So, overly edgy or trendy pieces might not be their cup of tea.
DM: However, I must add that it does not limit our creativity in designing. Instead, we push our limits in creating edgy clothing while still considering that tendency [for men to look for classic, timeless outfits], and hope that those who are initially hesitant will eventually be willing to pick more daring pieces.
“Unisex is androgynous. The concept allows each gender to interpret our pieces in a different way”
GY: Do you have any suggestions for men who want to wear Danjyo Hiyoji’s trendier pieces?
DM: If you have already chosen one piece that is strong in terms of design, stick to basic pieces when looking for something to mix and match it with. Danjyo Hiyoji’s collections also comprise a lot of timeless basics, so people can use these to build the look they want. One point of advice from me would be that men should not be afraid to stand out or look different. Being different is cool—it shows how much confidence you have.
GY: Can you tell me more about your recent collections for both men and women?
LM: Our latest collection, Nebula, is unfortunately not for sale because it would be too expensive to produce. We created this collection in order to participate in a fashion week event, and the committee had already designated an Indonesian traditional woven fabric for us to use. At first I was quite shocked because it was the first time I had to work with Indonesian textile. Eventually, we decided to create a glow-in-the-dark collection because the threads from the fabric can already glow in the dark. To make them stand out even more, we added acrylic.
DM: In addition to Nebula, we also have a menswear collection, Continuum, where we play with different textures. For womenswear, there is a collection named En Garde, inspired by fencing. In the foreseeable future we plan to come up with one theme for both menswear and womenswear collections.
GY: What keeps you inspired when working on a new collection?
DM: Personally, I am into anything with a youthful spirit because I have spent some time living in London, and I was deeply fascinated with their youth culture. For Danjyo Hiyoji, though, there is no particular source of inspiration that both of us continually return to. Inspiration can come from anything—politics, for instance. We’ve actually created a collection named
“Refugee” as a response to the situation in Palestine.
LM: I agree. I don’t have a certain muse, movie or book that I am perpetually inspired by. I get bored easily, so I cannot have just one single source of inspiration. With Danjyo Hiyoji in particular, everything can be a source of inspiration. Different elements can be a part of our dynamics, and they can form our identity.
GY: Lastly, what’s next for Danjyo Hiyoji?
DM: We plan to create a web store this year, but we don’t want it to merely be a platform where we sell our pieces. We want it to be a melting pot of art, music and film, which will allow us to collaborate with other creative people. Hopefully, we can also grab a piece of the international market—especially with the Asian Free Trade agreement just around the corner—because a digital presence can lead to bigger opportunities for local brands.
Outfit by Danjyo Hiyoji
Designer Talks: Dana Maulana & Liza Masitha
SHARE THIS ARTICLE